Big Damn Ads
Posted on September 20, 2009 Posted by John Scalzi 43 Comments
My friend Doselle Young sent along this picture of a big-ass Stargate: Universe ad on the side of an LA hotel, and over the last couple of days I’ve seen double-sided ads for SG:U in both Rolling Stone and Wired. And I’m thinking, damn, I wish every project I worked on was this well advertised. On the other hand, not every project I do employs hundreds and costs millions of dollars to put together, or is going to be seen by millions of people on a weekly basis, so that may be a contributing factor here.
Nevertheless, it’s kind of exciting to look at this big promotional push and think, hey, that’s my show. Not just my show, of course (and not even primarily my show, since the producers, writers and stars all get bows long ahead of me, and rightly so). But still. Neat.
so if I were to tune in to this, having never seen any of the stargate franchise prior, what would I need to know?
Hey, is your friend Doselle Young the comic book writer? I met a guy by that name at WFC in 1995. If that’s him, give him my regards. And if it’s not, give him my regards anyway — it never hurts to be polite, even to people you probably don’t know.
Anyway: cool shit.
Since I came late to this party, have you ever written about the process of becoming creative consultant for a major SF franchise? How it happened, and how the experience has played out?
a) This is the first part of the franchise Scalzi has worked on
b) It can’t be worse than the last couple seasons of the orginal Stargate series.
c)Humanity found these gates that allow us to jump between distant places instantaneously. Many of which are inhabited by aliens.
d)Apparently we’re one of the few species/societies who understand the concept of reverse engineering, so…
e)We punch well above our galactic weight considering Kurt Russell was the first guy through the gate in the 1990s.
f)Did I mention that I tuned out when the original series became lame? All of the above may or may not be relevant to SG:U. I’m planning on giving it a fair chance.
The amount of money available to even marginal TV shows is quite surprising. I just worked only a few weeks on one and made more than 1/3 of my base target (i.e., pays all my normal bills) annual income – which isn’t a huge number, but sheesh! I sure like the time/reward ratio on that!
Mr. Mallozzi (one of the writers) is pretty insistent that no background knowledge is necessary to watch. Although I’d imagine it wouldn’t hurt.
John, I’d be interested to know just how much IS spent on every episode, if you have a rough idea.
Everyone says it is generally less expensive to produce shows on cable than the old networks, and I’m curious if that’s true now.
Please do me a favour, John Scalzi. Despite your comments, regarding favours.
If they start getting *too* dark, and *too* gritty, point out that in any group of humans under intolerable pressure at least one of them will starts arsing around and making woo-woo noises.
Please don’t let them make Battlestargate: We’refuckedica.
There would have been *someone* in the Rag Tag Fleet propping up the prop Centurion with pom-poms to wave in the Vipers on the trap deck. *someone* would have jacked a transmitter and be pumping out Muse and Floyd and They Might be Giants and having Talky Toaster the Friendly Cylon on air talking about the PILF.
Please, man. Don’t let them get too serious. If there’s one thing I have utter faith in about you, it is your ability to make a serious point whilst leaving nary a dry thigh in the house.
I know, I know. I’m pissing up a rope here. If it’s still funny and fun like SG1 was, just take the credit and smile.
That said. Truly frakkin’ neat, Scalzi. Bigtime. Big damn ad, right there.
Big fan of the first two series, really looking forward to this one. Very cool that you’re involved.
The great thing about Hollywood is, if it’s unsuccessful, it will be your show.
That said, I hope the show does really well.
And when I see ads like that I say, “geez, more friggin’ eye pollution on the horizon.”
That is definitely pretty cool…
Well, I thought the Stargate movie was goofy, worth watching once but not again. So, there as no reason I could see for watching a TV show based on it. I will by giving this one a try though.
So, how can we recognize the effects of your technical consulting?
Can you give us an example of something that was improved?
How about something in the show that would have been hugely absurd that you called BS on and thereby helped save credibility?
tudza, the thing about Stargate SG-1 and its ilk is that, while the movie was goofy, the series took the interesting parts of the premise and ran with it while changing the tone to something more sustainable. They’re all of a more realistic bent, SG:U being the least goofy of them all.
This is on that telewhatsis gadget, right? I think the last time I turned it on was the night of November 4.
“John, I’d be interested to know just how much IS spent on every episode, if you have a rough idea.”
SGU has an average episodic budget of 3 million dollars.
That’s odd… I’m pretty sure I saw an estimate of 2 million/episode a while back. I think it was right before John announced he was on board?
