'24' Producer Courts Mad Ave

Gordon explores branded programming with caution

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%%STORYIMAGE_RIGHT%% Much has been made about the reticence on the part of scripted producers and writers to partner with Madison Avenue on new programming models in this age of ad skipping and consumer control. But the difficult realities of the marketplace—for writers and producers no longer feeding from the generous trough of multi-year overall development deals at the studios—in getting shows on the air have forced everyone in Hollywood to become open to new ideas, and that includes the A-List. Howard Gordon, an executive producer of Fox's "24," is one of these men.

Gordon recently led a team of Hollywood producers and writers to collaborate on the valiant but ultimately failed attempt to help Fallon get a branded Purina animation parody on the air at NBC. (See M+V May 5, 2004).Gordon, who was disappointed by Purina's decision to not go forward with the project, bears the brand no malice and expressed an openness in a chat with M+V to embrace more partnerships with marketers and their ad agencies.

M+V: You've been a leader on the scripted side in working with companies like Ford on "24" for instance. What do you make of this current trend in television?

HG: Philosophically I'm not opposed to brands being involved in the process, but there are lines that have to be defined. I do think it's project and content specific. In the case of Ford and "24" we had to find that fine line where the viewer and the fan don't feel manipulated and that they actually got something from the experience. In that case it was the commercial-free hour of "24." And if they have to tolerate a conspicuous placement of Ford to get that, still it better not upset the tone that viewers have grown to expect.

M+V: Where do you think it's going? What will these experiments evolve into?

HG: I don't think this branded approach can replace the current model entirely. I think it's a stopgap and I don't know how it'll roll out. In the case of the cat/dog [Purina] property, it was an amazingly organic and beautifully executed idea. The guys we got to write it really nailed it. It was a real disappointment because we felt it was a perfect way to break a property, promote a brand and stand on its own creatively. It was a great concept in that everyone is either a cat person or a dog person.

M+V: How were the Fallon guys to work with?

HG: They were brilliant. They actually came to us with a concept. It worked on a creative level for all of us. Because it got nipped in the bud and we never got to go to script on it, we'll never know what would have happened, but I have a feeling it would have been a good experience for everybody.

M+V: Are you getting more of these types of projects being brought to you?

HG: Madison Ave. is knocking on my door more and more. I've been approached by a bunch of different groups. In fact, we're talking to Robert Riesenberg at Omnicom about a project. [In general], this is anecdotal but an agent over breakfast said a pretty high profile creator didn't want to sign up at a studio and was trying to get paid directly by brands for projects.

%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% M+V: The Mark Burnett model, I suspect?

HG: Burnett really broke the mold. Not only did his success pose a threat to scripted programming, but he got some great definitions because he made deals directly with sponsors.

M+V: So all of these ad guys pitching you. How are their ideas by and large?

HG: Most ideas from Madison Avenue are ill-formed and no one's quite sure what to do. People say we have this great new car and want to feature it but no one knows what to do with it. We're not really being pitched ideas but we're being pitched brands and everyone's trying to figure out what works. It's a fine line and everyone's trying to find it.

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