TV Takes Over Comic-Con as Film Studios Back Out

TV Shows Comic Con
Michael Myers for Variety

Earlier this month, thousands of fanboy voices cried out in terror over the news that Marvel Studios would be skipping San Diego Comic-Con for the first time since 2011. It’s certainly not for lack of content, with Paul Rudd’s “Ant-Man” hitting theaters a week after the convention, and the star-studded “Captain America: Civil War” currently in production. The scuttlebutt is that Marvel will showcase its bigscreen wares at parent company Walt Disney Studios’ biennial D23 Expo in August instead.

Marvel isn’t alone: Sony and Paramount also have decided to forego the trip down to San Diego. Sources say they simply didn’t have enough fanboy material to promote.

“It wasn’t a knock against Comic-Con,” one spokesperson explains. “The film cycles just didn’t allow it.”

Plus, sending a number of movies to Comic-Con can set a studio back a few hundred thousand dollars, so “why force the issue?” asks one exec.

One major film studio, though, will be there in force: Warner Bros., with DC Entertainment, is expected to debut their long-awaited Justice League lineup, which features Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, among others.

But there’s still plenty of prime Con real estate up for grabs, setting the stage for TV to steal the spotlight come July 9-12. The tide has been turning toward television for years, but with shows like AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and HBO’s “Game of Thrones” dominating both the ratings and the zeitgeist, blockbusters have ceded their bragging rights to TV.

Executive producer Carlton Cuse has long been a fixture at Comic-Con, thanks to his tenure at the helm of “Lost.” This year, he’ll be returning with “The Strain” and new USA sci-fi drama “Colony,” which reunites him with his former “Lost” star Josh Holloway. He’s had a front-row seat to the TV takeover at the event, and offered a theory on what’s behind the shift.

“With a movie, you make a relationship once on the first couple of weekends that the movie’s out, and that’s it; it’s one and done,” he says. “But in the case of ‘Lost,’ we had fans that followed our saga for six years and 121 episodes, and you feel so inside of something when you connect to it over dozens of episodes.”

While a slot in Hall H (the convention’s largest venue, which can accommodate more than 6,000 rabid fans) used to be reserved solely for movie offerings, hot properties like BBC America’s “Doctor Who” and the CW’s “Arrow” and “The Flash” have now moved in on the turf. Fans happily camp out in line overnight for a chance to bask in the presence of “The Flash” star Grant Gustin and his heroic brethren.

And at this year’s Con, fan-favorite TV properties and theatrical blockbusters are given equal consideration on the schedule, with “The Walking Dead” and Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” both hitting the big stage July 10.

The scheduling of Comic-Con — weeks after the start of May’s summer tentpole season — offers diminishing returns for movie studios, notes Julie Moore, VP of marketing strategy at NBCUniversal, but it hits the sweet spot for television.

“It’s such a critical time for us; it’s the coming-out party for fall launch,” she says. “Networks are putting a stake in the ground. If you bring a show to Comic-Con, it means that show is a big priority for the fall.”

That’s why more series are making the trek to San Diego this year than ever before, from returning favorites like “The Big Bang Theory” and “Once Upon a Time” to new properties hoping to cement their geek credibility like Robert Kirkman’s “Outcast” on Cinemax and FX’s “The Bastard Executioner” from Kurt Sutter.

Even projects based on established brands, like CBS’ “Supergirl” or Starz’s “Ash vs Evil Dead,” recognize the value of getting in front of a genre-friendly crowd months before they premiere.

“The timing’s so perfect,” says Lisa Gregorian, president and chief marketing officer for Warner Bros. Television Group. “We know in May which shows have been picked up for the fall, and we’re able to galvanize the writers’ room; we’re able to get the executive producers and the talent onboard. It’s really, in many cases, the first time they’re presenting either their vision for the new season or their vision for the show overall.”

