Friday, September 22, 2006

Entertainment industry news and reviews -

'Anatomy' of a campaign
ABC using elaborate marketing strategy for skeins


The Thursday relaunch of "Grey's Anatomy" has taken on almost feature-size proportions.

It's impossible to drive more than a few miles around major cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle and Philadelphia without seeing billboards demanding that viewers "Feel Thursday" or "Smile Thursday."

ABC also partnered with Entertainment Weekly for half-hour show "Getting Into Grey's Anatomy," which has the magazine's editors and scribes dishing on the show a la VH1's "Best Week Ever."

Net commissioned similar specials for "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" and then proceeded to give them away for free to affiliates, iTunes users and sister cable nets (ABC Family, Lifetime, E!, Style).

All of these moves rep a concerted effort by the Alphabet to revamp its launch campaigns. And why not -- the network has more new shows than any rival and the season's biggest sked shift in the "Grey's Anatomy" transplant to Thursday night.

Abandoning its past strategy of focusing on just one or two key premieres, ABC has designed elaborate marketing strategies for each of its new skeins, as well as some of its key returning shows.

Though all the nets have devised out-of-the-box ideas to hype their shows -- NBC's pilot deal with Netflix, CBS' Eye-branded eggs -- the sheer number of changes at the Alphabet has forced it to supersize its marketing machine. But notably, ABC is eschewing this season's most popular promotional ploy: It's the only Big Five net that's opted against making full-length episodes of its new shows available to consumers prior to their network debuts. Instead, it's enlisting a wide array of partners to get its messages out, from record labels to consumer magazines such as People and Entertainment Weekly.

Take "Grey's Anatomy," which airs its first original Thursday episode tonight. Plan to promote the all-important move began months ago -- almost accidentally -- with a song featured in the show's second-season finale.

A climactic two-minute scene in that episode was set to "How to Save a Life," a then-unreleased single from Epic Records' the Fray. Viewer response to the tune was immediate.

"When the show aired, you could see the iTunes (sales) go up immediately that night," said Epic senior VP of marketing Lee Stimel.

At last count, the band had sold more than 100,000 copies of its latest album on iTunes, making it the first bestselling album ever on Apple's music service, Stimel said.

ABC execs took note of the song's impact and decided to make it one of the focal points for the campaign to hype the show's shift to Thursdays. In addition to licensing the song for on-air promos -- a pretty standard practice -- Alphabet also teamed with Epic to put the song on the just-released series soundtrack and produce a special "Grey's Anatomy"-themed version of the tearjerking "How to Save a Life" video.

Instead of using footage only from past episodes, the video features top-secret clips from the first two episodes of the new season. Goal was to get viewers psyched for the show's return by teasing them with upcoming scenes.

Music is a common link to many of the ABC campaigns.

For "DH," ABC commissioned singer Jerry Brunskill for a new take on the Kinks' "You Really Got Me," designing a "Grey's Anatomy"-like musicvideo around the song, as well as traditional 30- and 60-second spots. What's more, Hollywood Records will be releasing a dance mix of the track on vinyl and distributing it to clubs across the country.

ABC marketing and promotion chief Mike Benson is putting the finishing touches on a deal to license Blighty singer Brian McFadden's song "Demons" for use as the centerpiece of a new musicvideo campaign for "Lost." Vid's ready to hit the airwaves once the pact is signed.

As with the "DH" and "Grey's Anatomy" clips, "I look at music as a shortcut to people's emotions and a way to help them understand the vibe of a show," Benson said. "The music helps you make a connection."

That's why just about every ABC show has what Benson calls "a very specific music strategy," whether it's a full-length video or simply using the same song over and over again in promos.

Other artists featured in ABC fall campaigns include Jewel, Rob Thomas and K.T. Tunstall.

ABC also has mounted a number of stunts designed to get media buzz going.

During Gotham's Fashion Week, for example, actresses dressed as the title character in "Ugly Betty" hit the fashion shows en masse. Likewise, more than 100 actors in giant star costumes popped up around various New York landmarks prior to the premiere of, yup, "Dancing With the Stars."

The one element ABC's mega-marketing doesn't include is any attempt to get its new shows in front of large numbers of viewers prior to their debuts. You won't see "Ugly Betty" on Yahoo! or "The Nine" on iTunes before they first air on ABC.

Benson said Alphabet brass don't want to risk reducing tune-in for premieres.

"By putting an entire episode out early, it's limiting the potential audience," he said. "Everyone gets caught up in what's new and different, but what if two people who picked up the ('Studio 60') DVD have Nielsen boxes? If a show doesn't open well, it's very hard to get the momentum going."

'Grey's Anatomy' tops 'CSI' in first matchup

LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- ABC's upstart hospital hit "Grey's Anatomy" performed a ratings transplant on the CBS powerhouse crime show "CSI" Thursday as two of television's hottest dramas went head to head for the first time.

The season premiere of "Grey's Anatomy," a newcomer to the Thursday schedule, topped the night with 25 million viewers overall -- 3 million more than "CSI" -- and scored the No. 1 rating among adults aged 18 to 49, the group most prized by advertisers, Nielsen Media Research reported Friday.

The show's robust performance, up 6 million viewers from its season debut last year, led the Walt Disney Co.-owned network to a rare ratings victory over long-dominant CBS on the most competitive night of prime time.

For ABC, it was the best showing with series programming on Thursdays at 9 p.m. since May of 2000, when the blockbuster game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" was at its peak. And it was a sign of how far ABC has rebounded in the years since its ratings collapsed when "Millionaire" fizzled.

"CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," ranked as TV's most watched drama going into Thursday's showdown, ran second place to "Grey's" as it launched its seventh season with 22 million viewers, down 3 million from its 2005-06 average.

The rivalry between the two shows is one of this year's hottest network horse races, pitting a well-established CBS franchise from Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer against a newer, critically lauded breakout hit at ABC.

Both shows play on familiar prime-time motifs but differ in style and substance.

"CSI" is a police procedural focusing on the work of forensic investigators in a Las Vegas crime lab. "Grey's Anatomy" traces the medical and personal complications facing young surgical interns at a Seattle hospital.

In the months leading up to the showdown, both networks sought to publicly lower expectations, with CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler going so far as to call "CSI" the underdog. Her ABC counterpart, Stephen McPherson, responded by saying Tassler was guilty of "playing the rope-a-dope."

Still, the triumph of "Grey's" over "CSI" was not as big of an upset as it might seem. Last season, "Grey's" actually finished ahead of "CSI" in Nielsen's 18-49 standings while ranking No. 3 in total viewers among all scripted series behind "CSI" and another ABC hit, "Desperate Housewives."