Small screen big focus at convention

The smallscreen is big business at this year’s Comic-Con.

More than ever, the 2007 edition has become a must-attend event for most major nets and TV studios. From an extended version of the “Bionic Woman” pilot to a look at a “Star Wars”-themed episode of “Family Guy,” nearly 100 TV-focused events are on the agenda at the four-day bash.

Take 20th Century Fox Television. While the Fox film studio generated headlines for pulling out of Comic-Con, its sibling TV studio is planning its biggest presence ever at the confab.

“It’s taken on a life of its own,” Warner Bros. TV Group exec VP of marketing Lisa Gregorian said of the event.

“It’s not just about fans of comicbooks. There are fans there of all kinds of entertainment,” she continued. “And these are people who communicate what they like through blogs and the Internet.”

In other words, with fall launches just around the corner, TV types are banking on Comic-Con to get the buzz ball rolling.

While Warners had a major presence at Comic-Con last year –opening its own TV-powered booth for the first time — the 2007 TV boost could be explained by the “Heroes” halo effect.

NBC Universal last year made Comic-Con the opening salvo in its carefully orchestrated marketing campaign for the show. It let auds at the show see an extended cut of the “Heroes” pilot, and the positive online buzz that resulted is often cited as a factor in the show’s strong out-of-the-gate premiere.

“The Internet has changed the way in which we market TV shows,” Gregorian said.

Nets used to wait until mid-August to start heavily pushing new shows, but in the age of viral marketing, the buzz-building begins as soon as a show is announced, making events such as Comic-Con more important than ever.

“We’re marketing much further out than we ever did,” Gregorian said. “The awareness of these new shows is so much higher.”

And while “Jericho” didn’t become a major hit last season, CBS Paramount believes its show also got a boost from a strong showing at last year’s Comic-Con.

“They launched it before it even aired,” said Lauri Metrose, VP of communications for the studio. She describes the Comic-Con crowd as “tastemakers.”

“These are the people who are online, talking about TV shows and movies,” Metrose said. Studios “are getting savvy to the fact that these people are passionate and can make a difference.”

Comic-Con has also spread beyond its sci-fi roots, expanding to become a showcase for all sorts of programs with nerd or superfan appeal.

“It’s about smart shows and shows that appeal to the smart audience that’s down there,” said Phil Gonzales, VP of communications for CBS Entertainment.

As TV shows take on a higher profile at Comic-Con, studios and nets are also having to work harder to make an impact on auds. Some believe it’s not enough to simply trot out cast members and producers for autographs or Q&As.

“You have to give them something extra,” Gonzalez said. “You have to let them connect with the producers and really engage them.”

Of course, awareness doesn’t always buy success. Shows like “Invasion” and “Threshold” have also received big Comic-Con rollouts in recent years, and neither made it to a second season.

But as with so much in Hollywood, nobody in TV wants to be accused of not doing everything possible to make sure a project works. That’s why this year’s Comic-Con agenda reads like the listings in TV Guide:

  • In addition to a big booth on the floor of the show, Warner Bros. TV is bringing no fewer than seven broadcast series to San Diego, including frosh efforts “Chuck,” “Moonlight” and “Pushing Daisies.” It’s even hosting the Touchstone-produced “Reaper” in its booth, since ABC Studios isn’t planning a major show of strength at the event.

Studio will make sure “Smallville” is all over the convention floor by handing out 75,000 cloth shopping bags with the show’s logo. It expects to give away promo material for every one of its shows.

And before a mass outdoor screening of “300,” Warners will show off its new CBS geek-com “The Big Bang Theory,” showing the pilot to thousands of potential fans.

  • As of Tuesday, 20th hadn’t finalized any panels on behalf of its new NBC time-travel skein “Journeyman.” Studio does have big plans for returning skeins, with the producers of “24” appearing at the show for a first-ever Q&A session with fans. There’ll be “American Dad” table reads, as well as panels for “Family Guy,” “Futurama” and “The Simpsons.”

And Comic-Con legend Joss Whedon will talk about his past shows and possible upcoming projects.

  • CBS Paramount will once again hype “Jericho” and “The 4400,” while the cast of “Ghost Whisperer” will also make an appearance. Studio also will be pushing the HD DVD release of the original “Star Trek” series.

  • NBC will go for a “Heroes” encore, bringing back the show’s cast and producer for a sneak peak of season two. Skein will have its own booth, featuring wacky giveaways and a first look at cheerleader Clair’s new uniform.

  • Sony will preview its new CW net “Spider-Man” skein, along with the new season of “Boondocks.”

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