Thoughts on keeping it alive

When Dr. Frankenstein outstretched his arms to the sky and pronounced, 'It's alive!' (in the movie, not the book), he hadn't thought things through very well. Perhaps if he had, things would have worked out a little better for all involved....

When Dr. Frankenstein outstretched his arms to the sky and pronounced, ‘It’s alive!’ (in the movie, not the book), he hadn’t thought things through very well. Perhaps if he had, things would have worked out a little better for all involved. For him, the joy was had in the creation of the project, not in sustaining it.

A lesson well learned by the television series producer – where ‘keeping it alive’ is essential to the success of a continuing series.

As part of the CTV Television Network’s dedication to supporting homegrown Canadian talent, the network renewed Toronto-based Alliance Communications’ one-hour comedy/adventure series Due South (nominated in the Banff Television Festival’s continuing series category) for the fall season earlier this month, keeping it in its Thursday 8 p.m. time slot.

The series, which debuted last year, was missing from cbs’ fall primetime lineup, but according to a publicist for the u.s. network, the absence does not necessarily mean the series will not show up on cbs again, perhaps as a mid-season pickup or a series of mows. The Due South tab, $1.5 million per episode last season, two-thirds of which was funded by cbs, will be picked up by a consortium of Alliance, the Cable Production Fund, ctv and Telefilm Canada.

Meantime, cbs has moved Due South to Friday evenings at 9 p.m., starting with a two-hour mow June 2 followed by two new one-hour episodes for the next two weeks.

To get the word out to Due South’s regular cbs viewers, and perhaps attract new ones, Alliance enlisted the services of New York-based promotions company Jericho Promotions.

Entitled ‘The World’s First Television Wake-Up Call,’ and spearheaded by Jericho president Eric Yaverbaum, the promotional campaign is just as it sounds: every person who called the Jericho wake-up hotline received a wake-up telephone call one hour before Due South aired in its new Friday time slot over the course of the three-week promotion. Participants also received, via mail, a mint, ‘like the ones they leave on your pillow in hotels,’ says Yaverbaum.

The purpose of the campaign, he says, was to get the message of the time slot change out in a short period of time, and get lots of attention. And it seems it worked. ‘We think it’s pretty unique and the public obviously does too,’ said Yaverbaum halfway through the campaign. ‘We’re getting thousands of calls.’

Mints aside, for any television series, Kevin Sullivan, president of Toronto’s Sullivan Entertainment, maintains the key to keeping it alive is to produce well and keep the ratings consistent with the core audience. He should know: Sullivan’s one-hour $16.6 million per season dramatic series Road to Avonlea (also nominated in the continuing series category) is currently in its sixth season.

Although Road to Avonlea, executive produced by Sullivan, has been able to attract marquee talent, the guest stars featured have little to do with the series’ ratings, says Sullivan. ‘Securing a guest star who does not do a lot of television, like Faye Dunaway, can lead to getting covers,’ he says. ‘But in Canada, those talents generally do not affect the overall ratings.’

Things like billboards, TV Guide covers and feature articles are good for creating general awareness about the series, but not for maintaining viewership. What is important, according to Sullivan, is to have good on-air promotion 18 to 24 hours before the audience is to choose whether to tune in or not.

By ‘good’ on-air promotion, Sullivan is talking about advertising which is episode-related and hypes the regular characters and the dramatic action. For him, it has always been about creating television characters that people care about and will watch week after week.