TV biz tunes in to Comic-Con

Networks, studios tubthump more shows

Comic-Con is starting to look a little more like TV-Con.

Networks and studios plan to tubthump more shows than ever at the annual confab set for July 23-26 at the San Diego Convention Center.

Over the years, the event has turned into an invaluable promotional platform through which Hollywood can push its new properties to the 126,000 fans that flock to the Con.

And it’s grown significantly in importance for the TV biz after successfully courting the crowd there to launch new shows such as NBC’s “Heroes” and “Chuck” and Fox’s “Fringe.”

Positive reaction to early footage seen at the confab can generate strong buzz across the Web that can influence a fan base months before a bow. And in the age of Twitter, that buzz can be instantaneous.

“What’s happening at Comic-Con is the fan community gives you an immediate reaction to your project in a big way,” said Lisa Gregorian, exec VP of worldwide marketing for the Warner Bros. TV Group. “It’s live testing.”

This year’s event may play an even bigger role in spreading the word; for the first time, Comic-Con will take place a few days before the Television Critics Assn.’s summer press tour.

“It’s a total game-changer,” said Chris Alexander, 20th Century Fox TV’s senior VP of publicity. “Previously, Comic-Con would be the place where you would just interact. Now, it’s the place to break news.”

Nearly all of the studios and nets traveling south on the 5 Freeway plan to have their cast members and creatives present for panel discussions and will screen pilots at the Convention Center. They’ll build massive booths on the show floor where they’ll host autograph signings and offer giveaways.

Here’s what some studios and nets have in store:

  • Warner Bros. is making the trek with 11 shows, the most for the company. Those include news skeins “Eastwick,” “Human Target,” “Past Life,” “V” and “The Vampire Diaries,” as well as returning series “Fringe,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “Chuck,” “Smallville,” “Supernatural” and “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.”

  • Twentieth Century Fox TV has nine shows going: “24,” “Bones,” “Dollhouse,” “The Simpsons,” “American Dad,” “Futurama,” “Family Guy” and spinoff “The Cleveland Show,” along with other newcomer, “Glee.”

  • ABC won’t screen the pilot for “Flash Forward” but will host a panel during which it will screen selected scenes. “Lost,” with its anticipated final season ahead, will have a presence as well.

  • Sony will be promoting toon “The Spectacular Spider-Man,” currently airing on boy-friendly Disney XD.

  • NBC once again will be at the Con to promote the new season of “Heroes.”

“It’s where ‘Heroes’ got its start,” said John Miller, chief marketing officer at NBC, who is using the confab to promote the show’s new time period. “Bringing it back seems like the right thing to do. We want to re-energize the show.”

Skeins such as “Human Target,” “Smallville” and “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” are based on comicbook properties, while “Vampire Diaries,” “V” and “Fringe” appeal to the sci-fi, horror and fantasy contingent that typically attends.

ABC marketing topper Mike Benson says Comic-Con is the natural place where “Flash Forward” can generate buzz, but the show must reach beyond the halls of the Convention Center to become a hit.

“We need to drive millions of viewers to sample it,” Benson said. “In order to do that, this is a good niche to reach out to. Comic-Con is a small piece of a much bigger marketing strategy.”

He added that the pilot won’t be unspooled in its entirety to avoid giving away a reveal at the end of the episode.

Not all shows may immediately seem like good fits. Last year, NBC sent both “The Office” and “30 Rock,” and there’s some controversy over the fact that Fox is sending musically themed “Glee.”

“We think it’s absolutely a fit,” said Alexander of the inclusion of “Glee.” “The show got an enormous response screening after ‘American Idol,’ and that kind of passion creates a great crossover between the Comic-Con fan, theater fan and music fan who all like this show.”

Last year proved that the geeks don’t necessarily rule the Con anymore.

Organizers have been keen on turning the event into a showcase for all forms of popular culture — from comicbooks and toys to films and TV shows — and wowed attendees last year when thousands of teenage girls and even older women stood in line for hours to attend Summit’s panel for “Twilight.”

“Comic-Con was originally genre specific, but has become slightly less focused for the people it was originally intended for,” Miller said.

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