And with more competition than ever, it’s important to do what it takes to break through, and kickstart the buzz. That’s why new players like Fox’s “Scream Queens” and NBC’s “Blindspot” are debuting their wares with flashy marketing campaigns, including the former’s vertical drop amusement ride that will capture fans’ screams with shareable GIFs, and the latter’s tattooed “Jane Does,” who will serve as a living scavenger hunt, giving fans a chance to win money if they locate a clue hidden in their inked designs.

That exposure is even more pivotal for upstart digital networks looking to compete with their broadcast counterparts. Streaming service Hulu has been a fixture at Comic-Con for three years with its animated superhero show “The Awesomes,” while Amazon Studios is making its convention debut with two upcoming original series, “Hand of God,” starring Ron Perlman, and “The Man in the High Castle,” based on Philip K. Dick’s alternative history novel.

“I think that most people would agree that this is not just for fanboys; this convention is really for everyone,” says Victoria Chew, VP of marketing partnerships for ABC. “I see a big presence for all the entertainment companies, not just in the convention center but outside the convention center — all over San Diego. There seems to be an influx of studios trying to speak to this audience, and a lot of A-level celebrities are coming down in ways that I don’t think I saw 10 years ago.”

While marketing execs are wary of suggesting a direct correlation between Comic-Con presence and a show’s ratings, many believe that the event’s passionate audience is invaluable when it comes to promotional efforts.

“It’s so close to L.A.; there’s so much press down there, that it’s really an opportunity to speak to the key social influencers and consumers who are ultimately going to drive the buzz leading up to fall launch,” says Moore, who describes Comic-Con as “the Super Bowl of television marketing events.”

To launch “Heroes Reborn” — based on a series that burned bright in its first two seasons before falling out of favor with critics and viewers — NBC is relying on a combination of existing fans’ nostalgia and the curiosity of auds who missed the boat the first time around, building a museum of iconic “Heroes” items from the last run of the show, and a first-of-its-kind “4D” interactive experience, where people go inside a booth and realize they have the power of fire, Moore teases.

The hunger for publicity means that more shows are scrambling to get on Comic-Con’s roster than ever before — even if they fall outside the realm of traditional genre fare.

Including Kermit. “When I think of the Comic-Con fan, I think they’re so much broader than what people typically think of,” Chew says of ABC’s decision to hold a panel for “The Muppets.”

“The Con is not just for adults. … You’ll see generations of people come through those doors, and I really do feel that ‘The Muppets’ speaks to everyone who comes to Comic-Con. It is a brand that people are aware of; many people who are going grew up with (them).”

Along with the venerable puppets, this year’s convention will feature some not-quite-typical Comic-Con panels, including Comedy Central’s “Drunk History” and “Another Period”; and TV Land’s “Teachers,” a half-hour comedy revolving around six elementary school teachers, whose tenuous Comic-Con connection appears to be “Community’s” Alison Brie, who serves as an exec producer.

For some, such shows represent a bridge too far for Comic-Con. “I think it has expanded a little too much,” says Cuse with a laugh. “I feel like there should be at least some kind of traditional genre element to your show for you to be at the Con, but maybe I’m old-fashioned. I connect very deeply to all the genre stuff that’s there. But I understand that other people are trying to get their shows seen.”

Stuart Oldham contributed to this report.

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  1. Sam says:

    Rick, Michonne, and Daryl are the three best characters on the show. Each of the actors are amazing. The chemistry between Andrew and Danai specifically is amazing, definite scene stealers.

  2. la says:

    I love Andrew and Danai, they’re extremely talented actors!! I’m waiting for Rick and Michonne to realize that they have a bond that can’t be broken and that they are in love.

  3. Michonneislife says:

    This is exciting to see Rick Michonne and Daryl artwork! Also love that Rick and Michonne are getting more recognition it’s great to see the queen and king of the ZA get the attention they deserve

  4. sshelton says:

    I absolutely love TWD artwork and this is awesome. Rick, Michonne, and Daryl are an incredible walker slaying trio. Hope to see more of their action together in the show, especially Rick and Michonne.

  5. ruth says:

    This artwork has all my favorites. Michonne can slice me in two and I’d thank her for it. Talk about badass. But richonne though. Make this ship sail AMC I’m ready for it.

