Friday, July 16, 2010


The creative process of promoting a show is an entirely different animal than the creative process of making the show.  One is based on a need to engagingly communicate story, the other on the need to entice and stimulate an audience's desire for that story.  

I am fascinated by both processes.  

My background is in mass media and advertising.  As an undergraduate at Rutgers, I had my sites set on being a copywriter and a marketing creative.  My senior project was a 50 page thesis on Frequency vs. Reach - The Most Effective Use of Advertising Dollars.  Even though my career went in a different direction, I am still very plugged into the phenomenon of audience and fan awareness.  It's one of the reasons I blog; and the only reason I use Twitter and Facebook.

I'm not sure how other showrunners react when they see trailers for their new seasons.  But my reaction is always mixed.  It's the thrill of seeing those first on-air glimpses of the show, the excitement of the cool song, the sexy, slick presentation.  It gets my heart racing.  Then there's the part of me that sees the first six episodes manipulated into a marketing tool, where narrative arcs and revelatory moments get dispensed like Raisinettes.  It gets my heart sinking.  I fear that the impact, surprise and relevance of the season will be compromised.  I worry, a lot.  It's what a parent does when they think their three-year old is in potential danger.

But when I put on my marketing hat (which is about twenty years old and ill-fitting), I need a completely different point-of-view and a whole different set of worries.  If I'm spending millions and millions of dollars to promote a show, what is the most effective use of those advertising dollars?  You have to excite and entice existing fans, as well as intrigue and draw in new viewers.  To do that you must tap into story arcs, character relationships and in the case of this show, kick-ass action.  You have to reveal enough information to satisfy a very hungry audience.  They want to know what's gonna happen without really knowing what's gonna happen.  So how do you do milk that cow without ripping its teats off?  

It's a very delicate sucking. 

I'm sure other writer/producers reading this may ultimately utter the phrase, It doesn't matter what I think, marketing is a suit job.  Alas, that is true.  Many networks outsource the promotion of a show so the writers and producers are completely in the dark.  They see the promos when the audience does.  Thankfully, that is not the case with FX.  The marketing and promotions are all done in-house.  So I am lucky enough to be kept in the loop.  I see the print and on-air promotions before they are released.  Doesn't mean I can change them, but at least I'm not blindsided.  Truth is, I am in awe of the job Stephanie Gibbons and her team does at FX.  I make it a point to publicly acknowledge her enormous contribution to the success of this show.  Last month we did a seminar together on this very subject -- the relationship between marketing and the showrunner.  We discussed in detail the challenges of all those things I worry about juxtaposed against all the things she worries about.  It was an eye-opening hour. 

But let's look at the target, Kurt, the audience member.  When I watch a TV or a movie teaser, what entices me?  What draws me to tune in or spend ten bucks?  I know from experience that when I watch a movie trailer I'm pretty much seeing ALL the best moments from the film.  In fact, most movies only get greenlit when someone can "see the trailer".  And one could make the argument that studio movies have simply become extended trailers.  It must work, because they've been promoting movies the same way as far back as I can remember.  And I confess, I'm guilty of anxiously waiting to see those trailer moments when I sit in my Arclight seat.  

But what of television?  Do I really want ALL the best moments revealed to me?  I say no, but I'm not sure if that's the truth or just my job knowledge seeping in.  My relationship with a television show is much deeper than my relationship with a film.  When I buy a movie ticket I'm making a two hour investment, when I watch a serialized show, I'm making a 13-22 week commitment (coincidentally, the length of most of my relationships before I married Katey).  I'm investing in the world, the characters and the story.  Yes, I want to be teased and aroused, but I don't want to cum.  Or do I?  I mean, who wants to wait a week to get off.  Who the fuck am I, Sting? 

It's a chicken-egg conundrum.  Not unlike sex, it will continue to confuse and frustrate me.  Ultimately, as with most things in my life, it comes down to trust.  If I do my job well, share my truth as best as I can, and do the next right thing in front of me -- I have to trust that I will be heard and that others, who know more than me, will do their jobs as well.  

FYI: Trust is the ultimate challenge for big personalities with control issues.


Unknown said...

Very interesting & informative read.

As an editor of reality TV as well as promos for various cable & network shows, I agree on almost all of what you say.

The one thing I've learned though in TV promotions (from an editing standpoint at least), the successful ones always INTRIGUE the viewer with PREMISE alone. That's all there is to it in my opinion - intrigue & premise.

The trick comes in finding and harnessing exactly what premise is intriguing each season and how to display that in a abbreviated context.

I can say that last season it was certainly the premise of Nazi-like gang threatening Samcro. I'll assume this season it may be IRA-level organizations challenging Jax. Perhaps next year it will be Oscar's vengeance over Chucky Pancamo when they meet in prison. Who knows!

But at the very least you have to feel good knowing the 4+ million viewers you had for last year don't need anything more than the opening notes of "This Life" to start salivating!

therealzenobia said...

Holy moly, that's a flaskbacky set!

Jonathan Toomey said...

Oh man, speaking of teases, is that picture a shot from the "Belfast" set? said...

With serials, I like seeing the big impact moments so long as they don't tell me the final resolution. For example, if a promo for Season 2 showed me Opie going after Tig, I could extrapolate that he knew Tig killed Donna, but it would leave me wondering how it came out, and what the impact would be. Would he kill Tig? Leave the club? It would inspire more questions than it answered. That's what I like.

Anonymous said...

Do you have any idea what kind of education you're giving me?!!
What an inspiration you are, Mr. Sutter. Even when I don't agree w/ you. Thanks!

therealzenobia said...

