Monday, June 23, 2014
It’s tough for the promo departments because showrunners are never happy. They all want more promos, they all want longer promos, they all want promos in top rated shows where their message might actually be seen. There are only so many promo slots and invariably somebody or everybody is going to be unhappy.
For showrunners, it’s often maddening that promo departments will give away big plot twists, give away big jokes, or create an ad that’s not an accurate representation of what the episode is about. Many times I’ve seen a promo for my show and just cringed. If there’s a sex joke or pratfall you can bet the farm that’s what the promo will highlight.
One of my new pet peeves is promo departments trying to be too trendy. An example is the recent CBS sitcom, FRIENDS WITH BETTER LIVES. CBS promoted it as #FWBL. It had aired maybe twice. Who the fuck knew that #FWBL meant FRIENDS WITH BETTER LIVES? It was just a jumble of random letters and the super-trendy hash tag. At least HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER had been on the air for years before many adopted the shorthand HIMYM. And I’m sure 70% of their audience still doesn’t know what HIMYM means. Stop pandering so desperately to the LOL/OMG crowd that you break the first rule of advertising: tell the public what the product is.
This is true in daytime too. When you hear “On the next ELLEN…” you know who Ellen is. You know who Oprah is (or was). But when I hear “On the next Wendy…” I’m scratching my head saying who the fuck is that? A show has to be on long enough or have the star identifiable enough that he earns the right to shorthand. Or have a goofy name like Montell or Arsenio or Queen.
Promo departments also get into trouble with the catchphrase “on the next” because it will trap them into ungrammatical statements. “On the next THE VIEW…”
As if grammar matters. When a cable series goes to commercial the new trend is to hear, “brought to you in part by…” What is brought to you in part by? Would it be so hard to add “MAD MEN is brought to you in part by…?”
A network may claim they do that because they only have precious few seconds to get their message across in this era of fast forwarding through non-content. But that doesn’t stop ABC from saying ABC eight times in every promo. “Tonight on ABC – ABC’s SCANDAL on ABC.” A – we get it, B – it’s grammatically incorrect, and C- it sounds like you think we are idiots.
Promo hype has also run its course. “Tonight on a very special episode of….” means nothing. No one believes “This is the episode everyone will be talking about tomorrow.” One promo claimed I would be “changed forever” if I watched some cheesy procedural.
One particularly heinous promo said, “Tonight it’s MODERN FAMILY, the best family comedy on the air… followed by THE MIDDLE.” Nice promo for THE MIDDLE, guys.
And that brings up another issue. A :30 second promo for MODERN FAMILY and MIDDLE will feature :25 seconds of MODERN FAMILY and :05 for THE MIDDLE. To the network each show gets credit for a promo.
Networks also believe those horrible intrusive animated blobs they have pop up in the middle of shows constitute a promo. Yes, in the sense that you’re turning people off to those shows. The expression “Any publicity is good publicity” does not apply to TV promos. Annoying promos repel viewers. If someone is going to hate my show, at least do so based on the show, not because you think I’m ruining THE GOOD WIFE by shoving my message in your face.
But like I said, this is an age old feud between promo departments and showrunners. I’m sure the promo people could show you research that you can not repeat your network ID enough, even if it sounds forced and desperate. They will tell you that sex jokes attract attention. They will tell you that those animated pop ups are the only way to force viewers to see your title since everyone fast forwards through commercials and promos. They’ll tell you that #FWBL sends a message that CBS is totally locked in to young viewers. They’ll have numbers and charts and graphs. What they don’t seem to have is that one person who’ll step back and say, “#FWBL – WTF does that mean?”
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM