Networks focus efforts online for fall TV shows

LOS ANGELES: The writers' strike dealt a blow to TV shows last season, but this fall the networks are tackling PR with a range of experiential marketing and online initiatives.

LOS ANGELES: The writers' strike dealt a blow to TV shows last season, but this fall, returning with original programming, the networks are tackling PR with a range of experiential marketing and online initiatives.

“We have to remind viewers of how the shows were left when they were off the air,” said Liza Rindge-Peterson, VP of prime-time-series and long-form publicity for NBC. “Some of the shows ended as early as January and February last season. We were building momentum with a number of our new series from last season, and we want to capture that excitement again.”

In addition to a fall preview show, starring Chuck's Zachary Levi, NBC is screening several premieres, including 30 Rock, Lipstick Jungle, and Chuck, online via Hulu.com a week before their network debuts. Other shows, like The Office and Heroes, aired webisodes on NBC.com this summer.

According to Jason Clark, VP of publicity for Fox Broadcasting, the network tackled the PR campaigns for the premieres with the same energy as every year, but added, “maybe we were a little more aggressive,” coming back from the strike. Online content was one area where the network focused, especially with its much-anticipated new show from J. J. Abrams: Fringe, which debuted on September 9.

With a presence at Comic-Con in San Diego, Fox hosted a Fringe-themed scavenger hunt event, where the final stop was a rooftop screening of the premiere.

“The whole goal of that was to get chatter from the bloggers so they start talking about how great it was,” Clark said. The campaign also launched a viral effort this summer with fake radio spots and ads that encouraged fans to “Find the Pattern.” The official Fringe Web site kept fans guessing, and blogs also picked up on the campaign.

Fox also partnered with comic book stores and colleges across the country to host “simul-streams” of Fringe and its returning show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which premiered on September 8, during their TV broadcasts.

NBC was also at Comic-Con this year to screen the season premiere of Heroes. The company has increased the number of events promoting this fall's shows after seeing the success of events for the Knight Rider TV movie (now a series) last year.

“These events drum up the kind of awareness that you want,” Rindge-Peterson said. “You want the weeklies to put in the picture of [the actors] on the red carpet. You want the bloggers to talk about the excitement of the event.”

The goal of the PR team for CBS this year was to promote its comedy shows, said Chris Ender, SVP of communications for CBS, and to work with one of the network's most popular shows, CSI, as it experiences cast changes in its ninth season. Even after dealing with the writers' strike, CBS said it has a full complement of pilots this year, which the network used to its advantage in its PR.

“One core of our publicity push was to get tapes into the marketplace quickly and... a little deeper than we usually do,” Ender said, explaining that CBS increased the number of screenings, especially on college campuses. “CBS is also expanding comedy this year, so there's an aggressive push for our comedy series.”

In addition to making its comedy stars available, CBS is doing “star campaigns” for actors Simon Baker of The Mentalist, Rufus Sewell from Eleventh Hour, and Elizabeth Reaser, star of The Ex List.

“We're looking to broad-based entertainment [media outlets],” said Ender. “We want to cast the widest net possible – from Entertainment Tonight to... The Early Show.”

All three networks handled their PR in-house.

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