Fox concentrating on 'Terminator'

In television’s season of discontent, a few scripted skeins may wind up benefiting from fortuitously timed premieres.

At the top of that list is Fox’s “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” which is getting a “24″-style tubthump from the network that doesn’t have “24″ on its air as usual this month because of the nearly 3-month-old writers strike.

Warner Bros. TV’s “Sarah Connor,” the action-drama rooted in the “Terminator” pic franchise (the series picks up where the second movie left off) was to get the two-night “premiere event” treatment, starting Jan. 13 and continuing Jan. 14 in what will be the show’s regular 9 p.m. Monday slot.

“Sarah Connor” was a shoo-in for a big launch campaign from Fox long before the strike threw a wrench in the net’s plans for the 2007-08 season, because of the high-profile nature of the property.

But because Fox and other networks suddenly have fewer new and returning skeins to ballyhoo, the Big Four are able to concentrate their promo fire on one or two properties. Viewers are seeing cable-style saturation marketing on broadcast networks that generally have more hungry mouths to feed and showrunners to placate.

Fox is heavily focused on “Sarah Connor” and, of course, the return this week of “American Idol.” ABC has gone gaga over “Lost” with elaborate on-air, print and Internet campaigns that have the conspiracy theorists in a frenzy over the show’s Jan. 31 fourth-season bow (though only half of its 16-seg season was completed by the time the Writers Guild of America went on strike Nov. 5).

CBS is looking to generate similar fandemonium for the Feb. 12 return of “Jericho,” the show saved from cancellation last year by the outcry of its most ardent viewers. Another big promo priority is the strike-driven return of “Big Brother,” which will take up three hours on the sked beginning next month.

NBC’s laser-like focus on the spandex-clad warriors of “American Gladiators” paid off last week with a strong premiere.

“Sarah Connor” is a marketer’s dream because it had so many promotable elements, starting with a title that has built-in awareness.

“When you’re working with the title equity that this show has, and you’ve got the action, and the special effects and the incredible cast that this show has, you’ve got to have a theatrical-style campaign that is worthy of the show,” says Joe Earley, Fox’s exec veep, marketing and communications. “We started the on-air teaser campaign for this show 18 weeks out” from its premiere, he adds.

Fox has blanketed New York and L.A. with outdoor marketing for the show, with images of the show’s comely Terminator in a Lady Godiva-esque pose that will surely pique the interest of its young male target aud. It has also mounted a push to reach the mom demo with key art emphasizing that “Sarah Connor” is at its core a story of a mother who’ll do anything to protect her son.

“We started the planning for this campaign very far out to make sure it would be layered,” Earley explains. “We needed to make sure it would involve existing fans and welcome in new fans.”

Paradoxically, Fox would have devoted more money — significantly more — to heavy outdoor marketing of “Sarah Connor” in more than just Gotham and L.A. if it had not faced a belt-tightening and budget-cutting mandate because of the strike.

At the same time, because “24″ has been benched by the work stoppage, Fox’s marketing team had more time to focus on the TLC of “Sarah Connor.” There were also more promotional spots available on Fox’s air for the show that otherwise would have gone to “24,” Earley says.

And where they had to cut spending, Earley and his team tried to offset with creativity: poster design contests, trailer premiere stunts and a roving “Sarah Connor” studio (an RV equipped with a greenscreen) where fans can digitally insert themselves into a scene from a show. It’s hitting 36 cities during the next few weeks. Fox also courted comicbook stores, colleges and sci-fi enthusiast clubs.

“When we had to cut our (marketing) budget, a lot of our ideas for ‘Sarah Connor’ had to go away because they were just too expensive,” Earley says. “But in a lot of cases we figured out a creative way to bring them back. This is the kind of show where you get to have a lot of fun coming up with ideas, and coming up with ideas for how to execute them.”

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