Vet pops up for WB

Super Bowl show's Gallen to oversee 'Pepsi' music series

Joel Gallen, who produced this year’s Super Bowl halftime show and the 9/11 benefit “America: A Tribute to Heroes,” will oversee the WB’s summer music series “Pepsi Smash.”

The Frog net has picked up six episodes of the hourlong live music show, which will be funded mostly by Pepsi. Show will cost between $800,000 and $1 million a pop, representing a major investment for the cola giant.

“Pepsi Smash” is one part of a growing relationship between the soda and the WB (Daily Variety, Feb. 26). Pepsi is also sponsoring the web’s mega-coin September special “Play for a Billion.”

“Pepsi Smash” came out of the net’s dialogue with the soda regarding “Billion” and the commercial-free project “Live From Tomorrow,” which has been shelved for now.

WB previously produced a pilot based on the U.K. staple “Top of the Pops” and took it to potential sponsors, including Pepsi. When the cola manufacturer noted that it already sponsors music chart shows around the globe (including “The Pepsi Chart” in 14 different Latin America markets), the two sides struck a deal and “Top of the Pops” fell by the wayside.

Gallen brings a wealth of music experience to “Pepsi Smash,” having most recently produced the 2003 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony for VH1 last month, and a Dixie Chicks special last December for NBC. He also produced several MTV Video Music Awards and primetime specials featuring Mariah Carey, Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton.

“Since I started here I’ve been chasing Joel Gallen,” said WB senior VP of alternative production Keith Cox. “He’s turned me down for other projects before, but this was the one. He’s the guy who will make it look great. He’s got credibility and relationships with music talent.”

Gallen, who will produce the show through his Tenth Planet Prods., also directed the feature “Not Another Teen Movie.”

“Pepsi Smash” will include at least six live music performances per show, as well as a countdown element and segments with celebrities.

Although funding the show, Pepsi execs have been careful to tiptoe around “Smash’s” creative elements, Cox said.

“Pepsi’s been fantastic about stepping aside,” he said. “They too wanted Joel, and they know too much of Pepsi could be a bad thing. But they want our audience … and they also know their audience. Pepsi is in the music world in a big way.”

While advertisers frequently attach their names to specials or occasional programs like “Hallmark Hall of Fame,” it’s still rare for a primetime series to include a sponsor in the title. Sponsors regularly included their names on shows in the early days of television, and the practice is still common internationally.

Meanwhile, an official announcement from Pepsi about its involvement with “Smash” and “Billion” is imminent. Still, systems are go for the “Billion” campaign, which officially launches on May 1.

As the centerpiece of its summer push, Pepsi will conduct an under-the-cap game. A crowd of 1,000 winners will fly to a “major city” in mid-September to try their hand at winning $1 billion. WB execs are counting on “Play for a Billion,” produced by Diplomatic Prods., to help launch their fall schedule.

“This will be our Super Bowl, our launch platform,” WB Entertainment prexy Jordan Levin said to advertisers last week during the net’s development meetings.

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