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Fox Treats Second-Season Launch of ‘9-1-1’ Like a First-Season Debut

Fox is really shaking things up to get people to tune in to the second season of first-responders drama “9-1-1.”

The 21st Century Fox-owned broadcast network several weeks ago unveiled the fact that the series will kick off this fall with a massive earthquake set in Los Angeles, a storyline that will extend over two different hour-long episodes on Sunday, September 23, and Monday, September 24. To drive the point home, Fox has created a range of unique promotions that play off the disaster at the center of the series’ debut.

At the Century City Mall on Friday and Saturday, visitors can check in to a facsimile of a 9-1-1 dispatch center and experience what it might be like to be an emergency operator as the room begins to vibrate and shake. They will also be able to take a photo showing the famous “Hollywood” sign crumbling behind them; fans hanging off the balcony of a Los Angeles building; or another giving the illusion they are being strangled by a python, a scene that happens to be from the series’ pilot. Fox is producing custom videos with People.com and ATTN: focused on first responders. And the American Red Cross to will launch a disaster relief fundraising campaign, Emergency Preparedness Kit deliveries, blood drives and public service announcements all using actors from the show.

Late summer and early fall are always filled with a barrage of promotional campaigns for the new TV season, but Fox’s work behind “9-1-1” is somewhat unique. After all, the show is in its sophomore season. TV networks often place most of their efforts on their freshmen crop.

“While ‘9-1-1’ came out of the gate strong in January and was the number-two new drama of last season, we’ve only aired 10 episodes,” says Shannon Ryan. Fox’s chief marketing officer, in a statement. “Since the show is still young and there are so many fantastic, promotable storylines this season, we felt strongly that we needed to make the return this Fall one of our top priorities.  Additionally, 9-1-1 is at the start of our premiere week, so it’s also a great promotional platform we can use for all of our other premieres next week.”

Fox has reason to sound a siren about “9-1-1.” Aside from football, it is the network’s highest-rated show and finished 12th among all TV programs among viewers between 18 and 49 – the demographic most coveted by advertisers. Media buyers expect “9-1-1” to generate some of the coming season’s best “C3” ratings, or bigger audiences who watch the commercials during the programs. At a network that will rely largely on live and sports events after its parent sells the bulk of its assets to Walt Disney in 2019, Fox needs “9-1-1” to stay successful if it wants to keep a connection with producers of scripted entertainment.

The network is using more than clever promotions to generate interest. The show’s second-season premiere will debut after Fox’s usual serving of Sunday football – one of TV’s highest-rated properties. “We’re strategically using the NFL doubleheader lead-in on Sunday as a sampling opportunity for episode one, then using that episode to drive as many viewers as we can into the new time period premiere on Monday,” says Ryan.

Even the ancillary stuff pushes boundaries. Billboards and posters used to promote last season’s debut of “9-1-1” featured an image of a man dangling from a roller coaster stuck high in the air. The scene was ripped right from the show.  This season’s outdoor features custom 3-D buildouts of a tourist van crashing into a billboard set across the backdrop of the Los Angeles skyline. In New York, units feature a taxi against the skyline.

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