Billy Ray Cyrus and Waffle House? CMT Boosts New Comedy With Unorthodox Alliance

It’s a good bet that Billy Ray Cyrus doesn’t stay in shape by eating waffles. And yet, the crisp batter confection is likely to play a significant role in his life – at least for a few episodes.

Cyrus, the actor and musician best known for his 1992 hit single “Achy Breaky Heart” and his daughter, Miley, is playing a down-on-his-luck musician turned Elvis impersonator named Vernon “Burnin’ Vernon” Brownmule on the CMT comedy “Still The King” – its first scripted series.  He will settle down at a Waffle House in a meaningful scene during the series, a maneuver that has sparked a marketing partnership between the Viacom cable network and the popular restaurant chain.

“We are inviting a bigger audience to the table” by working with the restaurant chain, said Anthony Barton, CMT’s senior vice president of marketing, in an interview.

Sodas, cars and mobile gadgets find their way into TV programs all the time, but usually as the result of intricate – and expensive – product placement deals. Waffle House and CMT are traveling down another route, one in which an outside party helps to promote the show in exchange for an association with it. No money is changing hands, said Pat Warner, vice president of culture for Waffle House. Instead, the two sides are helping to draw attention to each other.

Starting today, anyone who journeys to a Waffle House to order a Texas Bacon, Egg and Cheese Melt or “scattered, smothered and covered” hash browns is likely to gain at least a glimpse of promotion about the new CMT show.  Waffle House is putting table tents about “Still The King” on all tables, and promotional posters on the community board at the entrance of each eatery. Workers will wear “Still The King” promotional buttons. Even the jukeboxes, known for playing Waffle House jingles like “There Are Raisins In My Toast” or “Waffle House For You And Me,” will serve up a tune-in message.

Consumers will be urged to watch a sneak peek of the show at www.StillTheKingOffer.com and can download a coupon for free hash browns. Waffle House will support the effort through social media and blast it to 300,000 e-mail subscribers, too.

Based in Atlanta and present in 25 states, Waffle House doesn’t do any TV advertising, said Warner. instead, the 1,830-restaurant chain looks for opportunities to generate word of mouth through media appearances, and is regularly approached by movie studios and TV networks to appear in content. “It seems like people want to use Waffle House for its ‘local’ value,” he said. “It brings out the authenticity.”

Waffle House will help develop a storyline in CMT’s “King” as well. The scene in the series that helped spark the partnership involves Cyrus’ character, Vernon, breaking parole by crossing from Tennessee into Mississippi, and ending up at a Waffle House late at night. When a parole officer catches up to him, Vernon meets with a stroke of luck: The table he’s sitting at sits right on the border of the two states, and Vernon is on the Tennessee side.

The comedy series,which debuts June 12 at 8 p.m., stars Cyrus along with Joey Lauren Adams, Madison Iseman, Lacey Chabert, Leslie David Baker, Kevin Farley, Travis Nicholson and Jon Sewell. As the series progresses, Vernon will reconnect with a former one-night-stand (Adams), and discover a 15-year-old daughter (Iseman) he’s never met. The show is one of  a number of new programs CMT is developing as part of a push to attract broader audiences.

Whether “Still The King” will satisfy as much as a plate of pecan waffles and country ham remains to be seen.

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