'Terra Nova' to get aggressive launch from Fox
The start of a new television season is akin to a meteor shower. Shows come flying out of nowhere, lighting up the sky and screaming for attention.
Most then disintegrate and crash to earth, causing mass confusion among viewers, many of whom flee for more stable ground.
Traditionally, dinosaurs haven't fared well with meteors. But News Corp.'s Fox is betting that "Terra Nova," its highly anticipated new program about a family that travels from the year 2149 to prehistoric times as part of group trying to save the planet, can survive the craziness that is the fall television season. The show, which counts Steven Spielberg and former News Corp. president Peter Chernin as executive producers, is scheduled to debut Sept. 26, right in the thick of the opening of the new season. It will then settle into an 8 p.m. time slot on Mondays as a lead-in to the medical drama "House."
Given that it has been delayed twice and is shaping up to be very expensive -- it shoots in Australia, is loaded with special effects and the two-hour first episode alone cost more than $15 million -- it is an understatement to say Fox has a lot riding on "Terra Nova."
"This is definitely one of our highest priorities for the fall," acknowledged Joe Earley, the network's president of marketing.
Fox hopes that "Terra Nova" can be that rarest of television shows: a broad-based hit that families will watch together. Such programs are increasingly rare on network television as the viewing audience has become very fragmented and there is a cable channel for seemingly every niche out there. Fox is gambling that "Terra Nova" can attract not only science fiction geeks and young males, but Mom and Dad too. Internally, the show has been dubbed "Little House on the Prairie with Dinosaurs." Fox doesn't even like it referred to as a science fiction show, preferring instead to call it an "epic family drama."
"If we can get people to buy into this family, then we have a shot," said Preston Beckman, Fox's head of scheduling. "If it's dinosaur of the week, we'll never have a shot."
Because the casualty rate for new shows is so high, networks often try to protect ambitious projects until after the smoke has cleared and the early casualties of the season have been carted off. Fox, however, is eschewing a safe approach, marching right into the thick of battle and telling everyone else to get out of the way.
As for the argument that waiting a little bit for other new shows to fall by the wayside could give "Terra Nova" an clearer runway to take off from, Beckman countered that the risk in that is that viewers have already established their habits and aren't in the mood to try yet another new show.
"I'm a believer in getting shows on quickly," he said. "I don't think waiting has ever proven significantly to help a show."
Beckman wouldn't say what kind of audience "Terra Nova" needs for Fox to consider it a success, but he predicted that "a good 40% will watch on some sort of delayed basis."
Technically, Fox is scheduling the first episode of "Terra Nova" one week after what is considered to be the official start to the fall season. Typically, day one of the new season is considered to be the Monday following the Emmy Awards, which this year air on Fox on Sept. 18.
Instead, Fox will use a double header of NFL football on Sept. 25 (assuming the lockout has been resolved and games are played) and its the premiere of its Sunday night animated lineup (which includes "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy") to hype the first episode of "Terra Nova."
Fox is trying to build buzz about the show without giving too much away. It has screened the first hour for a handful of critics but won't release pictures from the show that include the dinosaurs yet. Next month, "Terra Nova" will have be screened debut at Comic-Con, the fanboy convention that is often used by networks and movie producers to generate buzz for new shows and films.
Besides the road trip to Comic-Con and constant commercials for "Terra Nova" on the network, Fox is also promoting the show in museums, zoos and theme parks across the country, in hopes of wooing families and kids. Trailers for the show have appeared at screenings of "X-Men: First Class" and "Super 8" and will also be screened before the next "Harry Potter" movie this summer. There will also be an onslaught of ads during Fox's coverage of baseball's All-Star game next month.
"We can sell dinosaurs to one audience, time travel to another and a family drama to another," Earley said.
One challenge for Earley and Fox is the actual use of dinosaur images in promotional materials versus what will be on the show.
"The T-Rex we all know and grew up with may not be correct. ... We don't want to market with the wrong dinosaurs," Earley said.
-- Joe Flint
Top photo: A scene from "Terra Nova." Credit: Fox
Lower photos: Billboards for "Terra Nova." Credit: Fox