The wizards of WB

Nov 4, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The WB certainly has the goods this season, but equally important, they have the guys. They’ve got Bob-a-Lew.
No, that’s not a typo. That’s TV promotion industry lingo for Bob Bibb and Lewis Goldstein.
In one of the more amazing track records in this here-today, gone-tomorrow world of 500 channels, Mr. Bibb and Mr. Goldstein have crafted some of the finest promotions in TV history as they have helped build The WB into a significant player, much as they did for Fox Broadcasting when it started.
Both networks have been built, to a large degree, on the guts of these two middle-aged men. Literally. These guts should be insured by Lloyds of London.
“We just focus on what hits us in the gut and what is the marketing message we want to sell,” Mr. Goldstein said.
“Go for the gut” is Bob-a-Lew’s mantra, and has been for years. When Jamie Kellner started The WB in 1994 he brought them over from Fox-where all three first did their magic-and Mr. Bibb and Mr. Goldstein have been the co-presidents of marketing at The WB ever since.
Recently the pair-who were awarded Promax’s highest honor, the Pinnacle Award, earlier this year-let Electronic Media in on their secrets as they prepared a new marketing campaign.
It’s for the Nov. 24 showing of “The Wizard of Oz,” the first time the canonical film will have been shown on broadcast TV since CBS aired it in May 1998.
“We got really excited when we had the chance to air this,” Mr. Goldstein said, because they had the opportunity to make the message different.
Even though “Oz” is a beloved movie seen by millions, Mr. Goldstein and Mr. Bibb knew there were many younger viewers-the core of The WB’s audience-who had never seen it. “So we had a pow-wow and said, `What can we do to make this feel fresh and make it feel big and special and part of the WB brand?”’ he said.
Their answer was to position the movie that spawned the catch phrase “lions and tigers and bears, oh my” akin to a “Lord of the Rings”-that is, as an epic tale of good and evil where the heroine has to travel through the dark side to conquer evil forces. Part of the updated message includes using music from pop artist Moby in the promos. “It is a way to touch on emotional aspects of the story in a way that touches your gut and makes it very current,” Mr. Bibb said.
That same strategy also applies to the network’s mainstays-its prime-time series. The WB started the season with a big bang and is pacing ahead of last year in ratings. And new shows “Everwood” and “Birds of Prey” pulled in strong numbers out of the gate.
It is the initial big bang that is really the responsibility of Bob-a-Lew.
If the successful opening of a theatrical movie is the responsibility of the marketing chiefs at the studios, so the initial debut of a TV show is the responsibility of the marketing chiefs at the networks.
With “Everwood,” the story of a small-town neurosurgeon and his relationship with his kids, the marketing duo devised two similar yet divergent messages based on the audience. “I think we succeeded in selling to two audiences-the adult 18 to 34 and teen audience-with a different set of messages,” Mr. Bibb said. “We have to make this an exciting place for teens because we are building a lifelong network.”
The network positioned the show to its core young adults as the story of Ephram, a son who is in a troubled relationship with his father. In older-skewing venues, such as TV Guide, the network highlighted the Treat Williams character and the dilemmas a father faces with his son.
The ability to zero in on the core emotional element of a show sets Mr. Goldstein and Mr. Bibb apart, said Greg Berlanti, the show’s creator and executive producer. “They were able to encapsulate on one poster the distance between father and son, the natural environment, and also say that `Everwood’ is a place that exists in our imagination,” he said. “I think they are geniuses at translating it down to its marketable core.” That philosophy helps a creator because it serves to keep the show’s focus top of mind, he added.
The team took a similar tack with the new “Birds of Prey,” an action-adventure series with three female superheroes. “We decided to sell it on the most vulnerable character-the forgotten daughter of Catwoman and Batman,” Mr. Bibb said. “That’s what we decided to sell to the audience because that would be the quickest way to the audience’s emotions.”
The big promotional push before the season began succeeded in capturing a large tune-in of 7.5 million total viewers and a 5.0 rating/14 share among adults 18 to 34. However, the show dropped to 3.7 million viewers and a 2.0/5 among adults 18 to 34 in its most recent airing last Wednesday. That, however, is not Bob-a-Lew’s problem. They have nothing to do with whether a program sticks or not. They did their job, which was to bring significant numbers to the show’s opening.
The marketing duo is also responsible for promoting the Sunday night re-airings of sophomore series “Smallville” as well as “Everwood.” The lineup is called “Big Sunday” and the marketing messages play on the convenience of the second showing, urging viewers to catch an “easy view” of “Smallville” and “Everwood.”
Some nights aren’t as successful as others. Thursdays are tough since the network is up against CBS’s “CSI” and “Survivor” and NBC’s “Friends.” The duo plans to cultivate “Jamie Kennedy” with some upcoming November sweeps events, such as a visit to Las Vegas and special guest appearances, but generally does not promote its other Thursday fare as heavily.
While the notion of an equal partnership often only sounds good in practice, the WB team has found a way to make it work well. Bouncing ideas off each other helps the two refine their strategies before they are presented to Jamie Kellner, chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting System. “Bob and Lew are a classic team,” Mr. Kellner said. “It’s one of those situations where one plus one makes three.”