Coming off its success producing the edgy family drama "The Days" for ABC, WPP Group's MindShare is finally christening its branded entertainment practice with a name: MindShare Entertainment. And Peter Tortorici, the entertainment czar at MindShare—originally retained as a consultant last year— who has been working full time since January, is being given an official title: president.
"We have formed a new unit, that will soon be called MindShare Entertainment," said Tortorici. "I'm in the midst of staffing and putting together more pieces of our team. This is the focus of what I do."
The company also is producing "Say When" a Christmas special that will air on CBS this year, starring Joe Mantegna as a man who discovers—right before Christmas—that his wife, (played by Jean Smart) is having an affair with an auto-mechanic. The special is funded by MindShare advertisers, co-produced by The Sanitsky Company and directed by Tom McLoughlin ("Without a Trace"). It's based on the best-selling novel by Elizabeth Berg.
It's been a busy season for MindShare since its branded entertainment practice was launched last October. The company brought in its client Sears as a sponsor of the one-off reality show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition", which subsequently went to series on ABC. Sears is also participating in the condo-makeover show "The Complex: Malibu" on Fox.
Tortorici—Les Moonves’ predecessor as president of CBS Entertainment— still is working as an executive producer on the non-MindShare show "Significant Others," an improvisational relationship comedy on NBC's cable net Bravo that recently got picked up for a second season. "Save that, MindShare Entertainment is the center of my professional universe."
Meanwhile, "The Days," has been pulling in strong numbers since it's premiere on Sunday, July 18, in its 10 p.m. slot, when it averaged 6.8 million viewers overall and 3.1 rating in adults 18-49, according to Nielsen Media Research, making it the top-rated bow of a summer drama. Since then, four episodes have aired with an average of a 2.4 rating in adults 18-49., putting it in second place so far in that demo behind NBC's "Crossing Jordan", while holding at a tie with "Crossing Jordan" for number one in its hour among adults 18-34 (2.2) and teens 12-17 (2.6).
"As they say, based on the early returns and current projections, this could be a beautiful relationship," said Tortorici. MindShare co-produced the show with Tollin/Robbins, creators of the WB's "Smallville", at Disney-aligned studio Touchstone Television. Newly minted ABC programming chief Steve McPherson, formerly the president of Touchstone, was an early champion of the project.
%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% The show was financed out of the existing media budget for MindShare's clients, Sears and Unilever. "It didn't require them to dig deeper in terms of their overall investment in network television…the real value here is if we could deliver the show for close to the cost of the media, then we were talking about a very insignificant premium," said Tortorici.
"We're very happy with our first time out," said Mark Goldstein, CEO of MindShare North America."We made the point from day one that this was not a product placement play. This was designed to help control the escalating media inflation problems that we are all facing. A year or so ago, advertisers were [held hostage]to plus 15% primetime inflation [for the cost of 30-second spots]. What we're trying to do is control the cost of production, then we can better control the cost of media inflation."
Nevertheless, product placement and ancillary promotional opportunities are available to the brands if they so desire, according to Tortorici.
Tortorici also pointed out that the brands will "have some advantage for having been an early investor" in terms of not having to pay the normal rate for a returning show if the show comes back.
"This kind of deal happens in reality programming, but it's the first time in a long time it is happening in scripted programming and it's great,"said Mark Pedowitz, exec-VP ABC Entertainment Group and president of Touchstone Television, having taken over from McPherson. "ABC is thrilled with its teen numbers, it's bringing us the kind of young audiences we haven't seen in a while. This went so well, we know there will be another one down the road." The show was relatively cheaply produced, without big name stars, shot with inexpensive high-definition equipment and a small production budget. "MindShare has made this a very cost-efficient production," said Pedowitz.