Now One of the Few Supporters Will Wait Before Running More Ads

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CINCINNATI (AdAge.com) -- NBC may need divine intervention to make money on its limited-run dramedy “The Book of Daniel,” as even deep discounts aren’t proving sufficient to lure many advertisers into a lion’s den of religious controversy.
Photo: Chris Haston

More than half of the advertising slots for the two-hour premiere Jan. 6 were filled with NBC promos, and the handful of advertisers who were in the show apparently were offered substantial incentives to be there.

Among advertisers on the show last week were two movies -- Sony’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Last Holiday” from Viacom’s Paramount. Two personal-care marketers who generally don’t buy into network prime time -- Combe’s Just for Men and Chattem’s Icy Hot and Gold Bond Ultimate Healing Lotion -- also were on the show.

Attractive deals
Buying into "The Book of Daniel" came up in conversation with one client this week because the deals being offered are so attractive, said Peter Knobloch, president of RJ Palmer Media Services, New York. The media independent handles some work for Combe on a project basis, but not the buy on last week's show. Other Combe work is handled in-house.

“It's a good deal until you consider all the problems it causes," Mr. Knobloch said of the show. Advocacy groups like the American Family Association "have just done such a good job of making life miserable for advertiers on the show and their agencies,” he said.

Spokespeople and executives of the advertisers either did not return calls or declined to comment by deadline. An NBC spokeswoman did not return a call for comment.

One executive with an advertiser on the show said he’d agreed to do so because of a "substantial upgrade" offered on previously purchased inventory for other shows. “It was purely a business decision,” he said, adding that he wasn’t fully aware of the controversy at the time.

Angry calls and e-mails
But he had become acutely aware by Monday morning, thanks to numerous angry phone calls and e-mails. The executive said he has decided against advertising on the Jan. 13 show or subsequent episodes until he’s had a chance to see the program for himself.

The AFA's 200,000-strong OneMillionMoms and OneMillionDads e-mail action networks allow it to reach supporters and advertisers and has enabled the conservative Christian group to score culture-war conquests in corporate boardrooms, as seen recently with PR actions against Ford Motor Co. and Target.

“The Book of Daniel," scheduled to run eight weeks at 10 p.m., finished third in a lackluster Friday-night slot with an average of 9 million viewers and a 2.7 rating/8 share with viewers ages 18-to-49, according to VNU’s Nielsen Media Research. The numbers were small improvements for struggling NBC in the time slot, but appeared disappointing considering the substantial buzz surrounding the controversial show.

Three affiliates drop show
Three small-town affiliates in Terre Haute, Ind.; Little Rock, Ark.; and Wichita, Kan., refused to air the show, which features an Episcopal priest who converses with Jesus and compulsively pops prescription painkiller Vicodin.

In the first episode, title character Daniel Webster’s daughter sells marijuana to raise extra cash, one son is gay and another falls out a window when caught in bed with the daughter of a parishioner.

There’s plenty more to offend a wide variety of groups, as Mr. Webster uses his friend, an Italian-American Catholic priest, as a go-between to get the Mafia to track down an employee who has absconded with $3 million of church funds in a plot with one partner in his domestic ménage a trois.

Mr. Webster offers a couple who come in for pre-marital counseling tips for improving their sex life. He also provides Vicodin to his bishop, a woman who is having an affair with his father, who’s also a bishop and whose wife has Alzheimer’s. At one point, the senior Mr. Webster wonders aloud why he feels so guilty about the affair under the circumstances, then asks his bishop/lover to marry him.

Wait-and-see approach
The AFA last week termed the show an example of NBC’s “anti-Christian bigotry.” An NBC executive last week acknowledged some advertisers are taking a wait-and-see approach.

NBC filled yawning chasms in the show’s commercial pods with several music-video-length sendups for the network’s upcoming coverage of the Winter Olympics and other movie-trailer-length promos that looked as if they’d been cobbled together from upfront presentation reels for such existing shows as “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office.”

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