This season the people who put together CBS’ sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” will reveal online all the tawdry things they can’t show on-air. Like sex, drugs and Ted and Barney in a hot tub.
The executive producers for the Monday night series are launching a raft of new-media, viral video and social networking tactics to promote the third season of the show. That includes the creation of six “how it really happened” online vignettes that provide the unfiltered version of the events that unfold in the show. The show returns Sept. 24.
“There are eight of us in a room, and we are trying our best to come up with comedy you can put on CBS at 8 p.m., and inevitably there is stuff you can’t—and ‘How It Really Happened’ is the kind of content we can’t put up. There is sex, drugs,” said Carter Bays, executive producer for the show, which is produced by 20th Century Fox.
The “How I Met Your Mother” digital campaign underscores the lengths to which networks must go to recruit new viewers and to placate the younger ones who are hungry for digital programming offshoots. Also, executive producers, much like authors who now do more self-promotion, find they must invest more time writing additional storylines for the Web as networks, studios and viewers demand additional content.
Mr. Bays declined to share details of the one- to two-minute videos, but he did say the first one will feature the characters Ted and Barney in a hot tub.
“That’s definitely not a story he will tell his kids,” Mr. Bays said, referring to the premise of the show, which revolves around a father telling his children how he met their mother.
Twentieth Century Fox will seed the videos on MySpace and CBS’ Audience Network, which includes portals such as MSN and AOL, but the goal is to have the videos spread across the Web.
Salaciousness aside, the “How I Met Your Mother” initiatives, which also include Facebook mashups and Web-exclusive honeymoon videos of the characters Lily and Marshall, go beyond what has become commonplace in the world of digital marketing. One of the Facebook mashups will air at the end of an upcoming episode.
Nearly every show streams episodes online or offers digital downloads via iTunes or Amazon. But only a handful of programs have created additional and exclusive content solely for the Web. NBC created a Web series for “The Office” last summer and also offers short behind-the-scenes clips on its Web site for that show.
Broadcast networks are just beginning to craft original Web extensions, while cable networks, such as Bravo, have been experimenting longer in the arena.
No other shows on CBS are marketed to this degree online, said George Schweitzer, president of marketing at CBS.
“Look at the nature of this show. This is a show about social networking,” Mr. Schweitzer said.
The goal with any marketing is to improve ratings. Last season the show averaged a 3.5 rating and a 10 share in adults 18 to 49 and is the network’s top-rated scripted series among viewers 35 and under. But measuring the impact of such viral efforts is sketchy work at best.
Also, any ratings uptick the network registers is just as likely to stem from the show’s availability on American Airlines flights this summer, Mr. Schweitzer said. The airline ran episodes of “Everybody Loves Raymond” beginning in 1999, a partnership that helped that sitcom take off, Mr. Schweitzer said. He said he expects similar results with “How I Met Your Mother.”
Still, showrunners need to work harder today to make their shows stand out, said Gary Newman, chairman of 20th Century Fox Television.
“It used to be enough just to get yourself on a TV schedule,” he said. “Now you have to reach out to consumers in new ways and showrunners are taking more of an interest in doing that.”
The new “How I Met Your Mother” projects for the third season include a Web site at slapcountdown.com that will count down the seconds until a November episode when Marshall will slap Barney, making good on a bet from last season; a two-minute recap of the show by series narrator Bob Saget; and Web-exclusive honeymoon videos from Marshall and Lily posted on the show’s MySpace page.