Big love for smallscreen at Comic-Con

TV events outweighed film at confab

Once again, television has held its own against the film world at Comic-Con. Given the 80-plus TV-related panels, it’s safe to say that the smallscreen events outweighed feature film fare at this year geekfest, which wrapped its four-day confab Sunday.

This year experienced a surge of attendees. Estimates suggest that more than 160,000 folks descended on the Con, most of whom made a direct beeline to Ballroom 20, dedicated to TV. On the first day, more than 4,000 folks were lined up by 9 a.m., kicking off with USA Network’s copshow panel that included “Psych,” “Covert Affairs” and “Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe.” Most of the attendees camped out for the remainder of the day to catch HBO’s uber-popular “Game of Thrones” panel.

“We didn’t even consider bringing out shows to Comic-Con at first. It was reserved for certain genre shows,” said Alexandra Shapiro, USA Network’s senior VP of brand marketing and digital. “The turning point was in 2009 when we thought, ‘Why can’t we extend this into a mass play?’ We were skeptical, but it ended up as standing room only. Seeing the passion of the fans was an eye opener.”

The behavior of those attendees was a trend of this year’s Comic-Con, where auds would stay put after finding a seat in the beginning of the day. That maneuvering often left few empty seats as the day wore on and some of the longest lines in Comic-Con history on the TV side.

On Friday, the line for Ballroom 20 was about 7,000 strong by 8:30 a.m. for AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” and folks hoping to see stars from HBO’s “True Blood” began queuing at 7 a.m. for the 3 p.m. sesh.

On Saturday, the tables were turned. Waits for Hall H reached to normal levels while Ballroom 20 hit was full of enthusiasm for Fox’s “Animation Domination” block, which included “Family Guy” and “American Dad.” This paved the way for the net’s time-shifting drama “Alcatraz” — from exec producer J.J. Abrams — to receive some much needed fanboy love from the nerd herd.

The burgeoning interest in television allowed all the nets and studios to preem their shows without worry of lightly attended panels. Skeins that have yet to debut were greeted warmly.

Fox’s “Terra Nova,” from exec producer Steven Spielberg, scored a prime panel spot, right after the bon voyage sesh for NBC’s “Chuck.” Syfy reaped the rewards of NBC’s “Community’s” popularity as more than 1,800 fans packed the panels for “Being Human” and “Sanctuary” in the Indigo Ballroom in the Hilton to make sure they had a reserved spot for the college-set laffer.

Marketing for TV was also amped up this year. The streets were flooded with rickshaws with a medieval makeover to promote “Game of Thrones,” while lanyards and buses were plastered with the “Showtime Saves” ad campaign promoting “Dexter,” “Homeland,” “Shameless” and “Californication.”

Corner eateries were converted into interactive experiences for NBC’s “Grimm,” while “True Blood” banners decked every major hall in the Convention Center. Comedy Central nabbed a city block to advertise the “South Park Experience,” in which it rebuilt a small Colorado town.

Twitter was key in spreading the word, and moderators often asked auds to tweet notes about the event.

WBTV’s chief marketing officer Lisa Gregorian explained why TV has become a major presence for Comic-Con. “The timing of Comic-Con is perfect for television. It’s the end of upfronts and the beginning of the new season,” she said.

Also in Ballroom 20, Zachary Levi gave an emotional goodbye to “Chuck” fans and thanked them for their support. And Mos Def made a surprise appearance at the “Dexter” panel by posing as a fan.

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