Online strategies help find viewers

Friday has become a graveyard of sorts for the networks, the night where shows go to die. Yet CBS’ drama “Ghost Whisperer” has helped bring it back to life.

The sophomore series starring Jennifer Love Hewitt as a young wife with a special ability to see and talk to earth-bound spirits has controlled the night’s leadoff hour in key ratings categories, helping the Eye start strong on a night it is winning for a second straight season.

“Ghost Whisperer’s” themes of the spiritual world and “crossing over” have also made it a popular series online as well. This has been especially beneficial for the Eye, whose crime-heavy drama lineup doesn’t engender as much watercooler or Internet buzz as shows on its rivals.

According to Nielsen, “Ghost Whisperer,” a co-production of Touchstone and CBS Paramount, is averaging more than 10 million viewers an episode this season, peaking with 11.5 million for a Halloween-themed seg in early November.

Its original episodes consistently win the 8 o’clock time period among the Eye net’s target demos of adults 18-49 and adults 25-54 — one of only two shows (the other being 10 p.m. CBS entry “Numbers”) to command double-digit shares of the Friday audience.

And many of these viewers have taken part in ancillary tie-ins to the show.

There was an online séance hosted by co-exec producer and medium James Van Praagh, connecting fans with their deceased loved ones; the weekly “Ask Mary Ann,” in which series technical director Mary Ann Winkowski (whose real-life experiences with ghosts was the inspiration for the show) answers fan questions about personal hauntings and how to communicate with the dead; and “The Other Side” webisodes, a companion Web series in which browsers can take the perspective of a ghost learning to navigate the spirit world.

Hewitt has also lent a helping hand, helping kick start a grassroots campaign with an appearance at Comic Con West last summer. There, she distributed “Ghost Whisperer White Noise CDs,” featuring authentic ghost voices as well as produced ghost voices with embedded messages.

It’s hard to quantify how much such ventures have boosted “Ghost Whisperer’s” popularity, but it certainly can’t hurt to have fans of a show emotionally invested long after the TV episode ends.

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