  6. sleepywitchysamurai says:

    Beautiful artwork, Richonne and Daryl slaying together.

  7. Alex says:

    Daryl and Michonne are my favorite characters on The Walking Dead! Great artwork! I wish I was going to Comic-Con this year.

  8. Jedi Master Aurora says:

    Rick and Michonne are poetry in motion. It’s the pairing that makes the most sense. If you can’t handle interracial love, you are a pussy.
    Long live Richonne!!!!!!!

  9. Tomaj says:

    This art work is really awesome and glad to see Michonne and Rick together again!!! Andrew and Danai are amazing!!! Richonne!!!!!!

  10. MightyIsis says:

    Despite the large B.O. receipts, for many TV is still the most accessible mode of entertainment. Marvel Movies will no doubt be missed from Comic Con, but the offerings from the small screen is sizable and diverse which allows something for everyone.

    The artwork is a brilliant reflection of that diversity with images of Rick, Michonne, Daryl, Arrow, and the hint of the Flash’s boots as they band together against the walking dead and white walkers. Each show has a stunningly diverse cast whose characters are developed and have strong fanbases. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for others.

    Like others have passionately stated, a feature on Danai Gurira and Andrew Lincoln would be lovely. Their characters and their relationship have evolved quite a bit since season 3. What changes are ahead for them in season 6? Quite often these 2 powerhouses are ignored on the interview circuit. It would be fantastic to learn their take on their amazing onscreen chemistry and the future of their characters.

  11. Alexis says:

    I really enjoy watching TWD love all the core characters. A co-worker of mine keeps saying Rick & Michonne will get together. I hope so because the last few season of them have been spectaular to watch. Please make my co-worker and myself happy and put them together already.

    Big hugs from Manchester England!

  12. Parker says:

    Awesome! Gotta love The Walking Dead. Can’t wait for more Rick and Michonne.

    Love seeing Arrow in the artwork too!!

  13. Love the artwork it’s very beautiful and well detailed.
    Pleasantly surprised that Rick and Michonne were featured in the art for the SDCC. Thank you. Fingers crossed for a chance that we can get a feature in Variety with Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira. As two of the most well known lead stars of TWD I really can’t wait till we have more coverage of both of them before season 6 starts. They would look so epic and flawless together. Please consider it.

    • Also forgot to mention how in love I am that everyone from such different series are in harmony it’s just very masterfully done. Supergirls boots, the streak of the Flash, the White Walkers, Daryl looking BAMF alongside Rick and Michonne, Arrow working alone. Just WOW! This is just so amazing so thank you to the artist and Variety for sharing with us.

  14. Mimi says:

    WOw, this is an awesome artwort!! Love it!!
    I really love Andrew, Danai and Norman performances as Michonne, Rick and Daryl… They’re excellent at it and i’m a hardcore fan of them and their character’s.I still don’t understand why they haven’t be nominated to the Emmy’s yet but I hope that they will this time around!!! LOVE THEM!! :)

  15. Ryan says:

    Can you stop calling people “fanboys”? If you need to disrespect the people you’re writing for or about, go find another line of work.

  16. Emperor says:

    Oh calm down cashandwrap it’s a fictional pairing, go be bitter and salty elsewhere.
    Now back to what actually matters, this is beautiful artwork! Hope to see lots more of Rick and Michonne s6!

  17. VikaJany says:

    I love Richonne and Daryl! I hope a feature or photoshoot of Danai and Andrew. They would look beautiful together.

  18. Mich says:

    Awesome! I love Rick, Michonne and Daryl <3 They deserve a Emmy!!

  19. Cheryl says:

    Yes, yes, yes. Love the artwork and thanks for featuring Rick and Michonne, King and Queen of the ZA, and Daryl with his trusty crossbow. They are definitely a deadly badass trio. Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira don’t get nearly enough kudos for their excellent portrayals on the No. 1 show on TV. Looking forward to more of them in Season 6. Grimes Family 2.0!

