Broadcasters' campaigns go big, viral

Film studios may rule Comic-Con but TV nets gave them a run for their money at the four-day event, adding larger-than-life marketing campaigns to the usual push of panels at the San Diego Convention Center.

Even more than in the past few years, TV went head-to-head with film to nab the attention of Con crowds, plastering the confab with massive ads, handing out giveaways and launching viral campaigns that were difficult to ignore.

HBO acknowledged the growing “True Blood” fanbase, decking the halls with huge banners, handing out swag bags and setting up Merlotte’s Bar for media and celebs at the Omni Hotel across the street from the convention center. Thesp Sam Trammell, who plays bar owner Sam on the cable hit, even made an appearance to tend bar.

The aggressive marketing paid off as the line for Friday evening’s “True Blood” panel began in the early morning and filled up Ballroom 20 by midday.

TV shows with horror themes were a good fit with fanboys, as gore fiends donned homemade costumes and T-shirts at panels for Warner Bros. TV’s “The Vampire Diaries” and AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” “Diaries” went the traditional route by handing out bags and T-shirts, while “Dead” bowed an interactive display on the main floor that allowed attendees to become part of the zombie apocalypse.

Also benefitting from the buzz was Showtime, with ad campaigns on every bus in the area featuring the stars of “Californication,” “Weeds,” “Dexter” and “Nurse Jackie” as comicbook characters. The cabler sponsored the lanyard holders that adorned the necks of Comic-Con attendees, promoting interactive game DexterGameOn. Panels for “The Anti-Heroes of Showtime” and “Dexter” were also at capacity.

NBC went the interactive route with viral campaigns for its genre bets for the coming season, “The Event” and “The Cape,” giving Congoers a chance to win points and earn VIP entrance to the panels. The Peacock also held well-received early screenings of the sci-fi shows.

USA Network’s ads weren’t as widespread as the premium channels’ but it provided plenty of giveaways for “Burn Notice,” “White Collar” and “Psych” along with an announcement that Bruce Campbell will produce and star in a “Burn Notice” prequel movie for the net.

CBS’ “Hawaii Five-0″ panel didn’t generate much excitement on its own but it borrowed geek cred thanks to its stars Daniel Dae Kim, fresh from “Lost,” and former “Battlestar Galactica” thesp Grace Park. Attendance at the panel also got a boost from “The Walking Dead” fans who showed up early to save seats for the “Dead” panel that followed.

CBS drew more notice for nerd-centric comedy “The Big Bang Theory,” back for the third year. “We need to thank Comic-Con,” said co-creator Bill Prady while addressing the crowd. “We came here two years ago and it could have gone two ways. But you guys love us.”

Fox’s panel for “Glee” proved that Comic-Con crowds easily cross over to other geeky interests, such as musicals. Saturday’s toon panels for “Family Guy,” “Futurama,” “The Cleveland Show” and “The Simpsons” offered fans glimpses of upcoming episodes and plots.

With many waiting hours in line for panels, nets tried to dole out fresh information to make it worth their while.

Among the news items: Linda Hamilton will play Chuck’s mom on NBC’s “Chuck”; Norman Reedus will join the cast of “The Walking Dead,” with Bear McCreary writing the music; “It’s a Trap” will be the final installment of the “Star Wars” parodies, according to Seth MacFarlane; Showtime announced the upcoming dates for several hit shows.

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