Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 6, 2009

Kings: On NBC, At Epiphany, Of Industry & In Politics

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“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high for the privelege of owning yourself.”

Friederich Nietzsche (who I never thought I’d be quoting in this blog, but today it works…)

The ad game, the TV business, and sometimes even “the truth”, are getting harder to pin down with every passing year.

NBC appears to have chosen December 30th, to roll out Phase 1 of their media promotion package for the new show Kings, premiering on March 19 at 9pm [8pm CST] (and probably slated to run thereafter in the 10pm timeslot on Wednesdays… though way back in May they were saying Sundays, so who knows…).

But to discuss Kings (and kings/presidents in general, and maybe 1 Kings 18:26),  I’m choosing Jan 6th. Why? Because it’s the traditional “3 Kings Day” of most Christian church traditions, which is also called Epiphany in many cases. Oh, and today is also known as the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

[Side note: Tomorrow– although it is thirteen days after Western Christmas (because of the ancient Julian calendar being different than our current, Gregorian one)– is known as just “Christmas” if you are a member of one of the many Orthodox Christian traditions… and if you are, ….well… Merry Christmas!       Again!?!]

Anyway, back to kings, and Dec. 30th. On that day I clicked through on a banner ad –which I don’t often do– at Salon.com , a lefty-leaning cultural/political online mag that I’ve enjoyed for years. The text of this Flash-based, animated Kings ad was in bold white text, in a sort of “commanding” font on an orange background. It was fairly simple: “This space reserved for messages from the King.” There was a butterfly logo on the far right. (Other ads later that day gave out some of those ‘messages’ : “carpool”, “recycle”, “post no spam”… what is this, a social movement or a friggin’ tv show?)

When I clicked thru, I was at a mock news site called UNN. There was a big photo of the relatively unknown Aussie actor playing David Shepard/Shepherd on the show, plus some clickable “headlines”, some  “More>>” text buttons, and buried elswhere on the page, references to RKG, CrossGen, and other unknown entities.

But no hint at all so far that this was completely fictional stuff, let alone an NBC tv show.

However after one more click, I did soon recognize actor Ian McShane, of Deadwood fame, from a photo at the “Inside RKG” link.

Aha, a clue. I also recognized the biblical language and names of locations (Gilboa, Gath… not to mention the name David …a former shepherd, standard allegory stuff here, in choosing names for the show). So part of me was assuming this was a masked attempt by some postmodern church ministry to get people curious about it’s upcoming film, or the Bible, or the classic heroic characters and values they were using as an evangelistic “gateway” tool with Generation Y.

 To confirm or refute my suspicions, I dug deeper.

I read the UNN headline stories. No help yet in determining authorship, source or purpose. Just more “plot”, about David’s defeat of a “Goliath tank”, and other fake news about a kingdom and war that looked a bit like the current U.S. situation, and yet also a bit like the ancient Palestine of King Saul and his understudy/competitor David. 

I watched the promo videos at the “Inside RKG” site (only two of three were available). The high production values were obvious, but still no indication this was an NBC project, or even a tv series at all. Industry insiders may have known for months now, but regular joes like me aren’t supposed to know squat till they’re ready for us to know.

So then I went looking elsewhere on the web, and actually had to dig a bit to find supposedly “independent” (i.e. unbiased, with no marketing angle) reports about this show, and certainly nothing current. I suppose NBC likes it this way for now: to preserve the temporary illusion for a casual browser that their Gath War might be a real war, that their David Shepherd/Shepard (I’ve already seen both spellings out there) is a real hero.

They think we’re all idiots out here. Some days, I wonder if they’re right. Even so, we’re no worse than the idiots in the boardrooms of NBC/Universal and other media giants, where the left hand often doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, but as long as their sleight-of-hand makes them a ton of dough, they don’t really care.

As a different example of this disinformation and purposeful vagueness, there was an old  Reuters/Hollywood Reporter(?) story from March 2008 that implied Kings would be coming in the fall of ’08. But it didn’t.

So then, who’s the nerdy little schmuck who would actually go poking around three months before the premiere, in the dustiest corners of the web, to find out the actual facts related to this show, as opposed to the mysterious, carefully-crafted hype NBC wants us to be reading and hearing right about now? That schmuck would be me…

[Side note: Did the Kings pilot still need tweaking in the fall, or did they just choose to save it as a replacement show for when something else flopped? And what show will it replace in that timeslot it’s getting in March? The Wednesday 10pm slot has belonged to the original Law and Order practically since I was in diapers… is L&O moving, or ending? I forget. And maybe Kings isn’t even a “replacement” anyway, since many shows nowadays don’t do enough episodes to make it all the way from Sept. to May/June, the way network shows of the last generation used to.]

