In Depth

‘Southland’ on NBC Promotes Life Behind Badge

NBC is toning down the hype—and trying to turn up the emotion—to promote the April 9 premiere of “Southland,” the network’s first new 10 p.m. Thursday drama in 15 years.


The last time the network made a big push for a show in the storied timeslot, of course, was in 1994, when “ER” went on the air. NBC took the then-unusual step of airing a promo for “ER” in May, four months before the show’s premiere. It used the series finale of “L.A. Law” to tout newbie “ER” as the “next great NBC drama.”

Things are more low-key this time around, said Adam Stotsky, president of marketing for NBC Entertainment.

“We recognize some of the challenges we’ve had as a network,” Mr. Stotsky said, referring to NBC’s fourth-place standing in the ratings. “Rather than being hyperbolic in our advertising, what we’re trying to do is get people to the shows and let the shows speak for themselves. We need to prove ourselves before we can start beating our chest again.”

Even if Mr. Stotsky’s team successfully launches “Southland” and the show becomes a hit, the network’s work on the show will continue next fall. That’s because if “Southland” snags a second season, it won’t be able to return to its 10 p.m. slot: Jay Leno’s new show will be stripped weeknights at 10 starting in late August or early September.

Mr. Stotsky’s less-is-more approach means you probably won’t see spots declaring the next chapter in “Must-See TV” with “Southland” (or, for that matter, “Parks and Recreation,” the new Thursday comedy that also premieres this week).

That said, NBC is mounting a strong push to get viewers to sample “Southland.”

The network had originally planned to premiere “Kings” in the 10 p.m. Thursday timeslot, but new entertainment President Angela Bromstad, in one of the first calls in her new job, decided to go with “Southland” there instead. That meant Mr. Stotsky and his team needed to quickly shift gears.

The first shot in their marketing campaign for “Southland” was fired during the Super Bowl, when a teaser spot ran just before the start of the game.

Mr. Stotsky also has made sure to make note of “Southland’s” bloodlines: The show is from “ER” executive producer John Wells.

Mostly, however, NBC has been focusing its efforts on longer-form spots designed to sell the characters on “Southland.” Instead of the usual 15- and 30-second ads, NBC has run radio spots as long as 90 seconds and TV spots that last a full minute.

“Our mantra has been, this is a show that takes you behind the badge, and behind every badge, there’s a heart,” Mr. Stotsky said. “We want to let the show sell itself.”

Among the other aspects of the “Southland” campaign:

—NBC, working with local radio stations in major markets, has arranged for on-air personalities to go on ride-alongs with area police officers. The DJs will file reports from the field, describing what it’s like to work a beat with cops.

“‘Southland’ presents the reality of what it would be like to be a police officer,” Mr. Stotsky explained. “It makes the viewers feel as if they’re on the ground with the characters. We tried to re-create that with the radio promotion.”

—NBC made the pilot for “Southland” available for on-demand streaming for customers of Cox, Comcast and Verizon last week. The premiere also is now streaming on Hulu and and is available for download on iTunes.

—Because “Southland” is filmed using an advanced HD camera, Mr. Stotsky’s team was able to use high-resolution screen grabs from the pilot in print campaigns for the show, rather than staged photos from the set.

—Los Angeles-area law enforcement officials have been invited to a special screening of the pilot set for April 6 at Universal Studios CityWalk. “We think it can help create some positive goodwill and buzz for the show,” Mr. Stotsky said.

While “Southland” joins a small army of police and law-enforcement-themed dramas on TV—including NBC’s long-running “Law & Order” franchise—Mr. Stotsky doesn’t think getting the show to stand out will be a particular challenge.

For one thing, the glut of crime repeats on cable networks such as TNT and USA means Mr. Stotsky can promote “Southland” to viewers who already have a penchant for cop shows.

What’s more, he believes “Southland’s” focus on characters rather than crimes will help the show distinguish itself from the other badge-flashing series.

“The producers have crafted a cop show that isn’t a cop show,” Mr. Stotsky said. “It’s a show about cops … and what the beat does to their lives.”