Ads of canceled shows haunt the city via billboards

Noah Hawley may want to plan his routes carefully as he drives around Los Angeles.

In a cruel twist of timing, the marketing for Hawley’s new ABC drama, “My Generation,” has outlived the show. Ads for the series, pulled last week after just two episodes, can still be found on billboards in bus shelters around town, cheerily touting a timeslot that no longer exists.

Driving around town, it’s almost as if, in some alternate reality, “My Generation” still aired its third episode last night.

“We’re the victims of billboard scheduling,” Hawley said. “They will come down, eventually.”

In the cruel world of primetime TV, the ghosts of series past frequently linger both online and outdoors — taunting both fans and the players behind the show.

“You do want to move on quickly where possible,” said one network marketing exec. “But you’re sensitive to the fans. You don’t want to cancel a show and then all of a sudden it’s off the Web — even if leaving those communities up means that they’ll bash you.”

Hawley, who just returned to L.A. from Austin, Texas, where “My Generation” was shot, said he hasn’t had a chance to speed through town and see the ads. And that’s probably for the best.

“I hear from people that it’s pretty surreal,” he said.

In the case of “My Generation” and Fox’s “Lone Star” (also scrapped after two segs), the impact is more noticeable than in most cancellations. The shows were two of this fall’s top priorities at their respective networks and were therefore marketed heavily — and they aren’t disappearing quietly.

It’s not just that ads for both series (particularly “My Generation”) are still wallpapered all over major cities like L.A. and New York; anyone who picks up a recent magazine or watches a show banked on TiVo from a week or two ago, is hit with a now-useless marketing message.

“There’s definitely a kind of whiplash when that happens,” said Hawley, who also experienced cancellation heartache in 2009, when “The Unusuals” wasn’t renewed by ABC. “When you go from full speed ahead to a stop.”

“My Generation” and “Lone Star” also still live on via online sites like Hulu and ABC.com, where viewers can catch the first two segs of both shows. And both the Twitter feeds and Facebook fan pages for both series remain online — just frozen in time, with no new updates after cancellation.

“I continue to hear from people who are discovering the episodes online,” Hawley said. “Some who know the show has been canceled, and some who don’t.”

In the case of the marketing campaign, the networks are at the mercy of their media buys. An average TV show billboard campaign is up from four to six weeks, which means it’s conceivable that a new show won’t survive the ad buy.

An outdoor marketing source said they’re willing to switch out such ads if a network asks — but sometimes a network won’t want to pay the fee attached to such a change and is willing to keep the ad going (especially if the ad buy is near the end of its run).

“It depends on the time of year,” said a network marketing exec. “If no advertiser comes in behind you, then your art stays up — and it’s worth spending the money to swap out to get one of your other shows up there. That way those shows can benefit.”

It’s harder to switch out ads in bus and transit stops, however.

Both Fox and ABC are still mulling what to do with the remaining “Lone Star” and “My Generation” episodes already in the can. Hawley said he also has plenty of extra footage he had planned to use as an online companion to future “My Generation” episodes. The fate of those clips, including a series of interviews with Austin-area Iraq and Afghanistan war vets, is also still up in the air.

“I don’t think anyone involved just wants to see the show disappear,” Hawley said.

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