Some campaigns are scribbled on a cocktail napkin, others are inspired by an offhand comment. WGN’s campaign to debut “According to Jim” was in the latter category.
“It actually started as a lark,” said Joanne Stern, WGN’s director of creative services. “Our media buyer, Rich Russo, and JL Media were meeting with the radio station JACK-FM, discussing ideas that might be fun at the launch, and Rich said, ‘Why don’t you change the name of your radio station to JIM FM?’ We looked at each other and I said, ‘That’s a great idea.’
“The radio station was a perfect match for the demographic we were going after, adults 18-49, and the show is set in Chicago, so it was a natural.”
Taking a radio station hostage for a day took planning. Producer Andrew Lennie mapped out an outline of how the day would play out, and JACK-FM account executive Khatija Mohiuddin filled it out.
“They next sent it to Buena Vista, the syndicators. They loved the idea, as did Chicago native Jim Belushi, who tweaked the script and added his own ideas to the script,” Ms. Stern explained. “He also got the other cast members involved, so everyone from the show was part of the stunt.”
The stunt would run from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. the day of the show’s launch, Sept. 18. Told in snippets throughout the day, the storyline featured Mr. Belushi, who has taken over the station, wanting to stay at the station while everyone else tries to get rid of him … until the end of the day, when he leaves saying, “I’m going to see the premiere of ‘According to Jim’ on WGN.”
“The most difficult part was combining everything to make sense,” said Mr. Lennie, who credits his boss Tom Vodick for support and good ideas and Al Ertzberger at Buena Vista in helping to get the cast’s lines completed to everyone’s satisfaction. “I had all the ‘Jim’ elements, clips of the show and then our spot. I put together an entire broadcast day, minus the music, filling 10 hours. All the recordings were coming from separate places, and we had to make it sound like everyone was in the same studio, actually conversing. It was hard, but we did it.”
In the days and weeks leading up to the show’s launch, said Ms. Stern, they worked to build up the mystery. “We leaked it to the TV writer at the Sun-Times to say that we heard something was going to be up on JACK-FM on Monday,” she said. “He put a little blurb in his column about it.”
The Friday before the launch, they began running 5-second radio IDs that twisted the station’s slogan to “You Won’t Know Jack.”
When “According to Jim” debuted, said Ms. Stern, WGN had “the highest rating in the country” for it.
“It was totally fun,” said Mr. Lennie. “It’s not every day that you get to work with Jim Belushi, albeit indirectly.”