Campaign of Distinction: ‘House’

Jun 19, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Allison J. Waldman

Special to TelevisionWeek

In 2004, Chris Carlisle, Fox Broadcasting executive VP of marketing, made a bold decision to promote the launch of the medical drama “House”: He distributed free DVDs of the pilot through Entertainment Weekly and People magazines.

“We put out about 2 million copies. No one had ever done that before,” Mr. Carlisle said. The ploy worked-with the media; the show was well received.

“It was a critical success, but on a ratings basis it wasn’t what we were hoping for-an 8 share. By the end of the year it had a 16 share. That was great, because not every show can succeed just because it’s on after ‘American Idol.’ Many shows don’t, but this show just seemed to be incredibly compatible.”

The second-season marketing mission for Mr. Carlisle and his team-Brian Dollenmayer, senior VP of on-air promotion; Rick Laurenze, VP of drama on-air; and Anna Porretta, writer/producer-was to build on the success of 2004-05. The quirky drama had two goals: first, to prove to be a strong lead-in to “24”; and second, to hold and-if possible-build on “American Idol’s” lead-in.

The new Fox campaign commenced over the summer of 2005 as soon as scenes from the new season were available to promote. “‘The World According to House’ was a series of short 20- or 30-second spots that really embraced the character,” said Mr. Carlisle. “The whole idea was that there’s no other voice on TV like this. We used ‘House’-isms, his very specific and unique and acerbic point of view. We made it something that would stand out.” The spots all starred actor Hugh Laurie, who portrays the cantankerous, brilliant but vexing diagnostic genius Dr. Gregory House.

There was an immediate reaffirmation for Fox marketing that its campaign was working. The “House” season premiere-with newcomer “Bones” as a lead-in-drew 15.9 million viewers, a number higher than the show’s full-season average the year before, when it benefited from the “American Idol” lead-in.

“As a marketer, you realize that we haven’t reached the ceiling as far as audience goes in any way. It became ‘How high is up?'” Mr. Carlisle said.

With the return of “American Idol” in January, “House” rose in the ratings. “Each week we would just see the numbers go up, and creatively the show just kept getting better. We were still marketing this show for people who were not into it yet,” Mr. Carlisle said. During every “American Idol” episode, Fox aired a variety of “House” promos reinforcing the quality of the show.

The bottom-line results by year-end showed that “House” was a major hit. “People really embraced it. It wound up with a 25 share, and that was just insane. We were absolutely thrilled,” Mr. Carlisle said.

“Fox actually got lightning in a bottle on this one,” said Jim Chabin, chief executive officer of Promax/BDA. “This character is so interesting. That show now stands on its own two feet, and that’s easier said than done. Fox did not give up on it.”

Chris Carlisle

Title: Executive VP of marketing, Fox Broadcasting

How long in position: Two years

Year of birth: 1956

Place of birth: Englewood, N.J.

Who knew? He shot the close-up photo of Michael Chiklis that was used in billboards to promote “The Shield.”

Brian Dollenmayer

Title: Senior VP, on-air promotion, Fox Broadcasting

How long in position: Two years

Year of birth: 1967

Place of birth: Fort Riley, Kan.

Who knew? At age 7, he was producing shows in his basement.