In the classic flick The Big Chill, Jeff Goldblum’s character, who labored for People magazine, worked under an edict to not write any article longer than the average American could read during the average crap. Apparenty, NBC is now going to be operating under orders to not try and sell the average American on anything that can’t be easily summed up in 30 seconds or less. So says, basically, Angela Bromstad, NBC’s president of primetime entertainment.
Yesterday, she told the Television Critics of America that KINGS basically failed because it was “a little too high brow and too difficult to sell in a 30-second slot.” She went on to say “It doesn’t mean we’re not looking for big ideas. They have to be big ideas that the audience can grab on to.”
For the record, let us fill Mr. Bromstad in on the real reason KINGS failed. While the big problem was marketing, it wasn’t the concept of the show or the inability of the audience to understand so big a concept so much as NBC’s apparent inability to actually figure out what they had and how to sell it. In the weeks before KINGS debuted, the network’s advertising campaign was scattershot at best. Despite having a potentially iconic image in the orange butterfly flag — which could easily have become the next Dharma Initiative logo — NBC failed to capitalize on the symbol. By simply plastering the symbol everywhere with a catchy tagline (“You will obey!”, or perhaps “Submit or die!”) they could have generated a word-of-mouth buzz that would have gotten people talking.
It also wouldn’t have hurt for the show’s promos to focus less on the epic nature of the story being told and more on the simple elements. Sorry, but sometimes, you need to take a divide-and-conquer approach to advertising by hitting people not with one commercial that sums up all the different angles of a series, but rather a series of spots, each of which highlights a different element.
Look at FOX’s upcoming, much-buzzed about GLEE, which seems to have hit viewers with new ads almost every week. Some focus on the production numbers. Others focus on the budding romance of the teen leads. Still others play up Jane Lynch’s withering cheerleading coach. It’s as if FOX is saying, “Hey, whatever you want… we’re gonna give it to you.”
Instead, in even the 60-second spots (twice the time Blomstad believes should be necessary to sell the audience on a premise), NBC’s ads for KINGS tried to sell romance, good vs. evil, too many characters we have no connection to, war… and all against a backdrop that looks familiar and yet is somehow slightly off. Throw in a rock tune that’s not particularly catchy and what do you have?
A hot mess.
Without the hot.
Most of those who found their way to KINGS did so not because of NBC’s ads, but in spite of them. And many who did became caught up in what was one of the most literate, complex television shows to grace network TV in years.
But don’t look to NBC for shows such as that in the future. They need ideas they can sell to the masses. Even the promising and (against all odds) returning SOUTHLAND will, we’re told, become less “serialized” (read: complicated).
In the years to come, when executives at the major networks complain about their ever-dwindling audience and wonder why all the best writers, directors and actors — not to mention Emmy nods and awards — are going to outlets such as FX (home of DAMAGES) or Showtime (home of NURSE JACKIE), I’ve no doubt they’ll blame everyone but themselves. But you and I? We’ll know that the smart money was on us all along.