NEW TV SHOW PRODUCER OFFERS ADVERTISER INPUT: HARMONY UNIT COULD SET OFF NEW ROUND OF CONTROVERSY
In a potentially controversial plan, the owner of well-known commercial production houses Harmony Pictures and The End has formed a unit to produce TV programming whose content will have direct input from advertisers.
Warren Weideman, president of the new Harmony Entertainment, a unit of Harmony Holdings, said he wants to produce programming containing "seamless advertising." The plan sounds similar to the project cable TV's History Channel tried but was forced to abandon last year.
"I'm just taking a 60-second commercial and making it into a long-form program," Mr. Weideman said bluntly. "Our objective is to create seamless advertising. By that I mean advertising that becomes part of the show without being obtrusive but still communicates the advertiser's message."
HISTORY SAYS OTHERWISE
Mr. Weideman said advertisers will be intimately involved in every area of the productions, including major input in the scripts.
Last year, the History Channel planned a series of documentaries about marketers that would have given the companies profiled script approval. But a barrage of negative publicity led it to abandon the idea.
One project Harmony has in the pipeline would involve a TV show with a western theme that would, Mr. Weideman said, "be designed, in essence, to sell a certain kind of automobile."
A project already inked is a made-for-TV movie scheduled for later this year on cable's Showtime. Called "The Inspectors," it's about postal inspectors and the U.S. Postal Service has signed on as the marketing partner.
The program's plot is being culled from postal service files, and postal service executives get to approve the script.
The postal service has already agreed to supply lobby displays for the movie in its 40,000 post offices, said Daniel Mihalko, a U.S. postal inspector and the service's project coordinator.
Mr. Mihalko said other marketing schemes being discussed include making cancellation dies available to local post offices so that when stamps are canceled on envelopes or packages, the postmark will say something like "Watch 'The Inspectors' on Showtime."
POSTAL WORKERS IN PLOT
Mr. Weideman said yet a third idea under consideration at Harmony Entertainment is having postal employees wear buttons that read, "Who ARE Those Guys?" That was the question Paul Newman and Robert Redford kept asking in the movie "Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid" as they were being pursued by a posse.
Among those chasing the outlaws, Mr. Weideman said, were postal inspectors.
While Mr. Weideman said this particular deal was set up without any agency involvement, "we'll work closely on this from here on out with Young & Rubicam." Y&R Advertising, New York, is agency for both USPS and Showtime.
Working closely with agencies is one way Harmony said it will avoid suffering the fate of Television Production Partners, Mr. Weideman said. That venture, bringing together 10 major marketers that would produce TV programming, flopped last year.
"TPP wasn't a bad idea," he explained, but it was "criticized for not working