Has ABC Finally Figured Out How to Market Sci-Fi with V?

v-promo-posterIf you hadn’t heard, the re-imagining of the 80s mini-series V will premiere on ABC next week. Of course, if you hadn’t heard you’re either deaf, in a coma, or haven’t left your house in weeks. ABC’s marketing department has opened its eyes, finally, and thrown out all the stops on their new sci-fi drama about a group of aliens that arrive on Earth playing nice, but who secretly want to eat us (yeah, as in literally eat us). So has ABC finally learned something from past mistakes at marketing a sci-fi drama for television, or have they just gotten lucky?

Its easy to pick on ABC, of course, because they’ve thrown us a lot of science fiction and quasi-science fiction over the last few years, but in reality every one of the broadcast networks have done a terrible job at promoting genre television. Just look Fox and their inability to do much with Dollhouse and Firefly. And NBC’s monumental failure just last fall with Kings. If anything, ABC has done a bit better than most, especially with their quasi-science fiction shows such as Lost and FlashForward. But this summer ABC gave us Defying Gravity, a fantastic, well-written, and fun little summer show that almost nobody even heard about, and those that did had no desire to actually watch it.

The failure of Defying Gravity to grab viewers has been blamed, by many critics and fans alike, by the marketing and promotion of the show before it launched. For the most part, advertising for Defying Gravity was minimal to none on ABC that week. The ads that did air on the network described the show as “Grey’s Anatomy in space” and other similar gimmicky comparisons. ABC, like many networks in the past, seemed to have no idea who their audience was for this show. Granted, Defying Gravity was not a show that was going to appeal to all sci-fi genre fans. At its core, Defying Gravity was a character drama that explored the human condition and had themes rooted deeply in fate and our role in the universe that happened to be set in space. As a science fiction fan it certainly appealed to me, but had it been marketed better it could have easily appealed to many others that don’t consider themselves science fiction fans. In short, their marketing not only drove away their core science fiction viewers, it also drove away their hopeful non-sci-fi audience as well. Gravity’s fate is still unknown, but for the time being it has been pulled off of ABC without finishing its first season episodes. ABC has indicated that they will show the remaining episodes but have given no hint as to when or how this will happen.

425.v.mitchell.huffman.lc.082109V, however, has been a different story entirely so far. Even before this week, commercials for the new series were all over their network, and in the past few days you can’t get through a commercial segment without seeing them. But more importantly has been the content of the commercials. It’s true that V is a different kind of show than Defying Gravity was. V doesn’t appear to be as centered on a serialized episode format, and because it doesn’t happen “in space” it doesn’t seem to be as science fiction centered. But don’t kid yourselves, although it will revolve around very human issues and the human struggle to survive, at its core V is a show about aliens who look like lizards and come to our planet to destroy us. But even knowing that, you can watch the promotions that ABC is airing and not be consumed by the science fiction element. The current promos clearly paint the series as being about manipulation, struggle, and survival. The pleasant and calm face of Anna, the leader of the visitors, is chilling in the commercials when you consider their true intentions of human consumption.

In their promotions for V I haven’t once heard them compare the show to Grey’s Anatomy. Nor have I heard them compare it to Lost or any other successful show on their network. This is a good thing. While some might disagree, it gives V the opportunity to establish itself without any preconceived notions, other than those set by it’s predecessor.

In the end, we won’t know for another week if the positive promotion and marketing of V has paid off, and resulted in strong ratings, and to be honest we don’t even know if the quality of this show is good enough to keep any viewers the promotional marketing brings in. While all genre shows seem to struggle over the long haul, I do predict that V will have a strong debut for a genre show, and ABC deserves all the credit if that happens. If I’m wrong, then I’m sure we’ll have plenty of articles across the web talking about how ABC failed in their marketing once again. Success in television, after all, is fickle


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