"Everyone at ComicCon Loved The Event!": Creating Pre-Season Buzz for Fall Premieres

Curator's Note

The Event aired last night, but you’ve probably been hearing it about it for months.  Network previews and promotions, interviews with producers and cast members, “leaked” clips and trailers all designed to get you to wonder, “What is the event?!”  (Importantly, NBC doesn’t want you to wonder what The Event is, just about what “event” might be at the heart of the series.)  Every television premiere gets promotional support from its network, but the efforts made on behalf of The Event demonstrate the ways the network and producers have worked to reach, excite and soothe the series’ potential fan base before a single episode aired.

The Event is yet another iteration of the hyper-serialized, sci-fi/mystery format that has worked well for some series (Lost, early Heroes) and gone awry for others (Invasion, FlashForward).  The Event has sought its audience among fans of those other series—sci-fi geeks, appointment TV viewers, and perhaps most importantly, Lost fanatics looking for something new to fill the void.  But all these shows faced the same obstacle: keeping audiences invested in the mystery by giving them some answers, but not all of them—a balance that has proven fatal in most cases.

To reach their audience, The Event’s cast and producers made a trip to ComicCon 2010 in July, where they screened the pilot and offered a brief Q&A panel.  The video at left offers some clips from the panel, and highlights the attempts of the promoters and producers to focus on the hype and intrigue, while soothing fears about the storytelling.  To begin, moderator Kristin dos Santos identifies with the audience, exclaiming, “I was so afraid to get sucked into a show like this, but after seeing the pilot, I’m so on board,” echoing the worries (and enthusiasm) of the audience to whom she’s speaking.  Executive Producer Evan Katz takes a page from Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, promising answers and asserting that those behind the scenes know where the series is headed.  Throughout, the theme of being “sucked in” and yet eventually rewarded for viewership continues, in an effort to create buzz and address concerns.

Pre-season promotional events like ComicCon offer networks and producers an opportunity to get out in front of the series itself, to round up audiences, get them excited, and make them promises before they’ve seen a single episode.  Examples like The Event’s panel demonstrate the strategies deployed to generate interest and respond to concerns—and, of course, to create headlines like “Everyone at ComicCon loved The Event!” based on extremely scientific data.



What a commentary on the state of network television storytelling that producers of shows like this one have to be at such pains to reassure the audience -- of a show that hasn't aired yet -- that its attention will be rewarded.  The reception of these super-complex Losty shows is assumed to be a state of high anxiety about how much we can trust the storytellers to know what they're doing.  We really are being trained to focus as much on the how as the what.  It's like we're being invited to be passengers on a bus driven by someone who might -- or might not -- be blind and crazy.  We're promised that the trip will be spectacular, but we suspect it might turn out to be a disaster.  Maybe part of the pleasure is not knowing? 

As for the show, I found it to be pretty to look at, filled with overfamiliar storytelling gimmicks (every two minutes an "x days earlier" graphic), cast with many actors I already like from other shows, intriguing and not quite as predictable as I predicted, and surprisingly comprehensible.  But I constantly wondered, why is this story being told this way? And I can't help but think the most important reason is that NBC and the show's producers believe it's a good promotional strategy.  Too soon to tell really if it's also a good storytelling strategy for this narrative in particular, but I'll give it another few weeks.


Some great observations here: it's also interesting to note that they screened only part of the pilot, cutting out the pivotal scene at the end of the episode which actually gives some glimpse of what The Event could be and making it into a true exercise of hype And, as Michael notes, the episode is itself nothing but hype: it is not organized to be as dramatically satisfying as possible, but rather to maximize its elusiveness to force the audience to speculate against their own will. There is a compelling series here, but it's shrouded in the narrative trickery designed to call back to the series you identify as clear influences.

And yet, considering that said narrative trickery (as this piece identifies) has been part of the series' appeal from the very beginning, perhaps viewers won't mind.

Hi Erin,

Great post.  It seems very timely, given the ripples from David Bordwell's TV blog post a few weeks ago, and particularly this idea, which rings very true to me:

"Once you’re committed, however, there is trouble on the horizon. There are two possible outcomes. The series keeps up its quality and maintains your loyalty and offers you years of enjoyment. Then it is canceled. This is outrageous. You have lost some friends. Alternatively, the series declines in quality, and this makes you unhappy. You may drift away. Either way, your devotion has been spit upon."

All TV involves this leap of faith, but the stakes in these new, incredibly complex, high-risk shows are just through the roof.  I like Michael's analogy of the blind and crazy bus driver.  I myself sometimes get on the bus, but bail at the first sign of trouble.  If I had been watching Lost from the get-go (I wasn't), I would have stopped watching roughly at the first appearance of a polar bear. 

Do you think these high-risk shows are going to stick around, or since for every Lost there seem to be ten FlashForwards?  Or are the payoffs high enough to justify the formula?  They seem to magnify everything that is both good and bad about TV.

 I think it's very true that new season hype is an integral part to whether or not an audience will support new television series.  Because Comic Con is such a vehicle for buzz, it is extremely intelligent for the creators of The Event to use such a tool in their attempts to spread the mysterious show about.  It's interesting how just the idea of a show can ignite interest, spawned by the popularity of loaded, mythical dramas like Lost.  Network producers seem aware of the big tropes that audiences gravitate towards, and by catering to those tropes and audiences, they are demonstrating their desire to continually capture (or re-capture) that genre spark that worked so well with a show like Lost.  Hopefully, there is substance behind these shows and it isn't all just hype and buzz.

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