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TV Geeks Out at Comic-Con

‘Office,’ ‘Big Bang’ Among Non-Genre Cult Favorites at Fan Fest

The TV industry’s takeover of Comic-Con could reach a critical mass next month.

Over the last decade, television has crept more and more into the annual sci-fi and comics convention, which this year runs July 24-27. Following the lead of the movie business, networks and studios have been using the San Diego event to crank up the hype for genre shows such as “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica.”

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Best Con Ever Participants at last year's Comic Con in San Diego show their support for highly anticipated presentations, including "Star Wars" and "Transformers."

But this year, the definition of what makes for a Comic-Con-worthy project is expanding—in a big way.

There’s not one whit of mythology or a single bit of gadgetry in the CBS comedy “The Big Bang Theory.” But that’s not stopping Warner Bros. TV from bringing the show’s cast of science geeks to the Con (as veterans of the convention call the event).

Likewise, while you’d expect 20th Century Fox TV to make a big push on behalf of Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse”—it’s from the man who made “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” after all—the studio also is hoping to fill up ballrooms with panel discussions with the casts of “Prison Break,” “24” and “Bones.” And NBC Universal’s studio arm, Universal Media Studios, is assembling the writers—yes, the writers—of “The Office” for a July 26 Comic-Con panel.

Lisa Gregorian, executive VP of worldwide marketing for Warner Bros. Television Group, said the Con has moved beyond its sci-fi roots.

“For us, it’s about shows and properties that resonate with a strong fan community,” she said.
“It’s more about the fan mentality than the product itself.”

Twentieth Century Fox TV Chairman Gary Newman agreed, arguing that studios might just be “evolving the brand of Comic-Con.”

“We’re bringing shows that have cult followings as opposed to just genre programs,” he said, adding that the studio is “anticipating an enormous response” for shows such as “Bones.” (It helps that the forensic drama series stars David Boreanaz, beloved by the geek set for his roles on Mr. Whedon’s “Buffy” and “Angel.”)

David Glanzer, Comic-Con director of marketing and public relations, doesn’t see any problem with more television shows making the Con rounds, as art appreciation is just as important as the genre at the Con. He pointed to the Con’s hosting of director Frank Capra all the way back in 1971 as an example of its broader aspirations, even in its early years.

Mr. Glanzer credited TV types for talking and interacting with fans as opposed to just marketing to them, as the film world often does.

Giving fans backstage access or behind-the-scenes material is one of the more important things for a successful showing at Comic-Con, he added. “The studio or network that can capitalize on that walks away with the most Internet chatter,” he said.

TV executives have become almost obsessive in their love of Comic-Con, believing the convention can help make or break a show.

Mr. Newman, for example, believes his studio’s fall 2007 NBC drama “Journeyman” was hurt by not having a major presence at last summer’s Con. It’s one of the reasons 20th is more than doubling its presence at the show this year.

Ms. Gregorian said the Con is key in spreading word of mouth on a show, something more important than ever at a time in which the mainstream media is being overtaken by bloggers as crucial hype engines.

“Comic-Con really helps you find that core fan base that could potentially become your evangelists for a show,” she said. “With social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace, that one fan can now impact a lot of people. And if you have thousands of people, it can become very significant.”

Besides the scope of Comic-Con, the show continues to explode in size. The Con’s first edition in 1970 drew 300 people. Last year, it attracted 125,000. This is the first year that on-site tickets will not be sold for the show, since organizers fear the demand will be too great on the San Diego Convention Center.

Knowing there may be more demand than it has room for, Mr. Glanzer said, Comic-Con International scaled back its advertising efforts this year to only local ads.

The biggest problem for TV fans attending Comic-Con could be deciding between the slew of small-screen events planned for the four-day event. Dates and times of various panels are being kept under wraps until early July, but with so many shows headed south, conflicts are inevitable.

Among the major studio TV highlights:

--Warner Bros. Television will present panels for seven shows: “Chuck,” “Fringe,” “Pushing Daisies,” “Smallville,” “Supernatural,” “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

The studio is planning two on-site screenings of the “Fringe” pilot, as well as two off-site screenings at the UA Horton Plaza Theater. It will continue its tradition of handing out free tote bags at its massive booth on the floor of the convention, and its animation division will hold a major bash on July 25

--In addition to “Dollhouse,” “Prison Break” “Bones” and “24,” the 20th contingent will include “Life on Mars” and animated half-hours “Family Guy,” “The Simpsons,” “American Dad” and “Futurama.” Cast members and writers from most of the shows will sign autographs at the studio’s 600-square-foot booth, which it will share with several other News Corp. divisions.
The studio also will be selling original art from its animated series and giving away a premium item (details are still under wraps).

--Universal Media Studios will begin its Con push on July 24 with a screening of new drama “Kings” and a Q&A with the show’s cast and producers. The same day, it will offer a panel on its revival of “Knight Rider.”

In addition to the “Office” panel, which will be moderated by series star Rainn Wilson, the studio’s July 26 schedule includes one of the Con’s most-anticipated events: A panel previewing the third season of “Heroes.”

NBC Universal said Sci Fi shows “Battlestar Galactica,” “Eureka,” “Ghost Hunters” and “Stargate Atlantis” will have cast panels at Comic-Con.

“Galactica” and “Eureka” also will have a large presence at the Sci Fi booth, with giveaways and a large ice cream truck giving out free treats to promote “Eureka’s” third-season premiere at the end of July.

--ABC Studios will supplement its big “Lost” event with panels for “Ghost Whisperer,” “Kyle XY” and “Wizard’s First Rule.” It’s also co-presenting the “Life on Mars” panel.

(Andrew Krukowski contributed to this report).

