The new TV season always means one thing: a steady arrival of TV promotional swag.
The 2008-09 season is no exception. Every day, another puffy envelope or box arrives via courier; nine times out of ten it is from Fox.
They're the ones who sent the cool AND practical multi-knife, complete with the critic's friend, the corkscrew. The extra knife blades are handy for warding off neighbors who want a sneak peek at the two-hour Season Four Prison Break screener. No danger now; the two back-to-back episodes aired virtually unnoticed south of the border yesterday, drawing a mere 6.48 million viewers, down over a million from last year's already soft opener according to Mediaweek "Programming Insider" Marc Berman. This series always seemed more like a miniseries to me.
Let's hope the nifty print pen/brush thingy sent by Fox to promote tomorrow night's season premiere of Bones (8 p.m. Wed. on Fox and Global) has more drawing power. The pen/brush thingy is cool and retractable but useless unless you are some sort of forensic anthropologist. With zero-track blades, it makes a lousy razor.
Fox did include a copy of Kathy Reichs' latest novel Devil Bones along with their screener. She's the real life forensic anthropologist (with labs in Quebec) and the inspiration behind the character of Bones' Temperance Brennan (played by Emily Deschanel).
Fox also sent "an official" sorta see-through messenger bag along with their screener from the return of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Season Two opens Monday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. There was also a T-shirt, but that wasn't see-through.
The screener for their new sci-fi drama, Fringe, came with a mini digital recorder which had some sort of secret message on it from one of the characters, homeland security agent Phillip Boyles. I hope my son didn't erase it yet. (He yelled "Dibs!" and ran off with the recorder shortly after it arrived.) Fringe premieres next Tues., Sept. 9 at 8 p.m. on Fox, A and (for one week only) CTV.
Fox also sent a T-shirt with screeners for the first two new episodes of House, returning Tues., Sept. 16 (also on Global). House is heading into a fifth season.
An earlier Fox mailer brought the Kitchen Nightmares timer, magnetized to stick to your stove or grill. It can also be hurled at the foreheads of incompetent chefs, just like Gordon Ramsay does on the real show. Kitchen Nightmares returns this Thursday at 8 p.m.
Not all swag comes from across the border. The folks at Food Network (a CanWest specialty channel) sent a sturdy little recipe file box, complete with reminders about shows like The Main (Season Two begins Sept. 29) and Ramsay's expletive-laced The F Word (Sept. 30).
All of these promotional mailers come with tiny little notes warning critics that the screeners and other goodies are not for "sale, resale, auction or Internet posting." It is a big no-no to try and scam any of this stuff on eBay, ESPECIALLY the screeners. Some networks, such as HBO, have embedded codes into their DVDs to track any scribe who dares to try and profit with their intellectual property. Other networks do not embed codes, realizing that their sitcoms are crap nobody wants.
Do promotional trinkets help? They might help critics remember something is on, but beyond that, I doubt it. If they had any real impact we'd all be getting suitcases stuffed with cash. They probably have a new life as fodder for blog postings like this one. They're a way in to the real message. Even the stuffiest of critics like to reminded now and then that we are, after all, in the fun business.
Soon all of the screeners will simply be sent electronically (ABC is already doing this), helping suddenly cost conscious networks save on shipping and other expenses. Other networks choose to simply send out a simple paper release along with their screener, as CTV sister station A did with Gossip Girl. Although maybe they should have send out free sidekicks and blackberrys--Gossip Girl returned last night with a thud, drawing just 3.38 million U.S. viewers, down from last year's disappointing debut (although the CW says it is up year-to-year among adults 18-34). This despite being heavily promoted in the States.
Critics were not sent screeners (The CW sent an e-mail explaining they wanted to keep the anticipation level high) but one encouraging sign is the last trailer, below. The CW seems to have toned down the slutty teen vibe, opting for a more character-driven approach like the old series.
Seven million viewers would be considered a home run for The CW, but they'll settle for six. Even rival networks may be pulling for it tonight--if the season's big buzz show fails to open big after tons of push, that overall network viewership decline could get ugly.