On The Air
The latest news from the TV beat
Men of the Hour
You don’t always have to have the clout of Steven Bochco or Dick Wolf to get the networks to pick up your concept for a drama. Case in point: Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow (two low-profile television vets who first cut their teeth on ’80s shows like Falcon Crest and The Equalizer) are the masterminds behind 24, Fox’s sleek new fall series that depicts one day in the life of a CIA operative (Kiefer Sutherland). Each episode — shot in real time — will cover one hour of a day in which Sutherland attempts to stop some major international incident (like the foreign-terrorist-backed assassination of a black senator from California). Equally provocative are the program’s humble beginnings: Cochran and Surnow basically cold-called Fox with the pitch, without even having a star attached, much less a studio to bankroll the project. ”They came in without the usual trappings, including their agents,” recalls executive vice president of programming David Nevins. ”They’re not the flavor of the month. But they’ve been in the trenches before. We hear hundreds of pitches a year and rarely do we end up buying them in the room. But these two came in and told an incredible story. We had to take a shot at it.” In fact, the network is so confident in the show’s potential that it plans to ”double-pump” (i.e., give two weekly airings of) 24’s first several episodes. Hey, now wouldn’t that make it 48?
How do you grab viewers for a summer series whose biggest star is, uh, former General Hospital starlet Rena Sofer? Try scaring people half to death. The Sci Fi Channel employed guerrilla marketing tactics to promote its new dramedy The Chronicle (think X-Files in the newsroom), using street teams to plaster manholes in New York City with stickers blaring ”WARNING: SPRAYING FOR SEWER LIZARDS TO COMMENCE TONIGHT” — a reference to the plot of the series’ third episode. They also shoved similar flyers under the doors of apartment buildings, and even blockaded areas of Times Square by donning biohazard suits and ”spraying” above sewer grates. (Like that’ll make tourists step out of The Producers’ ticket line.) Sci Fi did incur some small fines for its brazen tomfoolery — mainly for public property damage — but the ploy paid off: The premiere episode scored Sci Fi’s highest rating this year for the show’s time slot (Saturdays at 9 p.m.), TV news outlets across the nation picked up the story about the network’s marketing gimmick, and sci-fi enthusiasts from countries as far away as Denmark and Britain deluged the channel with excited e-mails requesting more info about The Chronicle. ”We were amazed,” admits Sci Fi’s president Bonnie Hammer. ”This campaign took on a life of its own. I guess everyone loves a good sewer-lizard story.”
AND SO ON…Ally McBeal’s resident chanteuse Vonda Shepard better start watching her back: The season debut of McBeal will feature an in-bar performance by Boz Scaggs. Meanwhile, R.E.M. will pop up on The Simpsons later this year when Homer Simpson opens a bar in his garage and hires the band to rock the house.