By Natalie Finn
Special to TelevisionWeek
In most circumstances, admitting to millions of people that you once faked your own death in order to break up with a girl wouldn’t be the way into their hearts.
Unless your name is Earl.
NBC thought such confessions were exactly what the public needed to know about the main character of what became the most anticipated sitcom to premiere on the network’s 2005-06 prime-time schedule-“My Name Is Earl,” created by Greg Garcia and starring Jason Lee and Jaime Pressly.
“We marshaled our forces and we did zero in on making ‘Earl’ the buzzed-about show of the fall,” said NBC Agency President and Creative Director Vince Manze.
Mr. Manze and his longtime partner in crime, John Miller, chief marketing officer for NBC Universal Television Group, can consider their mission accomplished. Their ad campaign for “My Name Is Earl” is not only being honored with a Campaign of Distinction award from Promax&BDA and TelevisionWeek, but it also helped the half-hour comedy become the most popular new sitcom of the season. And, as it turned out, “Earl” was NBC’s only new show of the year aside from “Deal or No Deal” that was invited back for a second season.
To make “Earl” a household name before the series’ debut, Mr. Manze and Mr. Miller used the protagonist’s own voice to tout the show’s central theme-karma and redemption. Since the Earl character was going to spend each episode making up for some really crummy (yet very funny) thing he had done in the past, NBC felt the best approach would be to immediately familiarize the audience with what to expect from the show’s hero.
“On-air we sold the premise, but also sold this really charming guy [played by] Jason Lee, who to us … was the ultimate bad boy gone good. We tried to keep it honest, capturing the actual feel and tone of the show,” Mr. Manze said.
Radio and TV spots featured Earl humbly introducing himself and casually mentioning one item on his long list of past mistakes-No. 86: Stole a car from a one-legged girl. No. 27: Made fun of people with accents. No. 59: Everything I did to Dad.
The combination of Earl’s philosophical, apologetic approach to his misdeeds combined with his deadpan delivery (and that mustache, of course) easily translated into a memorable, recognizable character.
After the summer of buzz, “Earl’s” Sept. 20, 2005, premiere attracted 15.2 million viewers and a 9.4 household rating, and a full 22-episode season was ordered within its first month on the air. The show’s success on Tuesday nights as a lead-in for “The Office” prompted a midseason switch to Thursdays, where “Earl” and “The Office” will take the coveted 8-9 p.m. (ET) slot come fall.
“When we were considering all of the marketing plans, there was an interesting observation from quite a few of the women in my department,” Mr. Manze said. “The only thing women like more than a bad boy is a bad boy who apologizes.”
Title: President and creative director, The NBC Agency
How long in current position: Since 1999
Year of birth: 1947
Place of birth: Philadelphia
Who knew? Mr. Manze
cultivated his passion for performing by working as a stand-up comic. “This seemed to be the easiest thing to do for money because comedy wasn’t paying the bills,” he joked, in trademark comedic fashion.
Title: Chief marketing officer, NBC Universal Television Group
How long in current position: Since May 2004
Year of birth: 1950
Place of birth: Chicago
Who knew? Mr. Miller is a two-time international barbershop quartet champion. He has won two international chorus championships performing in the 135-man a cappella group Masters of Harmony along with his sons Justin and Jon Michael.