(1:45 p.m.: Added NBC Universal plans)

Comments (8)

Well, at least they'll be courting people who are actual or potential viewers and who love the medium. Sounds like a touchy-feely version of NATPE, only the audience is probably more media savvy than many NATPE attendees ever were. The con audience may be able to sniff out a stinker, too, which might come as a welcome or unwelcome shock to the studios. I wonder if Con attendees are so keen about Hollywood invading what used to be a smaller friendly convention, but it was interesting that Glanzer noted that TV folks tended to be less aloof and interact more. It obviously needs to be more than just tossing free T-shirts at the rabble.

GMMR:

As someone who will be traveling to Comic Con specifically for the TV panels, I am greatly disappointed in the proposed schedule. Although not confirmed, the schedule, confirmed by some event planners and studios, seems to have some of the most buzzed about TV panels back to back or in many cases, over-lapping.

Those who have been to Comic Con before know that because they don't clear out the rooms in between panels, one has to get in line WELL before the start of some panels to even have a shot at getting in.

I suppose there's no one to blame, it is what it is. But I can still be disappointed, right?

There are a couple of things that bug me about this article. It is well written and it is interesting to get the information since Comic Con's official site seems to be a little slow in updating.
Comic Con International has not been a traditional SciFi show, in like...ever. It's a pop culture show and has been since 1994. Comic Books have taken a back seat at this show since 2002.

They write this: "There’s not one whit of mythology or a single bit of gadgetry in the CBS comedy “The Big Bang Theory.” But that’s not stopping Warner Bros. TV from bringing the show’s cast of science geeks to the Con"

Apparently the author of the article does not watch Big Bang Theory because if he had then he would not be surprised in the slightest bit that the cast is going to be at the show.

I just wish that before reporters put out a story like this they would check their facts a little more clearly.

As for more and more TV and movies coming to the show...it's already at its max capacity so I am almost fearful to see what happens next.

I'm just stoked about the return of TERMINATOR: SCC, and new shows FRINGE and DOLLHOUSE.

Oh, and don't forget about HEROES & BSG!!!

Woot, woot!

BeepMeWhenTheApocalpyseComes:

Well-written and informative. I agree a bit with the Committed CEO, but he/she has to realize that the perception of Comic-Con to many is still a 'geek-fest' complete with costumes and nerds galore. We who've been going there for at least 10-20 years know it's gone beyond that, and has been beyond comics (sadly) since even before 2002 -- but many don't. TV Week being a trade, those that read it should know, though, and there's the fault with this article. If it was the Pomona Star, then fine. And I love all the shows Kingdom mentioned, too!

Lynn:

I wonder if Ballroom 20 might not upstage Hall H this year.

Comic-Con Long-Timer:

The people who have been going to the San Diego cons always provided a grassroots genre presence of fans starving for genre stuff going to Comic-Con just to go there even though in the old days the Comic-Con back in the 70s and 80s it was primarily just comic books. In the 70s, as far as San Diego is concerned, there were really no sci-fi conventions except maybe the infrequent Starcon (no longer around) in San Diego. And so when there is only the Comic-Con and no sci-fi cons at all in San Diego, meaning no specific genre outlet for at least the local fans, then the genre fans just went to the Comic-Con and did their genre thing there by arriving in costume and to meet with other genre fans. You can give some credit to the S.T.A.R. San Diego club with their trek fan members and Logan's Run fan members for their genre presence before Star Wars came around. One of the big deals in the old days was the group of Logan's Run fans when they essentially played hide-and-seek where you have Logan's Run "sandmen" chasing down "runners" for "termination" with the fans in full Logan's Run costumes with flame guns running around the hotel, pool area, and convention area at the old El Cortez Hotel convention place. Just imagine dozens of girls and guys as "runners" dressed in flimsy short roman-style drapery costumes being chased by even more dozens of "sandmen" dressed in black skin-tight outfits (grey band across the front the chest) firing their flashing flameguns. Not sponsored by the Comic-Con, but socially-generated grassroots genre fan activity for that time. That happened for at least two/three years/cons and you can imagine the headache that was for security guards and the notices that later went around warning against these "runs" and the brandishing of fake sci-fi prop guns but they still happened. (No "runs" nowadays for the modern Comic-Con, but prop guns from all sorts of movies and tv shows are still aplenty wherever you look at Comic-Con.) That grew and changed after Star Wars came out. The genre presence further grew with the studio presence for marketing movies and TV shows. You can probably give credit to George Lucas for that by introducing the original Star Wars for viewing by fans at the Comic-Con. No one else understood that movie in those days (because there was never anything like Star Wars) and probably only thought of Star Trek when thinking about sci-fi stuff, but bring it to the Comic-Con and you have a ready-made audience of comic-book fans and genre fans from which to gauge the response. Since at least that time which I would consider a big turning point for the Comic-Con when it really slowly started to become more of a "Media-Con", then you can see the difference in the dealers room between the old days of only comic-book vendors and the modern-day dealers room with studio-sponsored display booth areas and tv-movie-genre vendor booths along with the comic-book vendor booths. I've been going since 1975 and have personally watched it grow with more and more families going all together to the Comic-Con because it's not just geeks anymore. You can say the geeks grew up, married, had kids, further multiplied even more with subsequent generations of media-genre starved grandchildren and great-grandchilden etc., and became mainstream. Nowadays, it's real everyday people (because almost everyone nowadays can be called a "geek" if you are a fan of something or really a fan of anything at all) who go to the Comic-Con. It's really different from the old days.

Elyse:

I attended the NYC Comic Con this year and wish I could attend the San Diego one. Hopefully next year the TV folk will realize the NYC event is there as well, as I was hoping to see more TV material :)

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