#TBT: A Look Back at TV’s Must-Watch Thanksgiving Promo Leftovers

November 27, 2014  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

This week's look back to television treasures of yore goes beyond Throwback Thursday. It's Throwback Thanksgiving! While we usually focus on unearthing memorable (for better and for worse) TV promos, an exception needed to be made for Throwback Thanksgiving. Because how could we not include this incredible Thanksgiving ad from 2001, featuring Robert De Niro dressed as a pilgrim and Billy Crystal as a turkey? The Barry Levinson-directed ad was part of BBDO's pro-bono "New York Miracle" campaign to entice visitors back to New York City for the holidays, in the uncertain aftermath of 9/11. It's a perfect use of that unlikely comedy duo, and far funnier than anything they did a year later in Analyze That, De Niro and Crystal's dud sequel to Analyze This.

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#TBT: This Classic Dallas Promo Isn’t Great, but It Still Lured 83 Million Viewers

November 19, 2014  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

Holy cliffhanger! On March 21, 1980, Dallas fans were stunned as Larry Hagman's villainous J.R. Ewing was gunned down on the CBS drama's Season 3 finale. After eight agonizing months, and a masterful marketing campaign that turned "Who Shot J.R.?" into a worldwide phenomenon, the shooter's identity was finally revealed in Season 4's fourth episode, "Who Done It," which aired Nov. 21, 1980. More than 83 million people tuned in—a whopping 76 share, and an estimated 350 million worldwide—making it the U.S.'s second most-watched non-sports program of all time, after the MASH finale in 1983. Yet that impressive, ambitious publicity effort seemed to stall right before the finish line of the actual episode, which is the subject of this week's Throwback Thursday. Here's the underwhelming promo for "Who Done It," which ran after the previous week's show, "Nightmare," and makes the upcoming episode seem decidedly average:First off, the fact that the entire promo focuses on Sue Ellen (J.R.'s wife, played by Linda Gray) makes it clear she won't turn out to be the murderer—and could anyone who looks that sleepy have really pulled the trigger? Instead, the promos for the upcoming episodes of Alice and The Jeffersons look far more appealing, as both comedies must have received a CBS mandate to hit the road for November sweeps. Alice visited Las Vegas (it's all "fun and games with Robert Goulet" until Linda Lavin ends up in a goatee) while The Jeffersons traveled to Hawaii (there's nothing like a tantalizing John Milton/Paradise Lost reference in the promo to bring in those poetry-loving sweeps audiences). That wasn't the only curious promo before the big episode. Check out this stilted commercial for People magazine's "Who Shot J.R.?" cover, featuring a chemistry-free couple that seems to to be reading script lines right out of the magazine, while making it clear that the cover story won't spill any real dirt about the murderer's identity:As for the ravenously anticipated Nov. 21 episode itself, the actual reveal was disappointingly anticlimactic (it was J.R.'s sister-in-law and mistress, Kristin Shepard, played by Mary Crosby). It doesn't hold up 34 years later (why does everyone seem to be moving in slow motion?), except for that last juicy little twist, courtesy of one final bombshell from Kristin:And to see how it all began—the moment that turned the cliffhanger into an essential season finale staple for almost all subsequent TV dramas—watch J.R. take two slugs in the Season 3 finale:But let's really go out with a bang—dozens of them, in fact—and close with this lively blooper reel from Season 3, in which pretty much the entire cast, Hagman included, gets a chance to prove it shot J.R. (the fun starts at the 4:55 mark):While the "Who Shot J.R.?" clips might be showing their age, I still take my Stetson off to Dallas for attracting 83 million viewers to a single episode of television, a feat that is unlikely to ever be repeated by a program without the words "Super Bowl" in the title.

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How Bill Cosby Went From TV’s ‘Most Persuasive’ Pitchman to its Most Radioactive

