Cocaine’s a hell of a drug, but you’re not seeing things: That, indeed is Showtime’s old 1980s-era logo pasted all over marketing materials and promos for “Black Monday,” a tongue-in-cheek tale of the excesses exhibited by Wall Street traders in the lead-up to the stock market crash of 1987. The logo, which hasn’t been in use in decades, was dusted off to help add to the retro look of the comedy.
“We got to throw away the rule book on this show, and we decided to shoot for cool and not necessarily adhere to a more conventional [campaign],” says Showtime chief marketing officer Don Buckley. “One thing led to another, and it was this progressive line of thinking that suggested to us we could reach back 30 years to the Showtime branding and logo.”
The old Showtime logo, as seen on air and throughout the “Black Monday” marketing campaign, was first introduced in 1981. Besides the name “Showtime” in an italic Franklin Gothic font (with the “W” and “T” connected), it also featured an icon with a TV screen inside a circle. Showtime continued to use a version of the logo (eventually removing the TV circle icon) until 1997.
That’s when Chermayeff & Geismar, led by famed designer Ivan Chermayeff, came up with Showtime’s current look: The name “Showtime” in Franklin Gothic Extra Condensed font, with a spotlight over the letters “SHO.” That was a reference at the time to the call letters that Showtime was identified by in TV Guide magazine and most newspaper listings.
Buckley says his team had access to the classic logo and the old video materials in the Showtime archives, but they also treated it as a new piece of art.
“We did some sharpening of print and any of the original show logo video stuff,” he says. “We used contemporary means to up-res and sharpen without undermining the purpose of making it feel like the ’80s. We ran it through legal and business affairs and rights and clearances, made sure we were good to go.”
Buckley adds that there wasn’t any real concern about brand confusion, with one or two exceptions. “Just yesterday someone asked me if I thought in the subscriber acquisition advertising that we do, in this case on Instagram, if we should revert back to the proper logo just to reinforce brand identity,” he says. “I said, ‘No, let’s go for it. Let’s stick with the plan.'”
The logo not only appears in the marketing for “Black Monday,” but it also shows up at the beginning of each episode, accompanied by what appears to be an old Showtime jingle, featuring chipper singers crooning, “It’s Showtime Tonight!” But here’s the twist: That bumper is mostly a re-creation, made to look like it was dug up from the archives. The logo is real, but Showtime never had a jingle like that — “Black Monday” composer Kris Bowers created it for the show.
“It makes me chuckle each time, it’s such a strange thing,” says “Black Monday” co-creator Jordan Cahan. “He nailed it beautifully.”
The new song was necessary partly because Showtime’s actual marketing jingle from the era — “Showtime: We Make Excitement!” — was a reworking of the Pointer Sisters song “I’m So Excited,” to which the channel doesn’t have rights. Instead, “It’s Showtime Tonight!” felt even more in tune with “Black Monday’s” balance of being both an authentic look, but also a pure parody, of the late 1980s.
“It’s part of the artifice of what we were doing,” Buckley says. “We’re not trying to fool anybody; we don’t actually have a time machine.”
Cahan and co-creator David Caspe give credit to Buckley and the marketing team for reaching back into Showtime’s history to add to the 1980s vibe — including finding a photographer known for shooting the New York club scene during that era to handle the campaign’s photo shoot.
“This whole thing is done with a bit of a wink and I think that’s been the fun of it,” Cahan says. “The marketing department put together trailers early on where they put that logo at the top and we all fell in love with it. And there was a street photographer that we were obsessed with the way he shot these stark shadowy street photos. Showtime was able to contact him and have him do the poster. The most fun about the entire show is being able to pick and choose the stuff you loved about it ’80s, whether its cheesy nostalgic or actually very cool. It’s a grab bag of a bit of those things.”
Don’t expect Showtime to revert back to that retro style full-time, however.
“It’s being appropriately used,” Buckley says. “I don’t know what we’ll do in Season 2. I’m not announcing Season 2, I’m just saying whether we continue to use it remains to be seen.”