By Jennifer Pendleton
Special to TelevisionWeek
A new television show doesn’t succeed solely on the strength of a promotional campaign, but a well-executed effort can help stoke the fires that drive public curiosity. A prime example: the on-air branding campaign for Showtime’s much-talked-about “Fat Actress,” starring Kirstie Alley.
Critics got a first look at the show and had a spirited conversation with its plus-size star at the Television Critics Association gathering in Hollywood nearly nine months before the series made its March 7, 2005, debut. The parallels between the show’s premise and Ms. Alley’s personal story sparked a surge of publicity, including stories in People magazine and TV Guide and Ms. Alley’s appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “The View.”
“Everyone in town was talking about it,” said Promax&BDA’s president and CEO, Jim Chabin.
Ms. Alley’s many appearances paved the way for Showtime to unleash a barrage of irreverent, music-driven on-air spots offering a further glimpse of the show. In one, Ms. Alley lip-syncs to a Violent Femmes song with seemingly tailor-made lyrics: “I hope you got fat/Cause if you really got fat/You might just want to see me come back.” The spot concluded with Ms. Alley (or rather, her character on the show) offering up a rude hand gesture.
In another spot, Ms. Alley, in a low-cut red dress, bursts into laughter, accompanied by strains of the Commodores classic about female sex appeal, “Brick House.” “The goal was to prove that fat and funny is sexy,” said Frank Pintauro, who heads Showtime’s in-house agency, Red Group. “We allowed her to do what she does best, which is be outrageous.”
The pay channel also cut a trailer featuring some real-life players in Ms. Alley’s life who also were guest stars on “Fat Actress”-actor John Travolta and NBC Universal Entertainment Group President Jeffrey Zucker.
As the attention-getting spots aired, Showtime offered what it dubbed the “Big Fat Free Preview,” five days in which cable operators offered nonsubscribers the pay channel gratis to attract potential new customers. It also made the pilot episode available in streaming video on the Yahoo! Web site.
Mr. Pintauro estimated that Showtime cut 20 to 25 promotional pieces, roughly twice the level of marketing firepower the network typically dispenses when promoting a new show. All the effort paid off when, according to Nielsen Media Research figures, in its first airing, “Fat Actress” scored a 4.16 household rating and 924,000 viewers, four times the network’s prime-time average. It was the highest premiere rating for a Showtime series in five years.
Also receiving an award will be executive producer Allison Bell, art director Christina Black, senior writer/producer Julie Carrillo and producer/editor Mitchell Harte.
Title: Senior VP and general manager, Red Group (in-house agency for Showtime Networks)
How long in current position: Seven years
Year of birth: 1951
Place of birth: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Who knew? Mr. Pintauro writes a regular column for Hunting & Fishing Collectibles Magazine.