Campaigns of Distinction: ‘The Tony Danza Show’

Jun 20, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Jennifer Pendleton

Special to TelevisionWeek

It’s tough to launch syndicated daytime strips these days, to which the corpses of several recent high-profile flops will attest. Powerhouses such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Dr. Phil” occupy the most coveted time slots, and unlike in past eras, there are few independent stations willing to pay top dollar for unproven shows.

That makes the freshman success of The Walt Disney Co.’s “The Tony Danza Show” stand out. The marketing campaign surrounding its debut is one of the 10 Promax&BDA Campaigns of Distinction for 2005.

Long before the show first aired Sept. 13, 2004, the 29-person marketing team at Disney’s Buena Vista Television, led by executive VP of marketing Sal Sardo, figured out how the public perceived the singing, dancing onetime sitcom star. Research showed audiences viewed the youthful 54-year-old Mr. Danza as friendly, charming and approachable-in short, perfect for daytime.

“These are hallmarks of what you look for in a great talk show host,” Mr. Sardo said. But of course, Mr. Danza was known neither for daytime nor talk. Buena Vista’s challenge was to change that.

Thus began a full-throttle promotional and publicity blitz, repositioning Mr. Danza’s professional image. Unscripted on-air promos showed the star chatting up ordinary people on the street. In another, Mr. Danza bought numerous daily newspapers (presumably to comb for topics of discussion) as a bus carrying an ad touting “The Tony Danza Show” rolled by.

Ads in magazines and billboards in key cities declared Mr. Danza and his new show “a familiar face in a brand-new place.” The hard-working Mr. Danza sat for numerous interviews with journalists, resulting in a cavalcade of press coverage.

Traditional media coverage and advertising formed the core of the marketing effort, but Mr. Sardo and his team also ventured into unusual venues-on video monitors in Target stores, signage in 2,000 beauty shops and on a fleet of delivery trucks traversing the country. In addition, the company struck promotional tie-ins with two national advertisers, Unilever (for All brand detergent) and Olive Garden restaurants.

Ratings for “The Tony Danza Show” were solid but not stellar in season one, due to less-than-desirable time slots in some major markets. Starting this fall, the recently renewed live program will be upgraded to better daytime berths in key markets. With new clearances, the show will reach more than 90 percent of the United States for the 2005-06 season.

Sal Sardo

Title: Executive VP, marketing, Buena Vista Television

How long in current position: 20 years

Year of birth: 1956

Place of birth: San Diego

Who knew? Mr. Sardo won $32,000 in cash and prizes on the game show “High Rollers” in the early 1980s.