Desperate for comedy hit, NBC covers all bases for debut of 'Office'

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Own a TV? It'll be hard to miss NBC's newest British reincarnation, "The Office." If you didn't tune into the pilot episode or watch last week's debut in its regular Tuesday-night slot, you may have caught it Thursday evening on USA Network, on Bravo later that night or on CNBC the next day-at two different times.

"We tried to plant as many seeds as we possibly could," says John Miller, chief marketing officer for NBC Universal Television Group. "We're not doing that well on Tuesday so we tried to give this show as much exposure on air and online so people will talk about it."

NBC, in search of a mid-season savior after finishing last in the February sweeps, is counting on "The Office" to scoop up a greater share of the lucrative 18-49 demo-especially after its other mid-season debut, "The Contender," failed to materialize as, well, a contender. Last week's 18-49 ratings for the boxing reality show, which airs Sunday night, were a third-place 3.2. The mockumentary-style comedy focusing on 9-to-5 dysfunction is adapted from the critically acclaimed British version that aired on BBC America. The U.K. hit, starring Ricky Gervais, is already a pop-culture reference, evidenced in its serving as the inspiration for a Burger King ad campaign from Crispin Porter Bogusky, Miami. This is the second Brit hit NBC is attempting to remake, following the disappointing showing of "Coupling" in 2003.

According to Nielsen Media Research, "The Office" pilot that aired March 24 after "The Apprentice" won the 18-49s race with a 5 rating; the normal Tuesday night time slot debut scored a 2.7 in 18-49s-a fourth-place finish but the network's best showing in that time slot in eight weeks.

GUERRILLA TACTICS

In addition to airing "The Office" across its cable assets, NBC also promoted it through a variety of guerrilla tactics: the day after the premiere downtown workers in seven cities could spot sandwich boards that read "My Boss Sucks" and "The Office." Prior to the show's launch, it also sent preview DVDs to lists of influentials, including agency execs and heads of TV and radio outlets, advertised in alternative weeklies, and offered sneak peeks of the full pilot episode and a 13-minute Webisode on myspace.com.

"NBC is a very traditional network in the U.S. but has begun to really tap into the assets of its larger organization and do some creative things to promote their shows," said Stacey Lynn Koerner, exec VP-director-global research integration at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media. "It's like a new NBC."

Miller attributes that to bi-weekly marketing council meetings he holds with representatives from all of the company's assets. Every week they choose a different property to cross-promote through multiple vehicles. Two weeks ago it was USA Network's updated detective show "Kojak"; last week it was "The Office."

"Ultimately, the show has to live and die on its own with ratings," Miller says, noting the true test will be how many tune into "The Office" this Tuesday, April 5, after the initial cross-platform blitz ends.

"It's important for them to have a success in a comedy," says Initative's Koerner. "I don't know if it needs to be `The Office,' but they need a comedy to anchor what's going on Thursday nights."

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