‘Freaks’ tries Net appeal

iAgency hired to rally viewers around show

Hoping to repeat a page out of the “Blair Witch Project” marketing playbook, NBC has hired Interactive Agency to try to save the critically praised but low-rated DreamWorks comedy “Freaks and Geeks” from cancellation by appealing to potential viewers who use the Internet.

The show’s new Monday night timeslot is said to be the fledgling show’s last hope of remaining on the air after failing to make a dent on Saturdays.

“Freaks and Geeks” bowed to promising numbers but quickly stumbled, becoming NBC’s lowest-rated skein, averaging a 2.7 Nielsen rating among adults 18 to 49 and 6.5 million viewers on Saturdays at 8 p.m.

Executive producer Judd Apatow and Paul Feig, creator and co-executive producer, have said that if the show doesn’t receive an 8 share on its new night, the show will get the ax.

That might be tough. The show goes up against CBS’ “King of Queens,” Fox’s “Time of Your Life” and, in its first week, goes head-to-head with ABC’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”

“We like the show but it has to be successful,” said Deborah Hamberlin, veep of corporate advertising and promotions strategy for NBC. “In conversations with DreamWorks, we said this show has a passionate fan base and that’s something that can make a show work using the Internet. We thought, let’s just turn the fans into soldiers for us and get others to watch it. It makes a big difference if there’s a core group out there that absolutely loves a show. It would just be great if these folks have Nielsen boxes.”

While NBC has been running a string of TV spots pushing the show, iAgency has spent the past three weeks trying to rally current fans of “Freaks and Geeks” who host Web sites to promote the show through online chat rooms, news groups, and even three personal e-mail letters from the producers to the fans.

The final letter is being sent on Sunday, saying, “We’re now just a few days away from the show’s return. Thanks for your overwhelming response to our request for help letting the Internet community know about the show.

“Please continue your great effort to support the show by talking it up in chat rooms and among your friends, acquaintances, co-workers and anyone else you meet who owns a television! With your help on the ‘Net over the next few days, we’re confident that the show will be a hit and will remain on the air for a long time.”

So far, the response has been favorable, the show’s producers say.

“It’s to be seen what the turnout will be once we relaunch on Monday,” Feig said. “But it’s been great so far. The Internet’s been our haven since day one. Even after our first episode, our Web site got hit a lot. I credit our fan base for not getting us canceled after the first night out. They barraged NBC with e-mails and snail mail.”

Feig said that although NBC has been highly supportive, the future of the show is still riding on the one episode, which was rewritten to include more comedy and reintroduce the characters to audiences who may not have watched the show before.

“I don’t think it (the Internet) is going to hurt us,” Feig said. “It’s definitely going to help us out. It’s so grass roots in that way. You have immediate access to anyone that’s interested in the show. They feel very connected to you business-wise and emotionally.”

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