Man, I’m just as excited to see SG:U. And getting more and more excited as the time goes on. October 2nd can’t come soon enough!
From looking around, SG:A and SG:1 was roughly $2 million/episode. It’s hard to tell with SG:U, but $3 million sounds right, given that both SG:A and BSG have moved on.
Anyway, that’s really cool to see giant billboards all over for SG:U. Shows that the network has confidence in the show.
As happy as I am to see Science Fiction shows given big marketing budgets(so maybe they will be successful and then more SF shows not involving giant squids attacking Lorenzo Lamas can be made) those giant billboards on the sides of building are a blight on our fair city and make me want to drive around with an RPG.
@20: “As happy as I am to see Science Fiction shows given big marketing budgets(so maybe they will be successful)”
Or maybe they could spend that money on great writers so that the shows are worth watching? I didn’t watch Stargate SG-1 for the explosions and shiny stars, I watched it because it had interesting characters, plots that sometimes had real depth, and philosophical points worth a few minutes’ pondering.
No show is perfect – even the really great series had low moments and poor decisions – but hopefully the good makes up for the bad.
If the show is great, you don’t need marketing, as long as the network doesn’t actively try to kill the show. If the show is bad no amount of marketing will help – either the morons will flock to it and it will become so popular ads would be redundant, or no one will watch it and it’ll die.
“If the show is great, you don’t need marketing, as long as the network doesn’t actively try to kill the show.”
I regret to inform you this is entirely wrong, and IMDB is littered with remains of really great shows that died in part because they didn’t get enough marketing.
As for what you need to know about the show’s background:
Millions of years ago, an alien race grew so knowledgeable and powerful that they dominated the known universe. These ‘Ancients’ built starships the size of cities, linked entire galaxies with teleportation portals, and experimented with the laws of physics and the structure of reality.
Then tragedy struck, and they died. Leaving behind a network of ‘stargates’ and a world on which they had attempted to recreate the earliest stages of their evolution with a minor experiment that some considered their greatest accomplishment, an undeveloped species with great potential often known as ‘humans’.
Over the millennia, the allies of the Ancients perished or withdrew. The last experiment of the Ancients was taken over by a young race of parasites with genetic memory, who reverse-engineered fragments of the Ancients’ technology and spread the humans far and wide. They were eventually overthrown when the obscure homeworld of the humans rediscovered their stargate and made alliances with various alien factions.
The galaxy is now at peace – mostly. The humans can’t seem to resist fiddling with the remnants of Ancient technology scattered around, and they keep burning themselves with the fire brought from heaven…
Scalzi @22: “I regret to inform you this is entirely wrong, and IMDB is littered with remains of really great shows that died in part because they didn’t get enough marketing.”
Can you name a few?
melendwyr @24: “Can you name a few?”
One off the top of my head I can think of is “Firefly.” It was on Fox (I think) and was canceled before all of the episodes of first season were aired. There is a DVD of the mostly-complete season which is terrific.
You can make a good argument that Fox tried to kill Firefly, though, and that was a qualifier. It’s a fine line, mind you. Many of the “really great shows” canceled young exhibit the same symptoms: mid season starts, frequent schedule changes, episodes out of order or skipped entirely. Sometimes it’s a desperate attempt to “save” a show that a network simply doesn’t understand. Other times, as many suspect was the case with Firefly, it’s just going through the motions to humor a producer/director/writer they felt some sort of debt to.
I agree with Scalzi, though. First one off the top of my head is Wonderfalls. Dollhouse also squeeked by last year. Yeah, sorry, let me try to get away from Whedon here….My So Called Life, Freaks and Geeks, Strange Luck, New Amsterdam…lots of weird shows lodged in my brain, but there’s more out there.
#24 I can think of a couple more…
“My Life and Times” – 1991, only 6 episodes.
“Brimstone” – 1999 – 2000, 13 episodes
thank you Brett L, thepi, and melendwyr! And melendwyr, there’s also Pushing Daisies and Life, both recently axed despite being awesome. (Of the shows mentioned already, I love all but two, which I haven’t seen/heard of) Oh and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr was great too, and ran for only one season.
You know, if “giant squids attacking Lorenzo Lamas” is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
Brisco County Jr great? For some reason I thought so, so I started renting episodes from Netflix. I found that I was terribly wrong.
I’d rather see graffiti.
well tudza, to be fair, when it was on I was 12.
@16, 17 Scalzi gets a millionbucks an episode? That is just so wrong. Srsly, it is great that the show is “out there”.
