Female TV Execs Talk Marketing Shows in a Crowded Marketplace

That this is a golden age of television has become a familiar refrain — the challenge is then making and marketing shows in this crowded marketplace.

The organization Women In Film held a panel Monday night at the West Hollywood library with a group of top women in the TV business to offer advice, led by moderator Sharon Lawrence (who’s now starring in “Blunt Talk”), along with panelists Lionsgate TV COO Sandra Stern, “Bessie” producer Shelby Stone, “Rizzoli & Isles” star Sasha Alexander and Variety associate publisher Donna Pennestri.

The panelists shared examples of shows they thought had been marketed successfully, with Stone praising the team at HBO for zeroing in on Bessie Smith’s personality. “Even though 80% of the public had no idea who Bessie Smith was, they took pains to introduce her,” she said. The campaign focused on up-close images of star Queen Latifah, which helped drive tune-in for the HBO biopic.

Stern recalled launching “Mad Men” on AMC, and said that campaign was as much about introducing the network as it was the show. It was a lesson Lionsgate would repeat again as they later rolled out “Orange is the New Black” with Netflix, and the studio had to instruct viewers in the then-new habit of streaming, as well as binge-watching.

The panelists engaged in a long debate about the pros and cons of using social media as a marketing tool. While it can drive awareness, Stern said, “you lose control of the message.”

While it’s now “de rigueur” for shows to live tweet, it’s a burden that falls to the stars. Networks even hand out “suggested tweets,” reported Stone.

Alexander said while she enjoys the direct connection to her fans, she’s noticed she gets mostly personal questions — while the writers get questions about plot points. Whether that affects the direction of the show is a question for the showrunners.

Joked Stern, “Matthew Weiner hasn’t taken a note on ‘Mad Men’ in five years. He certainly isn’t going to respond to what an audience wants to hear.”

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