"The Shield" opened to hot ratings and hot debate last March. The show features gritty police action and hard language about a sometimes politically incorrect cop who regularly bends rules. Some national advertisers stayed away because of its strong content, illustrating a conundrum faced by broadcast networks trying to draw big audiences with cutting-edge content that pay TV networks like HBO, with shows like "The Sopranos," regularly rein in.
But advertiser attitude toward the "The Shield" is now anticipated to change, thanks to a 2002 Emmy award won by headliner Michael Chiklis. The win lends the program a quality aura that will be heavily touted in the new marketing effort, which begins airing again Jan. 7 at 10 p.m. "It's quality TV, that's what people need to understand," said Chris Carlisle, exec VP-marketing and promotion at FX, owned by News Corp.
The new TV, print and outdoor ads prominently feature stark black and white images of Mr. Chiklis, who plays detective Vic Mackey, and other characters. Some of the images running on FX-six spots in all-were produced by famed photographer Albert Watson. All creative is being produced in-house at FX. "There were six different commercials focusing on six different characters, showing their faces and hands," said Mr. Carlisle. In the spots "they are hearing their voices inside their heads," as part of a teaser campaign.
Other TV creative launched last week includes "Sopranos"-like stoic shots of Mr. Chiklis with a voice-over calling the program "The most intense show on TV." Last year, it was pitched with a similar tagline, "Too intense for network TV," but this year the TV and radio spots hasten to also mention Mr. Chiklis' Emmy.
FX is running TV spots on 45 cable networks including Court TV, BET and USA Network. "The Shield" will be promoted with spot cable in 30 markets and radio in 30 to 35 markets to target adults age 18 to 49. In addition, FX's sibling Fox Broadcasting Co. has been airing promos during programs such as "Fastlane," "Cops" and "America's Most Wanted," as well as during National Football League games.
FX also ran a major promotion with AOL Time Warner's Entertainment Weekly, featuring the publication's first-ever CD insert. Exclusive clips from the entire first season as well as clips from the second season's first episode are included in the CD, which links to the "The Shield" Web site.
Despite advertiser resistance last year, the show was a top 10 cable program, averaging a Nielsen Media Research 2.8 rating and 3.2 million viewers. Last year's premiere scored a top-drawer Nielsen 4.1 rating and 4.8 million viewers. The season finale brought in a strong Nielsen 3.9 rating and 4.1 million viewers.
The ratings will likely draw more advertisers. "People will bend their own rules if the numbers are big," said Tim Spengler, exec VP-director of national broadcast for Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media, New York.
According to Bruce Lefkowitz, exec VP of advertising for Fox Cable, the program, with 25 advertisers, is "twice as sold" as it was last year. And with unit prices up 60%, he said, the show pulls in $65,000 for a 30-second spot run in one original episode and two repeats.
Mr. Spengler adds that Mr. Chiklis' Emmy nod will also give advertisers justification in buying the show, and reckons "The Shield" will take a similar trajectory to that "NYPD Blue" on Walt Disney Co.'s ABC. Some advertisers initially balked at "Blue" because of its grittiness and occasional bare buttocks. No longer is that an issue.