Since the Tardis, the signature device of British sci-fi drama "Doctor Who" is disguised as a police call box, you'd figure the producers could just slap an AT&T logo on the device if the telecommunications company wanted to sponsor show in a more meaningful way.
That would be taking the easy way out.
Instead, AT&T will use "Doctor Who" on BBC America to bolster an emerging ad technique. Many of TV's biggest scripted series have incorporated so-called hybrid commercials into their ad breaks. Consider ABC's "Desperate Housewives" or NBC's "Heroes" or AMC's "Mad Men," all of which ran commercials that promoted the sponsor, but also the show being supported by the commercial. Fewer of these actually feature content that advances the show's storyline while the main action has been halted by the need to run the commercials in the first place.
AT&T is advancing this method this weekend by sponsoring a 60-second vignette that will air during the season premiere of BBC America's "Doctor Who" on Saturday . The time-traveling premiere is set in 1930s Berlin and was written by "Doctor Who" executive producer and showrunner Steven Moffat, who, along with the episode's director Richard Senior, wanted to create a "bridging scene" in between commercials -- a chase sequence starring lead characters Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill). Mr. Senior would have loved to include the scene in the original episode, but the show didn't have the budget to shoot the additional scenes.
Enter AT&T. The telecommunications concern, along with its media agency, WPP's MEC, wanted to incorporate its corporate slogan, "Rethink Possible," into the premiere. So MEC and BBC America's ad sales team collaborated with Messrs. Moffat and Senior to came up with a 60-second "motion comic sequence," produced by Double Barrel Motion Labs, that continues the storyline from the premiere episode but with much cheaper production values.
"The shots were either too impossible to capture or too expensive to create live, so doing it in a motion comic theme from different viewing angles made perfect sense," said Mark Gall, BBC America's exec VP-media sales. "It hits all those key things AT&T needs. You'll even hear the Doctor say things like 'Anything is possible' on the series because it's part of his character, part of how people talk about him during the episodes."
The motion comic will even be introduced by a "Stay Tuned for the Break" title card heading into the commercial pod to increase additional engagement -- "the ultimate DVR buster," Mr. Gall said.
AT&T's contribution won't be noted in perpetuity. The extra vignette will be included in all digital and home entertainment versions of the episode after it airs Saturday , but without the AT&T brand tag.
"Doctor Who" is the highest-rated show on the otherwise middling-rated BBC America, which just finished summer 2011 as the No. 64 cable network among total viewers in prime-time and No. 49 among adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research. New episodes of "Doctor Who" often rank in cable's top 5 in their Saturday night timeslot, and this April's sixth season premiere became the networks' most-watched telecast yet with 1.3 million viewers.