'CSI' seeks to solve TV Acad attention deficit

What looked like a routine homicide investigation outside William Morris’ Beverly Hills headquarters last week — complete with body bags and straight-faced detectives — turned out to be another Emmy stunt.

Of course, the van emblazoned with the “CSI” logo — not to mention the Gary Dourdan look-alike — probably gave it away. But that was the point, as CBS and its sibling CBS Paramount Network TV studio hoped to sway a few TV Academy voters by staging the stunt outside several high-traffic spots.

Fake “CSI” scenes were re-enacted outside the Screen Actors Guild headquarters, the Writers Guild, the Grove shopping center and several more talent agencies. The goal: to grab a little more attention for a show that enters its seventh season this fall.

Not only do veteran series start to see their Emmy fortunes diminish, but procedural crime skeins rarely get much notice from voters to begin with.

“We feel this show is Emmy-worthy, but because it’s a procedural it tends to get overlooked,” said CBS Paramount Network TV PR exec Lauri Metrose. “We’re trying to break the mold from traditional Emmy campaigning.”

Rather than send out screeners, the net and studio put several “CSI” segs online. But Metrose and her counterpart at the Eye, Phil Gonzales, also decided to go viral, creating a commotion that people might talk about.

“We asked, how do we find something that’s going to attract attention from people who vote that’s in the spirit of ‘CSI,’ ” Gonzales said. “We came up with this idea of a coroner’s van and a team of CSI people moving bodies and staging vignettes in front of key locations.”

Eye isn’t the only net looking to generate some noise this Emmy season. Over at NBC Universal Television Studios, execs decided on a high-tech approach to expose voters to its sophomore comedy “The Office.”

Earlier this month, NBC U TV hatched a plan to let voters download an episode of the show via the iTunes Music Store. It was the first time any studio had used the Apple platform on behalf of an Emmy campaign.

To facilitate the downloads, the company printed up 28,000 plastic cards, each bearing a unique code that allows a free download of a specific episode of “The Office.” Studio then paid to have the cards attached to the front cover of Daily Variety‘s June 1 issue.

Two episodes of “The Office” already had been sent out in a DVD mailer a few weeks earlier. “But we had an additional episode we weren’t able to include, and the notion occurred to us, what if, instead of another (DVD), we let people download the episode,” said Curt King, senior VP of publicity and marketing.

King said “The Office” was particularly well suited to such an idea since the show already had a strong iTunes connection. Skein’s ratings may have been helped after it launched on the iTunes platform last winter, while last year’s Christmas episode featured an iPod subplot.

“It seemed like a fun way to get Academy members turned on to the show,” King said. “And any time you do something first, it garners extra attention.”

King said NBC U TV is mulling more downloads for the 2007 Emmy season. Some industry observers even think it’s possible downloads could replace DVD mailers, a move that could save the networks some coin as well.

Other elaborate campaigns making noise include a pricey mailing for ABC’s “The Ten Commandments” and another for Fox’s “House” containing a vial of “blood.”

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