I’ve gotta agree with Richard – shows like “Firefly”, while awesome, died for reasons other than lack of marketing.
Most of the shows people mention – while pretty good, judging from my memories of them – were so quirky that they appealed to only a small segment of the population. Word of mouth brought in pretty much all of the viewers those shows were going to get.
Remember: to validate Mr. Scalzi’s point, the shows must have died because they didn’t get enough marketing, and not for other reasons. Most of the shows mentioned were too quirky or were killed by the studios.
The reason so many tv shows and movies are the same old garbage is that people aren’t interested in things that break out of their expectations. Most attempts to create something fresh and new, no matter how inherently worthy, fail because people don’t want fresh and new.
“to validate Mr. Scalzi’s point, the shows must have died because they didn’t get enough marketing, and not for other reasons.”
No. You’re misrepresenting (or perhaps misread) what I wrote. I wrote:
Note I did not suggest it was entirely up to marketing or the failure thereof; I said it was part of the reason they were killed off. Other factors were involved.
Also, you’re imposing an arbitrary limiter on the discussion, to wit, that “quirky” disqualifies a series from being considered a really great show, which is silly.
Basically, Melendwyr, you’re moving the goalposts all over the field in order not to have to acknowledge that people in the thread just offered you several examples to counter your assertion (edit: or more accurately, to support mine).
You should just admit your initial assertion was incorrect.
Edit for further thoughts: I should say, Melendwyr, that I do wish you were correct, and that quality would be in itself sufficient to find an audience. But it’s not been my experience as an observer of the film/tv industry over the last two decades. Marketing — quantity and quality — does matter.
What I said isn’t entirely wrong. It’s not even mostly wrong.
I didn’t say marketing isn’t useful or that it doesn’t matter, I said it isn’t needed. And none of the examples provided contradict that.
If you can offer an example of a show that failed solely because of a lack of marketing – that demonstrates that marketing is an essential and not merely a useful thing for a successful show – then I will concede the point.
But I’m pretty sure you can’t do that. Because when people love a show, they tell others people about it. Beloved shows that failed usually didn’t appeal to a large enough market – the problem wasn’t that not enough people knew about it, the problem was that not enough people cared.
Acknowledging that the thing you love isn’t to the taste of the majority of consumers is surprisingly difficult.
“I didn’t say marketing isn’t useful or that it doesn’t matter, I said it isn’t needed.”
And you’re entirely wrong about that. Not in the least because everything else is marketed, and television shows have very short time schedules in which to prove they have audiences. There are shows that are canceled after the first airing because network executives look at the numbers, decides they’re not there, ditch it and slot in reruns of Amazing Race or whatever cheap reality programming the network in question has until something else can be slotted in on a regular basis.
There’s also the fact that every show on television is in competition with literally dozens of other choices across network and cable television. If a marketing department doesn’t let people know a show is there (or markets to the wrong people, etc), the show is highly unlikely to generate an audience in the amount of time required by television executives who a) have to program their networks to draw in the largest number of viewers possible and b) want to keep their jobs.
Your belief that great shows don’t need marketing is nice, but it’s an opinion that appears largely ignorant regarding the actual mechanics of television programming, or the current landscape of television. As someone who has both followed the entertainment industry on a professional basis for years, and as someone who is currently working on a television show and has frequent discussions with the producers on various aspects of the show, I feel qualified to assert this.
Likewise, I invite you to suggest to any television executive or producer that a particular show is so good that it does not require marketing — that people will flock to it, unheralded, in the amount of time during which the typical American television network makes its programming choices. Please bring a camera with you so I can see the expression on their faces.
So, yes, actually: You are not only mostly wrong, you are in fact entirely wrong. A great show needs marketing, otherwise people won’t find it among all the other choices for their time, all of which are being marketed to them, because their studio and network aren’t stupid and want people to know it’s there.
“If you can offer an example of a show that failed solely because of a lack of marketing – that demonstrates that marketing is an essential and not merely a useful thing for a successful show – then I will concede the point.”
So you’re saying that if I offer an example of something I didn’t say, and wouldn’t, because it would have been a stupid thing to say, then you’ll concede to my actual point — that great TV shows can fail in part because of not enough marketing. How generous of you, Melendwyr.
“Beloved shows that failed usually didn’t appeal to a large enough market”
And once again you’re moving the goal posts, because “Beloved” isn’t the term that was under discussion.
