Post Scriptum: Living up to Promo Potential

This week on Post Scriptum, a dramatic tale comes to an unforgettable end. You’ve waited months…Now, you’ll have to wait no more.

An instrumental interlude of a modern day rock song plays over flashes of columns past. The audience becomes enthralled with a stream of emotions; the love, anger and melodrama is almost too much to take. As the flashes end a booming voice returns.

Just when you thought you’d seen it all…

The screen cuts to an abrupt black. The audience is left on the edges of their seats, trembling with anticipation for the weeks to come.

Oh, don’t pretend you’re not excited.

Promos are a vital means through which television grabs its viewers. As my shameless attempt at self-promoting will attest to, however, the art of trailer-making is much easier said than done. The right mixture of clip-selection, music and editing are integral to the success of a good promo, and subsequently how many viewers a show can reel in.

It is an art thoroughly attempted on television, with networks doling out versatile 30-second spots ranging from flashy and effective to utterly misleading.

Last week’s promo for the premiere of E.R. was well-edited and suspenseful. Random clips of Sam shouting catatonically at the heavens, interlaced with a nurse’s dire revelations that a young, Diabetic boy was found in a coma had me thinking that little Alex (son of Sam) wasn’t going to make it through eppy one. I consider myself an on-and-off-again fan of E.R., but the dramatic reel of clips presented in the promo convinced me to tune in and gather the gist of what was going on.

The episode was bland, but the preview was grand.

NBC didn’t overdose the spot with an abundance of music and used gripping clips that focused on the characters rather than the gloss of the show. A part of me was a little miffed that the quality of the episode didn’t live up to its trailer-hype, but at no point did the trailer become a self-centred attempt at glossing a show that didn’t, at least partially, possess the quality it was boasting.

This is a problem on networks such as the WB, who are undeniably the foremost abusers of the television promo. A network bent on conquering the 18 to 21 demographic, the WB caters its television promos to the music video generation. Quick cuts immaculately mingling with melodic mainstream rock (often credited, just like a music video), the WB has made their promos into more than just an image of their television endeavors, but a means to generate a sole culture associated with their network. Marketing wise, it’s a smart move. Every time I hear Gavin DeGraw crooning on the radio, I think of One Tree Hill, despite the fact that I find the show incredibly self-indulgent and unoriginal.

The network even goes as far a to create their own versions of music videos starring the actors that headline their most popular shows. I remember when the first “Faces” campaign came out in 1999, with my favourite stars-of-the-time socializing to an ethereal tune as if they were all great chums in real life. It had me wanting for that same camaraderie, pushing me to subscribe to the WB when in truth, merely one or two shows were even worth the ratings in content. As years passed and more Faces campaigns made their way on to my television screen, I found myself becoming disenchanted. This was more about the business of glitz then the quality, and like any other superficial Hollywood craze, it fades with age. This explains why shows on the WB rarely have a lifespan past five years, while those that do, usually suffer a sizeable drop in appeal (note Charmed and Seventh Heaven).

The quality of the shows on the WB rarely reflects the hype of its well-assembled trailers. Many networks can be found guilty of this, however, the WB it seems is fairly consistent in optioning for “cool” rather than focusing on the quality of writing, acting and directing involved in a program. How many times have I watched immaculately designed promos for Smallville–perfectly scored with the latest rock riffs and pretty faces, only to tune in and find myself wanting nothing more than to watch the trailer again and again? Cool doesn’t cut it.

Perhaps this is why shows on NBC, a network with eons less elaborate promos garner the ratings, while the WB remains a distant cousin in competition. I can forgive E.R.’s slight discrepancies between trailer and T.V. show, but if a network is going to be as grandiose as the WB is with their promos, I expect more than just surface-level satisfaction.

When it comes to promos, simplicity, it seems, is the key. Dave Matthews may provide a hell of a soundtrack but what can he do for longtime viewership if a show can’t hold its own? Zilch. Let’s preview that for a change.