  20. jwtigt says:

    I’m happy to see Michonne and Rick in the animation above. They’re the leading man and woman of this popular show plus Danai and Andrew showcase their phenomenal acting abilities every episode. I’m excited for season 6!!!

  21. cashandwrap says:

    I see the shipper fanatics got the word out to flood the site with richonne propaganda.

    Thank God for Game of Thrones…

    • sayde says:

      Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed. So we can ship now. Hell game of thrones have lots more shippers than twd. Ever been on ff.net, oh wait, you are not a fanatic but you do watch these fanatic shows though. Find something better to say than trying to bring down shippers.

    • Cheryl says:

      If you want some MUST SEE TV, Richonne would be the way to go. They will be epic. Two badasses kicking butt and taking names together while raising a family, no, that’s not propaganda, that’s some serious merchandise dollars and viewer numbers. They are the perfect pairing.

    • Lilac Fields says:

      People showing love to one of the potentially most epic pairing ever on the number one show in the nation is propaganda? Sounds to me like the trolls can’t deal with all the love the fandom has with this pairing! I guess perfection isn’t for everyone.

  22. Lexie says:

    YES! Awesome art work. Rick/Michonne the King and Queen of the Zombie Apocalypse and their court jester Daryl Dixon (joking,joking don’t kill me Daryl fans) looking forward to this years Comic con.

  23. Sputnik says:

    Great artwork – I’m a bit fatigued on Daryl these days but I’m thrilled at the michonne/Rick illustration. Can’t wait for TWD panel this year

  24. JD says:

    The art work is AMAZING!!! The nerd in me is smiling ear to ear at the thought of White Walkers going against Rick, Michonne and Daryl.

  25. Lanie-Love says:

    I absolutely love the cover art of my favorite trio from TWD, it’s fabulous! The Emmy’s and TPTB of the media industry really need to stop give TWD, Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira the recognition that they deserve.
    Seriously, the idea of creating a DRAMA about a zombie apocalypse is bananas! EVERYBODY loves this show, everybody loves Rick, Michonne and Daryl!

    And the relationship between Rick Grimes and Michonne is the type of relationship everyone wants; a ride or die partner.

    RICHONNE IS EPIC!

  26. Ashley says:

    That artwork is awesome. TWD and GoT are two of my favorite shows, it’s nice to see them represented at SDCC. I definitely connect to them much more than movies.

    As the stars of TWD, I hope we see more coverage of Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira prior to S6. They absolutely make the show for me.

  27. jajp92 says:

    Love the artwork! My OT3 Michonne/Rick/Daryl representing.

  28. Kay says:

    Love that Rick and Michonne were featured in the art for the SDCC. Is there any chance that we can get a feature in Variety with Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira? They would look beautiful together!

  29. Lilac Fields says:

    Rick and Michonne are perfection! Michonne is Queen. The artwork is awesome! I can’t wait for SDCC! Can’t wait to dissect the trailer.

  30. Michonning says:

    I love it! Rick and Michonne are two of my favorites! I can’t wait for SDCC! Hopefully the trailer will be amazing!

  31. Nicky A says:

    Yes! I love it.Rick, Michonne,and Daryl make one bad ass trio. Michonne is a goddess ,shes my absolute favorite followed by Rick freaking grimes.I have to admit I’ve got a serious girl crush on Danai Gurira ,shes wonderful. I Can’t wait for S6!

  32. severelybabykryptonite says:

    Wonderful artwork and great article. Love The Walking Dead as Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira never disappoint with their great portrayals of Rick and Michonne. Give the show and the actors the recognition they so rightly deserve.

  33. Justjoined says:

    Rick and Michonne for the win along with bro Daryl. Love me some TWD! Hope season 6 is action packed.

    Also, I need to check-out Arrow everyone says it’s a cool show. Maybe my next Netflix binge. :)

  34. CodenameMe says:

    I am in love with the artwork; Michonne, Rick and Daryl handling the white walkers – nice. I cannot wait to watch my personal favorites; Rick and Michonne, the king and queen of the ZA. Getting really excited for TWD S6,

  35. Elina says:

    Wow! This illustration is simply amazing!! I can’t wait for the new season! The walking dead deserves recognition because it is truly a fantastic show!! Love all the cast especially Danai Gurira and Andrew Lincoln. Come on Season 6!!!