So, let’s review: I said there are great shows which failed in part because they weren’t marketed. You asked for examples. Several examples were provided to you by others. You argued against them by attempting to change the terms of the discussion so that they were more congenial to your contention, and you’ve been called on it. Now you’re claiming you’ll be satisfied if someone can give you an example of something that no one ever claimed.
Melendwyr, you’re arguing in bad faith, and also, you’re arguing poorly.
Again: I would like for your point to be correct. I really would. But it’s not. It’s entirely wrong.
If you had just said that there were lots of shows that failed because they weren’t given network or studio support, that would have been completely unexceptional. But you didn’t, and it isn’t.
No amount of advertising would have helped Firefly, for example. Because Fox wanted it dead. Or shows like Wonderfalls, which didn’t have mass appeal.
I am not arguing poorly. You are – at this point, willfully – misunderstanding the point I am arguing. Then you attack the strawman you substitute in place of my arguments. Then you say I’m arguing in bad faith for not acknowledging the potence of your strawman-incinerating attacks.
Ads exist to create interest and perceived need for products when those things do not exist. When a product is of high quality and meets an already-existing need, ads aren’t needed.
A hypothetical show that requires marketing to be successful is one that either a) isn’t particularly good at meeting anyone’s needs or b) is good at meeting the needs of such a small population that the show isn’t sufficiently valuable as a property.
Ad campaigns are waged when the merits of a product aren’t enough. Which is why Coca-Cola and Pepsi work so hard on making memorable and catchy ads – because the differences in the cola products are fairly trivial and sodas themselves are of limited utility as beverages, so the brands need to create product loyalty and manipulate consumer awareness. Desires are manufactured instead of being met.
Look, I’m pleased that SG:U is being supported sufficiently well that money is being blown on ad campaigns for it – that implies that it’s not going to be sabotaged, and the project you’re working on is going to be given a fair chance. Shall we leave it at that?
@38-Melendwyr: So, you’re not arguing poorly when you say this:
So, how can any of us change your mind? You’ve already defined it as an impossible situation. I admitted Firefly wasn’t a good example, but I gave you several more. Excellent TV shows, many have won Emmys, all canceled after very short runs for low ratings. Low ratings that could well have been helped by better marketing. Only you want to make that the sole condition.
Well, yeah. Emphasis on could well have been. Being unable to rule out the possibility is not good evidence against its negation.
My experience is that whenever there’s an intelligent, thought-provoking, and intelligent new entertainment product, I hear of it very soon after it debuts through my network of friends, associates, and paid informers.
Provide evidence that a lack of marketing was responsible for the demise of shows that would have otherwise been successful, of course.
“I am not arguing poorly”
Well, no. You are in fact arguing incredibly poorly, and have been through this entire discussion, as I’ve pointed out in detail a number of times. You can choose to acknowledge that or not, but simply denying the fact or ignoring the poor arguments you’ve made when they’ve been pointed out to you doesn’t change it.
“You are – at this point, willfully – misunderstanding the point I am arguing.”
No. Your point was perfectly simple and understandable. It’s also entirely wrong, for reasons already noted. Your need not to be wrong does not negate this, either, nor, again, excuse the bad argumentation on your part.
Melendwyr, I think it’s pretty clear you’re not in the least bit interested in being persuaded, save on terms you offer which no one else has argued and which would be near impossible to prove in any event. If you don’t see how that is arguing in bad faith, I’m not entirely sure how productive it would be to try to teach you, or argue the larger point any further with you.
So I’ll just chalk you up as unpersuadable on the subject and leave it at that.
Not to break up the debate, but I’d like to say that I think it’s great to see this level of marketing for SGU, and I really hope that it has a very positive effect. (The Twittersphere seems to be abuzz about SGU at the moment.) This is not intended to have any bearing on the discussion currently in progress.
You mean, through marketing? Melandwyr, one problem you’re having is equating “advertising” with “marketing.” They’re not synonymous. Advertising is just one component of Marketing. So is Word-of-mouth. Focus groups who’ve seen the pilot are part of the Marketing; and that the show is on Syfy and not Bravo is, too. So is Robert Carlyle appearing at a con, and Mallozzi and Scalzi blogging.
The way Fox scheduled Firefly? Marketing.
I added the emphasis in the quote above. What “paid informers” are we talking about? Are you a cop? Or do you mean journalists? Because if you’re referring to when you learn about entertainment options from the reporting of what’s lumped together as the traditional media — man, you’re going to kick yourself to learn what that’s called, too.