I still remember one of the first times this weird, vague, mystery-laden marketing technique was used effectively: on early promo for The Matrix (remember “WhatIsTheMatrix?” ?). And look what a blockbuster franchise that turned out to be (and what duds the second and third movies turned out to be…)

Speaking of disinformation: in case you haven’t noticed, basic concepts like heroism, bravery and hope (words used a lot in the Kings marketing plan) took on new meanings, especially for young people, in the 2008 election year. These value-laden words will soon be bludgeoned beyond recognition, if this all goes the way it usually does.

In a worldwide political context where the powers that be still want us to believe that war is a way to achieve peace (wha?), heroism is mostly being defined as a “regular guy” (like, um… David the Shepherd?), usually a soldier, putting his butt on the line for the sake of the nation, and winning. That’s all somewhat true, of course. However, they’d rather we not realize that true heroism is when the nation’s leaders (or tv executives, or teachers, or engineers, or parents) put their own butts on the line, …to consistently tell us what we need to hear but won’t like, …to spend their money differently and stop feeding the military-industrial beast, …to help curb our over-consumption of light entertainment that impairs critical thinking (just like too much Twinkie sludge impairs our blood’s ability to flow through our veins), …to nonviolently and selflessly create more just and fair societies worldwide and prevent the conditions that lead to war in the first place. But none of that type of heroism is profitable. At least not here in the U.S. Or is it?

Okay, I’m done ranting now.

Anyway, next in my Kings investigation, I did a few more experimental things, like reading what I believe to be an equally fake “article” at blogspot. It was made to look like something out of Variety (the author uses the term “trade publication”, but I could not find his company, Big Media Excitement , anywhere else on the Web). The article had a “dashed-off ” sort of sloppy formatting, perhaps mistakes made on purpose, so it would look like it was generated by a fan/blogger and not the person with a UCLA English degree and a Princeton MBA who actually wrote it. Probably a mid-level NBC/Universal marketing employee posing as someone named Jack Johnsen, trying to create positive buzz in the blogosphere, because that’s what’s in their job description.

Aw shucks, guys and gals. Why can’t you at least leave the blogging to us amateurs, huh? Why’s it all gots to be ’bout the cash?

I also tried posting an alternately admiring and critical comment, on the IDENTICAL version of this Johnsen article, at the official blog of the Royal Kingdom of Gilboa (fictional country where the series is set). We’ll see if they have the guts to print it. (You, however, can read it below — in case their moderator chooses not to make my dicey comment their very first on the site’s comment section. It might run directly counter to their goals, if it exposes the promo technique they’re using to generate interest in the show.)

A few minutes later on a click-thru for the Queen Benjamin character (I recognize the actress from the photo, but only vaguely… I can’t recall her name), I found they were disallowing comments on the Queen’s blog/notice.

Is that bad programming, …or good, flame-resistant marketing? This is all calculated, right? Create a “fog of war” type situation where it’s unclear who said what and who gave the order. It’s the new style of “media blitz”, trying to generate buzz in the blogosphere with fake “bloggers” and “journalists” who are actually company flunkies tasked with getting the word out, who wouldn’t know an independent or critical thought if it crashed into the side of their Prius…

In conclusion, here’s the comment I made (attempted?) at their official site, a comment which then gave birth to the above blog entry:

  • Mark Nielsen said: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
  • Came upon all this pre-premiere hype via a click-thru at Salon.com, of all places (banner ad text: “This space reserved for messages from the King”) . I was intrigued by the “religio/fantasy” vagueness, the butterfly logo, etc.
    Some creative marketing minds here, but what do I make of the fact that it took a separate Google search with “RKG” to even find out it’s an upcoming NBC show? Is this what they call that “rabbit-hole”, pull-style promotional technique, where you put just a smattering of info out there early on, to create questions and curiosity for the target audience, only to clue them in later?
    If so, it’s working on me. Only trouble is: I don’t know whether to trust the article above as “real” journalism, or are the producers generating this so-called trade publication article themselves as part of the marketing smokescreen? I never heard of “Big Media Excitement”.
    Are we reaching the point culturally where dishonesty and vagueness are more effective than directness and “pitch” mentality? Where sneaking something past our media-screening minds is the main way to get us to pay attention?

Responses

  1. Thanks for the tip about this. We’re moving closer and closer to the world Bradbury envisioned in Farenheit 451, aren’t we?

  2. do you know what the name of the song that they use on the preview commercial for this show is? i really like it but cant figure it out! :]

  3. The song I found online [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5c1Vr1fcZI ]is called “Heroes”, by Illinois’ favorite sons, the Christian rock band Jars of Clay. I assume this is the song you mean. I don’t know if it’s new, or older, but I assume it’s available for purchase online.


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