As a promo/marketing nerd, this time of year is fun for me. It’s exciting to see how the networks market their new (and returning) shows on air and in print. Walking around NYC, I like to check out each networks billboards and bus ads (rolling billboards). I try to get inside the head of someone not obsessed with TV (unlike me) and is first hearing about a show like Last Resort or The New Normal on the street. Does it register? Does it pique interest? Does it make someone say, “I want to watch that” or at the very least “what’s that”? Probably the only reaction I assume networks don’t want is one of apathy or that said promo or one sheet doesn’t even register. I assume in many cases the print ad is there just to remind viewers of the on air promo as well. Here are some thoughts on a few that stuck out to me:
CBS – The Elementary billboard just has Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu posing and while it’s aesthetically pleasing, it doesn’t (to the best of my knowledge) even attempt to explain that he’s playing Sherlock Holmes, but the on air promos do and I assume it’s just to sell the star power here. Plus it’s CBS and the show is right in their superhero crime solver wheelhouse so I assume it will be fine. UPDATE: Friday 1:50- I just carefully looked at a Billboard. Turns out at the top there is a tag line that says “New Holmes. New Watson. New York”. That coupled with the title cleverly lays out the show. (You just can’t see the tag line at the top unless you’re looking for it).
The Vegas billboard just has Dennis Quaid in a cowboy hat and Michael Chiklis in his fedora. No mention is made of the 60s (though Michael’s hat is the giveaway. Either he’s an orthodox Jew or this a period piece.) Truthfully, the ad just needs to have both of their faces on it, since they are the primary draw and with that the billboard does all it really needs to do. Plus, I’m sure CBS assumes the 60s aspect is the lesser selling point and riskiest part of the show, so best to sell the stars. Interestingly enough, the print ad for Made In Jersey is the one that’s most eye-catching with the white background and Janet Montgomery front and center and a slogan about being the underdog.
NBC – Just today I saw a wraparound at 50th and 8th for NBCs two new Tue comedies that I think sell those shows better than the on air promos do. Go On‘s has Matthew Perry’s character being embraced in a group hug by his fellow group mates and the look on his face says it all. The tag line is “Feel the Love”. That seems to convey the tone and feel of the show perfectly with a shot of Matthew Perry that tells you much about his character. The New Normal has the full cast with a tag line that says “She’s having
A Their Baby” and female lead Georgia King holding a pregnancy test. Premise laid out perfectly.
FOX – I haven’t seen many FOX bus billboards yet, I think they are just beginning to roll them out, but this LIVE Q&A Webcast this Tuesday with the casts of their Tues night new and returning comedies is pretty ingenious: http://www.fox.com/tuesdaynight/
ABC – I think the print ads/billboards for Last Resort with Scott Speedman ripped and holding his flagging American flag with the tag line “Honor In Defiance” are alluring. It’s a very hard show and complicated premise to sell in a one sheet but at least the ad is interesting and great to look at. The 666 Park Avenue billboard confuses me. It’s got that revolving staircase and that very small shot of Dave Annable and Rachael Taylor in the middle (I think it’s them), but there’s no tag line like the on air “Don’t Let The Amenities Fool You”. I guess the thought is the title alone is alluring and somewhat revealing. Most surprising to me, is the lack of Terry O’ Quinn and Vanessa Williams. CBSs Vegas ad doesn’t reveal much about the series but it puts its stars front and center. Leaving off Terry O’ Quinn seems utterly silly to me. He’s a draw and one that would get people to sample an ABC Sunday soap that wouldn’t normally. The Nashville billboard smartly put its two stars front and center and if you look closely Connie Britton is on the “throne” and her foot is on top of Hayden Panitierre. Smart ad.
Nashville has a series of great and different on air promos on ABC. Last Resort too has some great new promos that in a :30 or :60 have been able to sell it stars, explain its complicated premise complete with a haunting Grace Potter song underneath.
ABCs on air promos for returning series (like Revenge, Greys, Modern Family) are really well put together and get you excited for those shows return. This is why I am completely perplexed at the on air campaign for The Neighbors. Yes I know the show is mostly being derided by critics. No the pilot isn’t a masterpiece by a long shot. But I also don’t think it’s the worst thing on TV either and there are parts of it that make it understandable why ABC thought it wouldn’t stick out on its night of single camera family comedies. (It never made sense to air out of Modern Family, but thankfully they remedied that). However, the promos take the most sophomoric parts of it and put those on display. The promos make it look like some silly, one note, multi camera comedy. Take a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcX8EqWR05Y
In the promos for The Neighbors, ABC references their other 3 Wednesday night comedies, so why highlight parts of it that have little in common with those more sophisticated shows, not to mention the least funny parts of it. In fact, the big takeaway I usually get when viewing the promo is the yelling of the kids (and in some cases the adults) = not subtle, and more importantly, not funny. If I have never seen the pilot and I’m judging by the inevitable horrible reviews and those promos, I wouldn’t be interested in tuning in. It’s the job of the network to try to get people to tune in based on the promos. What’s airing now will not entice fans of the other Wednesday comedies. What I mostly don’t get is that there are other ways to sell this show that make it more compatible with its Wednesday neighbors.
Creator Dan Fogelman at press tour said the show going forward will be about the family dynamics of both families. He’s a talented writer and many shows improve upon their pilots once the premise is laid out. There’s enough of the family similarities in the pilot that the promos leave out. There’s a joint family dinner that can be highlighted where the Jami Gertz and Lenny Venito characters are assessing their neighbors (“European?” “definitely not European”) that’s funnier than anything in the existing promos. Plus there are scenes in the pilot where the husbands and wives commiserate with each other and find that despite the fact they are from different planets, they essentially have the same issues. That basically sells the show Dan says he is making and one that frankly is more compatible with The Middle, Suburgatory and Modern Family. I don’t understand why ABC isn’t selling the show this way.
Whether the show ends up working or not, the current promos a) don’t sell the show appropriately b) make it look incompatible with the Wed lineup and c) are frankly just not funny. If there was nothing to work with, I’d understand it. But they are highlighting the least interesting and forgettable things about it.