NBC's 'Chuck' Off Chopping Block, Into Upfront Deal With Subway

Chain Continues Partnership With Show After Playing Role in Effort to Save It

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- NBC has signed one of the first publicly announced deals of this year's upfront marketplace, securing Subway restaurants to support "Chuck," a humorous spy serial thought to be in danger of losing its roost on NBC's air.

'Chuck' lives another season.
'Chuck' lives another season. Credit: NBC
Subway had already been gaining attention for its presence in the Warner Bros.-produced show. In one episode, several characters enjoy Subway sandwiches at a bachelor party, and in another, one of the show's characters, Morgan, utters the chain's "$5 foot-long" slogan as part of the dialogue.

"This is far beyond just a logo placement or a product placement. It's more about the messaging," said Tony Pace, chief marketing officer of the Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust, the consumer-marketing arm of Subway, in a recent interview with Ad Age.

"Chuck" has averaged a 2.8 rating in its second season -- hardly a winner for any broadcast network. But its rabid fan base, studio lobbying and Subway's interest helped persuade NBC to keep it on the air, said Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, during a media conference call today.

"We had a number of our shows in the same position, and we were really looking to see how the fans were reacting, knowing the show was on the bubble and how our advertisers viewed the program," he said. "Chuck" won't return to the air until 2010, Mr. Silverman said, but NBC has ideas about running an online component in the interim to keep fans aware and interested. While the network has ordered only 13 episodes, there is a chance it could order more for next summer, he said. NBC will use its coming broadcast of the Winter Olympics to help promote the new season of "Chuck," he added.

Subway has gotten a rise out of its association with "Chuck." In late April, readers of the blog Television Without Pity asked fans to write letters, buy foot-long sandwiches at Subway and watch the second-season finale of "Chuck" live to demonstrate the group's buying power. Subway didn't start the protest but did encourage the brouhaha, Mr. Pace told Ad Age.

Upping spending with NBC
Subway's prominence in the series came about as it increased its spending with NBC in 2008. According to TNS Media Intelligence, Subway spent about $34.4 million in measured media last year. In 2007, Subway spent nearly $22 million on NBC advertising. That increase appears to have insulated the marketer from a tighter rein on how it weaves itself into the show. Subway uses an independent firm to arrange some of its product appearances, and Mr. Pace said in the earlier interview the chain had a deal in place with NBC Universal "that provides access to multiple shows."

Fans have reason to be optimistic about "Chuck," for now, but an advertiser's participation is no guarantee of success.

For the past year, NBC has actively sought to goose ad deals by offering marketers early looks at programs in the hope of sparking discussions about product placement and other kinds of integration. Last year, NBC secured an early upfront deal with General Motors that would help weave GM products into various NBC shows. One NBC program that benefited was "My Own Worst Enemy," a gritty spy drama featuring Christian Slater as a spy with a dual identity. GM helped sponsor the program, which was touted heavily during the Summer Olympics. "My Own Worst Enemy" was one of the first casualties of the 2008-2009 programming season.

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