November 19, 2014  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

Three years ago, as Bill Cosby prepared to be inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame as the first winner of the President's Award for Contributions to Advertising, he spoke with Adweek about the honor. When asked about his greatest asset as a hugely successful (and highly lucrative) pitchman of products like Jell-O, Coca-Cola and Crest, Cosby responded, "I think [it's] my believability as a storyteller." Three years later, that believability is in ruins. Past sexual assault allegations against the comedian have resurfaced and snowballed in recent weeks, with every day bringing a shocking, ugly new development. (Tuesday, former supermodel Janice Dickinson told Entertainment Tonight that Cosby drugged and raped her in 1982.) The controversy reached its tipping point late last night, when Netflix announced it was "postponing" the Nov. 28 debut of Cosby's comedy special, Cosby 77. Today, NBC followed suit, pulling the plug on the sitcom it had been developing with the comedian for next season. It's a stunning fall for Cosby. As The Cosby Show dominated the Nielsens in the '80s, the actor had the top Q Score of all entertainers, while New York research firm Video Storyboard Tests named him the most persuasive celebrity commercial pitchman for five consecutive years. Now he's the most radioactive, even to the very network that he helped rescue in the '80s. Putting the horrific allegations aside (disclosure: I worked at People when it published this damning 2006 account of the allegations from five of his accusers, one month after he settled with another accuser out of court. It's a story I'm still stunned never gained traction at the time), Cosby is in this predicament largely because he and his team demonstrated a surprising lack of media savvy for a performer who for decades has had audiences—and advertisers—in the palm of his hand. It started with the ill-conceived decision on Nov. 10 to launch a meme generator for his website, which quickly turned into one of the year's biggest social media debacles . As he granted interviews about loaning works from his art collection to the National Museum of African Art, he ignored questions about the allegations, first with the nonsensical response, "No. Look at the beauty of what we have here," and then with complete silence during an awkward NPR interview . Shortly after, his appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman—a safe haven if there ever was one given Letterman's own previous sex scandals — was canceled . It gets worse: On Sunday, in a statement

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Here Comes Katherine Heigl’s New Show

November 18, 2014  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

State of Affairs, as we observed back in September, has some problems. But it also has a high budget, a bankable star and a time slot after NBC's flagship show, The Voice, as well as viewers who probably forgot The Blacklist is on hiatus until next year. So the question at the moment is pretty simple: can State of Affairs win over enough viewers looking for the next big, flashy, action-packed drama? The answer at the moment is "possibly." With the time slot ready to go, the show pulled a solid 2.2 rating last night, down significantly from The Blacklist's 2.69 average but above everything else on the network so far this season. The 10 p.m. spot on Monday isn't a terribly competitive one, and The Blacklist has owned it in a big way this season (legacy shows on CBS and ABC—NCIS: Los Angeles and Castle, respectively—are both sagging in the ratings and unlikely to get canceled this season. Neither The CW nor Fox programs the 10 p.m. hour). Reviews of the show haven't been kind, though a few have noted the show makes canny use of Heigl's difficult reputation. (It's also been a troubled production—showrunner Ed Bernero left because he didn't get along with creator Joe Carnahan, an action-movie director responsible for stuff like Smokin' Aces and the bigscreen remake of The A-Team.) The question is mostly how upset audiences will be over the mid-fall changeover. Is it a major bait-and-switch, or a pleasant interlude? State of Affairs has a potential full season ahead of it (well, full-ish. It's starting mid-November so it can't be that full), and it could find a spot on the NBC schedule, oddly, alongside a number of other CIA-minded series, including CBS's Madam Secretary and NBC's own Allegiance. Heigl herself has been on a charm offensive in the TV news magazines, telling Mario Lopez she watches former boss Shonda Rhimes' Scandal every week and that she wants to mend fences over her departure from Grey's Anatomy. "I'm sorry she is left with such a crappy impression of me," she said . "I wish I could do something to change that. Maybe I will be able to someday." Maybe!

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After NFL Controversies, Expect a Kinder, Gentler Set of Super Bowl Ads

November 17, 2014  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

Despite some saber rattling, not one of the NFL’s 30-plus corporate sponsors including Procter & Gamble and General Motors have yanked their deals over the domestic violence scandals swirling around the league. But well over half of Americans and advertising professionals surveyed believe the disturbing issues raised by the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson domestic violence/child abuse cases will help change the creative tone of commercials we’ll see during NBC’s telecast of Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1. Roughly 62 percent of Americans and 65 percent of ad pros polled (for a total of 1,500 respondents) believe the domestic violence troubles would impact advertising creative on Super Bowl Sunday, according to a national survey being released today by the 4A’s. And 78 percent of Americans and 73 percent of ad execs see the controversies as an opportunity for brands and companies to promote positive social messages. Respondents have their own thoughts on how to improve the next batch of Super Bowl commercials during the series of online surveys conducted by research firm Ipsos in October. In: more focus on women, families and social issues. Out: the kind of cartoon violence and fart jokes that advertisers have used to get cheap laughs in the past. Roughly 34 percent of Americans and 33 percent advertisers want more focus on families. Thirty percent of Americans and 37 percent of ad pros want marketers to address domestic violence. That means Super Bowl XLIX actually offers an opportunity for the ad business to create “powerful, positive social messages” that hit a “sweet spot” with the biggest TV audience of the year, said Alison Fahey, 4A’s chief marketing officer. “I don’t think everybody should go overboard—and make it the ‘do-gooder’ Super Bowl. But it may not be the year to tackle Betty White in a Snickers spot,” she said. “It may not be the year for that slapstick, semi-violent tone in advertising.” For its part, the NFL has launched its own “No More” PSAs addressing domestic violence. They star over two dozen current and former players such as Eli Manning of the New York Giants and Cris Carter of ESPN

