The Walt Disney network is promoting the show by bringing a version of its central setting, The Pie Hole restaurant, to ten major U.S. cities. An Airstream trailer made to look like the eatery will make its way from downtown Disneyland to Times Square. Visitors will be able to eat free pie and enjoy décor from the show's set -- not to mention an "outgoing" restaurant staff. The Pie Hole will also visit San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas, Chicago and Philadelphia.
Sounds ambitious, but this pie-in-the-oven strategy reveals some of the heat on big networks like ABC when it comes to promoting this year's new and returning programs. "Pushing Daisies" launched to good reviews last season, but any goodwill the quirky show generated was quickly tamped down by a season-aborting writers strike. ABC has to put money behind a show that isn't exactly new, but hasn't established itself as a fully developed brand yet.
Other networks face similar issues. NBC announced Thursday that it would pick up a full 22-episode season of its nerd-meets-hottie spy thriller "Chuck," which also had its run truncated earlier this year by the strike. Other fall shows that are popping up again include CBS's "The Big Bang Theory," and ABC's "Private Practice," "Dirty Sexy Money" and "Samantha Who?"
Networks backing such returning programs face "an atypical situation," said Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at independent Horizon Media. "Are they going to get the boost that a new show would achieve with a curiosity factor? Probably not," he said. At the same time, these sophomore shows "have a track record."
None of this is lost on ABC. "Because the season was pre-empted, we are faced with totally different challenges than we've ever been faced with before," said Marla Provencio, exec VP-marketing, ABC Entertainment. "We've got to remind viewers that are fans of the show that the show is coming back, remind them of the premise, reacquaint them with the characters and the storylines they've loved, and we want to make sure we can entice new viewing into the show."
Last year, "Pushing Daisies" snatched a large amount of pre-launch buzz. Told in fairy-tale fashion and populated with oddball characters and Day-Glo color schemes, the series focuses on a pie baker named Ned who realizes he has the power to touch dead things and bring them back to life (including dead fruit, which he revives for use in his pies). Ned brings his childhood sweetheart back to life, and they join up with a private investigator to solve murders by reviving the victims to get clues to who committed them, then collecting a reward.
Sounds complex, and not the sort of thing a network can just throw on screen. Indeed, through nine episodes last season, "Pushing Daisies" reached an average of 9.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, down from the just over 13 million who tuned in for its debut. Reflecting that, perhaps, ABC gave more time during "Pushing Daisies" to public-service announcements -- about $3.93 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence -- than it did to the show's top advertiser (Verizon Communications Inc., $1.03 million) or its runner-up (Nissan Motor Co., $839,300).
"Daisies" brought in about $29.7 million between the start of the season and the start of February 2008, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Other ABC fare brought in much bigger numbers: "Desperate Housewives" ($122.6 million); "Grey's Anatomy" ($182.8 million); and even fellow frosh drama "Dirty Sexy Money" ($45.5 million).
With some of that in mind, no doubt, ABC's "Daisies" promotion will feature footage from the show playing on plasma televisions on site, and waitresses on "whimsically decorated" bicycles directing people to the restaurant prior to the event. Guests of the restaurant will receive "Pushing Daisies" magnets, pie-cutters and spatulas, while a special website will chart the mobile restaurant's travels across the U.S. at www.PushingDaisiesTour.com
Plenty of promotions
Utilizing out-of-home media and guerilla stunts is common practice for networks trying to get viewers to sample their fall programs. To promote its new Steven Bochco drama, "Raising the Bar," Time Warner's TNT intends to give some auto travelers in Atlanta, Orlando, Philadelphia and Chicago free passage through tolls during certain times over Labor Day weekend. And earlier this year, buses sponsored by Verizon Wireless and branded with Fox's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" visited top cities and let fans film an action scene with a Terminator, using a green screen. The fans could then send the completed video clip to an e-mail address and/or a Verizon Wireless phone.
While this time of year is full of TV-network promotional ploys to lure couch potatoes to the latest and sundry boob-tube delights, some advertisers may have already made a few decisions. A recent report from Aegis Group's Carat predicted that CBS will snare the most households, total viewers and people age 45 and over in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile ABC and Fox will tie for first place when it comes for garnering the largest share of adults between the ages of 18 and 49, the demographic advertisers covet most.