The Fox network has engineered what is perhaps the most extensive promotional campaign ever devised for a primetime series, enlisting all of its owned TV stations to carry a total of 10 episodes from the first season of “Arrested Development” in August as a build-up to the show’s third season.
The critically acclaimed sitcom, which harvested another 11 Emmy nominations last week, needs help because it has not reached a wide enough audience despite playing on Fox’s Sunday-night schedule behind “The Simpsons.” “Arrested” averaged only 6.2 million total viewers during the 2003-04 season, dropping off to a 6.0 million average for 2004-05.
Fox has shifted the series to Monday at 8, where it will premiere Sept. 19.
For 10 straight weekdays beginning Aug. 15, all 35 of the Fox O&Os will carry an “Arrested” half-hour, with most slotting it at midnight.
“Midnight is not an outrageous time period but a practical one,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz TV, which represents TV stations throughout the country. “Millions of young viewers, particularly men, are surfing the dial late at night during the summer.”
The stations will get to keep all of the advertising time in “Arrested” except for one 30-second spot, which Fox will use to promote the new season of the sitcom.
Paralleling the Fox-station blitz will be an equally aggressive push by the network, which will run four “Arrested” episodes from the second season back-to-back every Friday night for four weeks beginning July 29.
Carroll said he can’t remember a more elaborate drive by a network to turn a struggling show into a successful one. “It’s to Fox’s credit that it’s taking advantage of the synergy it has with its stations” in the service of “Arrested,” he said.
“Fox is also giving the royal treatment” to Imagine Entertainment, the producer of “Arrested,” he added. Imagine also produces the Fox hit “24.”
The risk in running 10 episodes of “Arrested” on the Fox stations as a stunt to draw viewers to the network is that if the August experiment fails to draw an audience, stations could use the poor performance as a weapon when Twentieth tries to sell the series into rerun syndication in the next year or two.
“But, of course, Twentieth will say to those stations, ‘What did you expect,’ ” said Carroll. ” ‘It’s midnight in the summer.’ “