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‘Raymond’s’ Winning Ways

Nov 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The marketing of TV’s latest off-network sitcom megahit began in 1998 on the living room set of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” when, with video cameras rolling, series star and co-creator Ray Romano sat down to write a letter about his show to a station group program buyer. As cameras recorded the event, Mr. Romano continued “writing” to more than 60 such buyers.
Those letters never went out but the videotapes did, featuring “Raymond” cast members engaging in sometimes risque banter about each particular buyer. Joe DiSalvo, formerly of Eyemark, which distributed the show at the time, said the tapes served as memorable and highly personalized marketing tools for viewing at group headquarters around the country about a month before the sitcom was to be sold in syndication.
“It was a bit of a pre-sell-not part of our formal presentation,” said Mr. DiSalvo, now president of King World Domestic Television Sales. (King World merged with Eyemark in 1999.) “Each one ran two or three minutes. They were an awful lot of fun. We came to each station group and told them we had something special to show them.”
The presentations helped “Raymond,” which airs in 173 markets representing 96 percent of the country, become a contender for the unofficial title of top-rated off-net sitcom.
Sinclair’s Bill Butler, one of the targets of the pitch, remembers the presentation as hilarious, complete with references to his own personal and professional life. “The sales staff really did their homework,” Mr. Butler said.
Mr. DiSalvo credited show co-creator and executive producer Phil Rosenthal and the cast for doing so much to help promote the show. Mr. Romano and the cast were on hand at the Red Room in New Orleans during the annual conference of the National Association of Television Program Executives for a big party a few months after the sales pitches went out, Mr. DiSalvo said. Mr. Romano was introduced by “King of Queens” star and fellow stand-up Kevin James and performed some of the stand-up comedy on which “Raymond” is based.
The campaign came together nicely without feeling like a hard sell, Mr. DiSalvo said.
“The station groups that bought `Raymond’-Tribune, Paramount [now part of the Viacom group], Fox, Sinclair-they buy a lot of sitcoms,” he said. “They saw the quality of the writing, the ensemble cast. They recognize a hit when they see one. And there was no question that this was a special show.”
The high cost of marketing the show to the syndication market was borne by partners HBO and Worldwide Pants as well as by Eyemark.
“It was our biggest NATPE event that year,” Mr. DiSalvo said.
The upcoming “Raymond” promotion for the second cycle at this year’s NATPE will again be King World’s biggest push, featuring personal appearances by the cast at a location yet to be announced. The biggest sales tool for “Raymond” this time around will be the success of the series in prime time, Mr. DiSalvo said.
Now in its eighth season, “Raymond” is the No. 5 show in total viewers in prime time, drawing 18.9 million viewers season-to-date.
Mr. DiSalvo said the show’s syndication run has helped broaden its prime-time audience. He pointed out as an example that in the nation’s biggest market, New York, viewership on Tribune-owned WPIX-TV skews younger than that of CBS, exposing the show to a different audience.
“I can’t prove it,” Mr. DiSalvo said, “but when we compare the network numbers when we were selling the show to the network numbers now, today’s numbers are a lot higher.”