  36. Shipnation says:

    I love this artwork! Thank you for this! Michonne, Rick and Daryl are the number one team and I hope season 6 will show a lot more of them fighting alongside each other! Michonne is queen! Excellent work! :)

  37. Mandy says:

    Awww I love that illustration! I can’t wait for the walking dead panel in july. All the actors on that show are phenomenal but I think my favorite has gotta be danai gurira.

  38. Kathy M. says:

    Love The Walking Dead and thrilled to see it get the recognition it deserves! The art is beautiful especially with Michonne and Rick getting the spotlight! Power couple of the ZA!

  39. Yasmina says:

    So happy to see all this support for Rick and Michonne. They are incredible characters, and I hope that Season 6 continues to be a great season and us, their fans.

  40. yoannalivingston21 says:

    I love The Walking Dead. I can’t wait to see Andrew/Rick and Danai/Michonne in Season 6

  41. ann says:

    Love TWD cover art!

  42. Alexa says:

    I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead and can’t wait for the trailer of season 6 that premieres during Comic Con. The show is awesome but what solidifies it’s unmatched perfection is a combination of great story telling and the brilliant acting ability of Danai Guiria, Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus. They also have a wonderful supporting cast!

  43. richonnebaby says:

    I absolutely love the illustration of Michael Myer, thank you Variety :) Rick is my hero, Michonne is my shero! I wish i can go to one of Comic Cons someday :)

  44. Siancore says:

    This is such a great illustration showcasing my two favourite characters on television from The Walking Dead; Rick Grimes and Michonne. Both Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira are amazingly talented and it’s great to watch them bring these characters to life on our screens. Those lucky enough to be seeing them at Comic-Con are in for a treat as they truly enjoy interacting with their fans while always remaining the epitome of what a professional actor should be.

  45. Comic Book Girl says:

    Awesome job Michael Myers! Rick and Michonne (Richonne) are the king and queen of the zombie apocalypse, of my heart and of popular television! Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira deserve more recognition for the amazing work they do on TWD!

  46. shanette247 says:

    This is news to me: I had no idea Marvel wasn’t going to be at the next Comic Con! Actually, that’s pretty saddening. I haven’t read Marvel for some years now, but I wonder why they won’t be there.

    On the other hand, I’m beyond ecstatic about The Walking Dead being there, once again. Thank you, Variety, your wonderful artwork showcasing Rick Grimes, Michonne, and Daryl Dixon. I don’t think these actors (Andrew Lincoln, Danai Gurira, and Norman Reedus respectively) get enough notoriety for their talent and skill. Lincoln is an experienced method actor from England, and Gurira adds being a playwriting to get CV. Whatever I’m saying isn’t enough justice.

  47. Lyra_Verse says:

    I love the illustration! Rick, Michonne, and Daryl look badass!

  48. D says:

    “Sending a product to Comic-con can set a studio back a bit of pocket-change.” Sorry i mean a couple hundreds of thousands of dollars lol.

  49. Rick and Michonne look great on the cover. Michonne is my hero, she deserves a lot more recognition.

  50. Massena1 says:

    The illustration is AMAZING work. Kudos to Mr. Myers. I agree 100% that a few tv shows have taken over the national zeitgeist. I keep wondering when more magazines will have Rick & Michonne (Richonne) aka Andrew Lincoln & Danai Gurira on their covers the way the GOT cast has been covered on every.single. US. magazine. Come on already. The Walking Death gets double the ratings of GOT and is easily the biggest show on tv yet doesn’t seem to get the media love the way GOT & Empire have. IDGI Rick & Michonne are the new look of superheroes and deserve much more media coverage.

    • Lilac Fields says:

      Brilliant! The show deserves more recognition! Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira are simply amazing! They should get more award love!

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