'Dexter,' 'Breaking Bad,' 'True Blood' all set for confab presence

Comic-Con has turned into a good buy for cable networks, which have smaller marketing budgets to work with than their larger broadcast rivals.

More shows from the cablers will make the trek to San Diego next month in an effort to court the 130,000-plus attendees expected.

Series include first-timers like AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” which kicks off its last season a day after its Comic-Con panel, joining regulars like everything on Syfy’s sked, AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” Showtime’s “Dexter,” HBO’s “True Blood” and “Game of Thrones” and Starz’s “Spartacus,” signing off at the fanfest with its final season.

FearNet will make its biggest push at the Con to promote the horror genre and its “Holliston” series, while even VH1 is getting into the game to promote the net’s “That Metal Show,” with Rob Zombie. Kids cablers from Disney, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Hasbro’s the Hub also will tout their lineups, including new toon “Tron: Uprising.”

“In the early days of Comic-Con, there were always genre shows, but not the massive Hollywood presence,” “Spartacus” producer Steven S. DeKnight told Variety. “It’s beyond the genre shows now. It’s past comicbooks. It’s expanded to a quite a place for the industry.”

But the goal for going isn’t the same for everyone.

“Comic-Con is the barometer of culture, and it crosses the lines of movies and TV,” said Don Buckley, exec VP of program marketing, media, promotions and digital services for Showtime. Yet while most nets promote current hits and upcoming show launches to build buzz through social media, others treat the event as a way to reward their loyal fanbase.

“Comic-Con is absolutely fan-based, and fan-based in the sense that fans have a tremendous affection for a variety of properties,” said AMC exec VP of marketing Linda Schupack. “Certainly cable nets have a presence that reflects the passionate relationship with their fans.”

While “Breaking Bad” can hardly be called a comicbook-related property, AMC is taking advantage of the evolution of Comic-Con into a broader pop culture event. “With ‘Breaking Bad,’ year to year, the audience base has grown and the relationship audiences have with the series has grown,” Schupack said. “We thought the timing was perfect to give fans unmediated access.”

AMC considers the timing of the show’s panel with its season premiere the following day as a “discreet marketing experience,” Schupack said. “If we can get the blogosphere buzzing before the premiere, that would be fantastic.”

For “The Walking Dead,” AMC will fete the series’ success and the 100th issue of Robert Kirkman’s comicbook with “The Walking Dead Experience,” an obstacle course set up inside the Petco Park baseball stadium where participants will flee or become zombies covered in f/x makeup created by the show’s KNB EFX team and Greg Nicotero.

Starz will be returning with “Spartacus,” which first launched at the Con, and will bow its final season’s trailer at the show.

“You always want the fanbase to remain involved,” said “Spartacus” producer DeKnight. “We always give them the sneak peak. It marks the beginning to the marketing cycle, which we amp it up as we get closer to the air date.”

Showtime has been bringing “Dexter” to the convention for several years, generating long lines for its panels. This year, the pay net will return with the serial killer drama, as well as “Shameless” and “Homeland.” In an effort to tie in the three seemingly unrelated hourlongs, Showtime will launch a campaign under the tagline “When you get it, you get it,” tapping into the value of strong word of mouth at the convention.

“We are pulling all the shows under the Showtime header, with a wink and nod to the audience,” Buckley said.

When it comes to promotion, networks have long seen Comic-Con as an opportunity to hype their shows by feeding fans with sneak peeks, autograph opportunities and a chance to interact with talent.

Broadcasters are bringing their usual barrage of fan-friendly shows, like Fox with “Fringe,” “Family Guy,” “The Simpsons” and “Futurama.” Warner Bros. Television is promoting its newbies like superhero-based “Arrow,” along with “666 Park Avenue,” “Revolution” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

“The value of attending is the energy,” said Starz Media managing director Carmi Zlotnik. “It’s exciting, and giving the audience that contact helps buzz and awareness. It also helps the performers, who largely work in isolation. They get feedback from their fans.

“Comic-Con fans are like no other fans. They are so immersed and excited about what we are doing. They are not passive. They are entirely engaged and know your world like you do. It creates magical moments.”

“The Walking Dead’s” showrunner Glen Mazzara agrees.

“We are going to the party,” he said. Going to Comic-Con has become “less of a media strategy for us” and “the central event of our calendar year. We realize how special it is to have this bond with die-hard fans and like to give them something that blows them away. This year, we are bringing our best material.”

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