USA shows love for ‘Wife’

Network plans massive marketing campaign

USA Network has drawn up plans for the biggest marketing blitz in its history, a campaign for four-night, six-hour limited series “The Starter Wife” that’ll be worth more than $20 million.

Mini, starring Debra Messing, premieres May 31.

The campaign goes well beyond the purchase of hundreds of 30-second spots on broadcast and cable TV, said Chris McCumber, senior VP of marketing for USA. Other stratagems include the following:

  • a promotional partnership with Pond’s under which “Starter Wife” displays will be installed in Costco, Wal-Mart and other large retailers. Pond’s is also sponsoring contests tied to the promotion.

  • USA sister company iVillage has linked with Dress for Success to create a Web site filled with clips from the show, excerpts from the Gigi Levangie Grazer novel on which it’s based and blogs on empowerment of women over 40 whose husbands have dumped them.

  • lines of products from Too Faced Cosmetics and Essieinspired by “Starter Wife.” Essie will offer nail polish colors such as “Pinking Up the Pieces” and “Red-y Set Ex.”

While declining to discuss the cost of the campaign, McCumber said one goal of what he calls “the grassroots campaign” is to make what seems like a comedy aimed chiefly at elite audiences in the major cities “relatable to women throughout the country. Who doesn’t enjoy celebrity gossip with a Hollywood angle?” (The author of the novel is married to Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer.)

“Starter Wife” will air on five Thursdays, beginning with a two-hour kickoff on May 31 at 9 p.m., followed by one-hour weekly episodes through June 26, also at 9.

By May 31, McCumber said, reruns have taken over the broadcast networks’ schedules, giving USA a shot at harvesting a mass audience, particularly because for the first 40 minutes of the premiere, Pond’s will interrupt the show only once, for a one-minute commercial. (In addition to Pond’s and other beauty-product companies, the Hollywood studios are particularly eager to buy time on Thursday night to promote titles premiering in theaters the next day.)

Episodes of “Starter Wife” will be available on iTunes without commercials for $1.99 apiece. USA.com also will offer the first two hours of “Starter Wife” the next day as a freebie, but people who download it will have to put up with blurbs.

If “Starter Wife” pulls in big Nielsen ratings, USA will move to keep it in production as a potential weekly series. And the network also will look at producing more scripted shows based on chick-lit novels and stories.

“Starter Wife” is a production of Hay Pop Pty Ltd. in association with McGibbon/Parriott Prods. and 3 Arts Entertainment for NBC Universal TV Studio. Exec producers are Gigi Grazer; Sara Parriott and JosannMcGibbon, the adapters of the novel; and 3 Arts’ Stephanie Davis and Howard Klein. The director is Jon Avnet.

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