For “Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital,” ABC’s upcoming 13-week limited series, the network will structure a massive multimillion-dollar marketing campaign that includes “Blair Witch”-like marketing techniques mixing fiction with what appear to be real events.
“We are treating this like a movie opening,” said Mike Benson, senior VP of marketing, advertising and promotion for ABC Entertainment. “We want people to get in the first night. We know if we get them in there the first night, we are going to get people to come back. The series is that good.”
ABC is marketing “Kingdom” with more promotional time than the network has ever put into a TV series-some 1,000 gross ratings points. Typical new network shows might get only some 500 GRPs. That includes heavy exposure on ABC itself as well as on Disney-owned cable networks ESPN, Lifetime, A&E Entertainment and ABC Family. “It’s a massive campaign,” Mr. Benson said. “It’s as big as any campaign that we have done, if not bigger.”
The marketing effort launched in late January, when almost 90 percent of ABC stations aired a half-hour “fictional” documentary promoting the series, which will debut March 3.
Stephen King wrote the series, which is based on the Danish miniseries “Riget” (“The Kingdom”) from director Lars von Trier. It revolves around mysteries surrounding a fictional medical center-Kingdom Hospital-in Lewiston, Maine, the town where Mr. King lives. The series was shot in Canada.
“We have this great fictional hospital that looks like it’s part of a real documentary in hopes that the audience will say, `Wait. There really is a Kingdom Hospital?”’ Mr. Benson said.
In the summer of 1999 the surprise theatrical hit “The Blair Witch Project” built a marketing campaign using the Internet and TV to publicize the supposed real-life disappearance in 1994 of its filmmakers, who were looking to find the urban legend of the Blair Witch.
ABC on-air promos are built around Mr. King’s name. Voice-overs in multiple promo spots say, “From the man who brought you `The Shining,’ `Carrie’ and `The Green Mile’ … .” In one major spot, a man is running down an isolated, wooded road and a truck appears to hit him. In a real-life incident, Mr. King was hit by a truck on a road in Maine.
Says the voice-over in the promos: “Coming from the mind of Stephen King-something so personal only he could tell it.”
To help build marketing buzz, ABC partnered with Hyperion Books, another Disney division, which published the book “The Journals of Eleanor Druse,” on which Mr. King supposedly based the series. In promos, a voice-over says, “Read the book before the premiere.”
Book retailers are cross-promoting the series, and ABC is offering retailers co-op advertising for in-store displays and other marketing materials. The book jacket features a blurb telling people to watch the ABC show.
ABC is deliberately not giving away much else of the story in marketing materials. “The thing that attracts people to Stephen King is the whole sense of the unknown-even though it’s fictional, it could be real,” Mr. Benson said. “We are trying to capture that essence in the marketing campaign-that there really could be a haunted hospital.”
“Kingdom Hospital” is the network’s first limited series that isn’t a miniseries. ABC will air one new episode every week for 13 weeks with no reruns. The first and last episodes are two hours, while the others run one hour.