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How The Simpsons Saved FXX

November 17, 2014  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

When FX Networks CEO John Landgraf sealed the deal last November to secure exclusive cable, VOD and non-linear rights to The Simpsons for his fledgling cable network FXX, he was elated ("It's arguably one of the greatest shows ever made!")—but terrified. "I was really nervous about it. If it hadn't worked, it would have been a financial drain on the company's competitive abilities and resources for the better part of a decade…. There was a lot of sticker shock associated with the price we paid," said Landgraf, who shelled out an estimated $750 million for the long-term deal. Plus, given that The Simpsons was in its 25th season at the time, "there was no way to calculate how many times people had already watched. There was no way to calculate the nostalgia factor for people that might have fallen off the Simpsons train. And, by the way, we chose to put it on a channel that didn't exist, essentially." That would be FXX, the former Fox Soccer network, which relaunched Sept. 2, 2013 as FX's younger, edgier sibling. But early on, even Landgraf seemed unsure of what defined an FX series versus one that aired on FXX. By Nov. 13—almost exactly a year ago—things seemed bleak for FXX's future when the network canceled its late-night talk show, Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell, which was drawing as few as 10,000 total viewers per night after relocating from FX.

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The Academy Is Ready for Its Closeup

November 17, 2014  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

Mickey Mouse, Ronald McDonald, the Geico gecko, Mr. Clean—brand icons so embedded in the global mind-set that babies can recognize them before they can even speak. And then there’s Oscar, that distinguished little gold man honoring achievement in film, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 1929. So why would the Academy, of all things, find it necessary to undertake a consumer- facing marketing and branding overhaul? Surely no member-based organization (with the possible exception of the United Nations) gets more exposure than the Academy. The annual Oscar ceremony endures as one of the most popular televised events in the world and that rare thing for advertisers: a chance to reach tens of millions of people in one shot. And yet, the nearly 7,000-member Academy has remained a largely inscrutable body, steeped in secrecy much like those sealed envelopes it’s famous for—and it’s been a mystery not only to the public at large but even within the Hollywood community. As Craig Zadan—a producer of the Academy Awards show who has belonged to the organization since 1991, and producer of films like Chicago and Hairspray—says, “All those years, I didn’t know anything about the Academy other than the Oscars—and I was a member.” The Costume Exhibit, Presented in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the show features more than 150 pieces from films like Shakespeare in Love, The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars.

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L.A. Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez Spends His Offseason Playing Fantasy Football

November 17, 2014  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

Specs Who

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VW of America Will Start Sponsoring CNN Documentaries

November 14, 2014  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

Volkswagen of America has been chosen by CNN Films to sponsor its documentaries, expanding the relationship between the two companies. The car maker’s ads will start airing later this month during the CNN showing of the film Ivory Tower about the high cost of a college education in the U.S. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the ads will include co-branded, custom material that will air during film breaks and lead-ins. The deal gives Volkswagen of America exclusivity when it comes to automotive advertising during the film presentations. The car maker’s agency, MediaCom, engineered the sponsorship deal. The three companies have worked together before when Volkswagen of America sponsored several episodes of CNN’s series, The Sixties. The New York Times reports that Volkswagen of America has more than doubled its ad spending on CNN in the past year. A CNN senior executive says there are plans to extend the Volkswagen relationship into social media and digital platforms. VW of America is also looking at an expanding relationship to get its brand message out in a softer-sell approach via quality documentaries. Jennifer Clayton, VW’s general manager for marketing communications, told the Times, “I want to let the experts do what they do. We are in the business of selling cars, not show business." CNN will reportedly have seven new documentaries completed by year’s end.

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#TBT: Sorry Jar Jar, the Star Wars Holiday Special Is George Lucas’s Most Embarrassing Creation Ever

November 13, 2014  |  Media Week  |  No Comments

A long, long time ago—Nov. 17, 1978, to be exact—in a television galaxy far, far away (one that only had three major networks), Star Wars unleashed what would become its single most embarrassing artifact upon 13 million unsuspecting CBS Friday night viewers. More embarrassing, even, than the title The Force Awakens . It was the Star Wars Holiday Special, the subject of this week's Throwback Thursday. Forget Jar Jar Binks, the rest of The Phantom Menace, Princess Leia making out with her brother Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, and the immortal Revenge of the Sith line " Hold me, like you did by the lake on Naboo! " None of those ignominious Star Wars moments can compare to this debacle, which aired only once. A year after Star Wars became the highest-grossing film ever, George Lucas was sold on the notion that the special, airing on CBS the Friday before Thanksgiving, would help tide fans over until The Empire Strikes Back's 1980 release—and sell some toys along the way. His name doesn't actually appear on the Holiday Special, though he reportedly insisted on the show's ridiculous storyline, about Chewbacca's efforts to return to his family and tree-house home on Kashyyyk

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