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Clever campaigns cut through clutter

For the FX and Warner Bros. TV publicity teams, showing the right cuts helped propel “Nip/Tuck” to hit status.

Still, the units “had some challenges being on a basic cable network,” admits Holly Ollis, a publicist for Warner Bros., which produces the show for FX.

Figuring out the best way to pitch a show about a pair of Miami cosmetic surgeons was one of them. And the show’s key talent — Dylan Walsh and Julian McMahon — had done some TV work, but neither was well known.

It was decided that the best PR strategy would be to highlight “Nip/Tuck’s” provocative theme. To do that, publicists focused on its visual elements.

“We showed the critics (at the summer Television Critics Assn. meetings) how all the special effects were created,” Ollis explains. “And it became a favorite of the electronic press (“Entertainment Tonight,” “Access Hollywood,” etc.) with all the surgery scenes. If the show didn’t have a sensational topic, it might not have gotten the attention that it did.”

Last year, TV Guide named “Nip/Tuck” the tube’s “coolest” series, and the show has broken basic-cable ratings records.

It’s not surprising, then, that “Nip/Tuck” was nominated by Hollywood guild publicists this year for the Maxwell Weinberg Publicists Showmanship TV trophy. Other shows receiving noms include ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” Fox’s “Arrested Development,” CBS’ “Cold Case” and King World syndie stalwart “Dr. Phil.”

Publicity efforts that propel a show to hit status are one key element to the award. So is the work aimed at sustaining that success. For the publicists behind ABC’s freshman hit “Desperate Housewives,” the nom reflects a little of both this year.

“We hit every publication we could,” says Erin Felentzer, publicist for “Desperate Housewives” producer Touchstone TV, recalling last summer’s effort to get the series seen by crix. “If I could’ve hit the play button on their VCR, I would have.”

After the show launched Oct. 3 to huge ratings, getting seen was no longer as much of a concern. It was now up to the ABC and Touchstone PR teams to keep up the media momentum yet make it manageable at the same time.

Over the past five months, cast members have appeared on “Oprah” and have graced the covers of Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide (three times) and an upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, among many other publications.

PR strategizing for the series is now a matter of knowing when to say no. “You have to be smart and strategize, and we’ve tried to do that,” says ABC’s Ellen Gonzalez, a 19-year publicity vet who says she’s had more requests for “Housewives” than any other show she’s worked on.

Sometimes, however, successful publicity translates merely into survival. Hardly a ratings smash in its first season, an Emmy win for “Arrested Development” in the fall went a long way toward persuading Fox topper Gail Berman to extend the show for a second season.

With the Emmys in mind, publicists for the show focused on the Los Angeles area.

For example, the Bluth family frozen banana stand featured in the series was brought out to such locales as the Santa Monica Pier and the Grove shopping complex in L.A.’s Fairfax District. Each passerby received a frozen banana that was wrapped in promotional packaging that included Emmy plugs from critics.

“That campaign was designed to bring so much awareness to the show, you couldn’t avoid getting a nomination,” says Fox publicist Stacey Levin.

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