Also, watching from Ep 1 is the only thing that's ever drawn me into a show. I wish they would get those on the air ASAP.

Renée said...

"It's a very delicate sucking."

Definitely NOT a sentence you see everyday, but right on target. And hilarious.

Your show is hands down the best show on television, and this is coming from someone who has never ridden a motorcycle or hung out with a motorcycle owner in her life.

It's the characters. I feel like I know each and every one of them, especially Gemma. I'm still pissed that Katey wasn't nominated for an Emmy for her performances last season.

Your blog post about the conflict between promotion vs. revealing to much is something I've frequently thought about, especially when watching movie trailers. Particularly with comedies, I wonder, "Did they just reveal every single funny moment in that trailer?"

Even worse is when a drama or action movie reveals the entire plot. I knew the entire plot of Ironman 2 before I stepped into the theater. Which was a real bummer because I was looking forward to the movie, and ending up being only partly interested. (the part of me that was drooling over the hotness that is Robert Downey Jr., but I digress)

Anyway, thanks for another great blog post. I can't wait for SOA to start again. Love your posts, love love love your show. Keep up the great work.

kalipornia said...

"Who the fuck am I, Sting?"

bwahHAAHAHAHAH nice tantric joke

Anonymous said...

Can you show some of the "Jersey Chapter" this season??

Aaliyah said...

A much calmer read than what I'm used to. I see you are switching it up for us. Thanks for sharing, I always walk away with a takeaway and that is good.

PaulterA said...

Well said, sir. As a rabid fan I'll keep watching the show without any tease at all and I really don't want to see too much beforehand. I can, however, completely see the promotion side of it. Without showing at least SOME story arc you'll only have the die-hard fans and won't gain any new ones.

The biggest and best(and worst, due to torture of waiting) tease for me is the off season. I spent the whole time between Ssn 1 & 2 saying, "Oh SHIT! What is Opie going to do when he finds out?" This time around I'm dying to know how Jemma's going to get out of her jam and just how Samcro is going to get the kid back on foreign ground without getting everyone killed.

Unknown said...

LOL You are rich much tongue and cheek. (smiles) I think Hitchcock said it well when he said that what you don't see is as much or more important than what you do see. I for one do not want to know what is going to happen before I watch something. I want to go on the journey of discovery with the characters. It is that process that is what makes you care and desire and want to watch more.

Mike Catalano said...

It's the strip tease. It's the parts that remain covered that are the most intriguing. Let my imagination run rampant.

Anonymous said...

I continue to be fascinated by the growth you are showing in your writing, even on blogs like this one.

Thank you for sharing your insight and experiences here.


Kyt said...

It's funny being up here on the West Coast in Canada we don't even see the trailers. I found out about your show from a friend of a friend an we're all hooked. By word of mouth ( mine mostly ) in my circles I have in a way been promoting your show. We don't need the trailers to be excited about the show coming back after the way you ended S2 there is no more enticing needed. I've seen both seasons back to back and love quality of the writing, the acting and the marketing.

There are so many shows on TV that you don't need to use your brain to watch, colours and pictures go by, words are being said blah blah and that's not the case with SOA. The stories behind the stories keep you thinking and keep you interested.

Looking forward to S3 and seeing what you have planned for the show.

Nils Hermans said...

Great post. I think a show like SOA, about to start its 3rd season, not exactly buried in Emmy's (which is a disgrace), will get most of its new viewers through word-of-mouth.

I haven't seen the trailers/teasers for S3 but the S2 teaser, with Jax and Clay seemingly colliding, was awesome and effective. Some dollars well spent.

Unknown said...

I am happy you are voicing this opinion and even more happy that you get some say in what does, or more importantly doesn't get put in the trailer. When I really like a show (like with SoA) I don't watch the teasers at all, because at this point I often end up feeling spoiled. I started this policy because of the teasers Sci-Fi was running for Battlestar Galactica, which would often reveal things like twists at the end of the episode. I would really love some choice segments, so it would be great if teasers weren't so spoilery. I'm glad you see the problem! And thanks for all of your blog, I absolutely love it!

Guy R. Glimp said...

You already "teased us" with the shot of the alley in (I suppose) Ireland. I think you've already got us Dude. Can't wait and with God's help will record every show.

Anonymous said...

i hate it when scenes from the previews dont make the cut for the final product. tv or movies... what gives? seems low budget and ive seen it happen in blockbusters.

Unknown said...

Okay Kurt, since you're not sure I'll tell you what we want. And yes, its just like sex...we want to be teased and aroused, and eventually we want to cum but not until after we've had a good, long sucking. We want to see the good guys and the bad guys doing cool stuff while listening to a kick ass tune, and feel that warm, tingly, famiiar rush of adrenaline spread through our chest. For me the feeling is kind of like waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve, you're happy and content for that very brief period of time, knowing that something really really good is coming. But I've gotta say its really hard waiting 39 weeks to cum.

Tony Adame said...

SOA had the right idea last season when it did the Jax vs. Clay promos -- gave nothing away but gave us an idea of what was coming. Can't wait to start seeing Season 3 stuff. Can. Not. Wait. Keep kicking ass.

Indianacat aka Lowecat said...

The title says it all. Teasers are indeed an art form. The good teasers give you just enough info to whet your appetite without spoiling the meal.

Last season's teaser for the final episode is a great example of the use of editing, timing, and music to keep our interest.

The teaser can be anticipatory; like looking forward to a special occasion. You get little hints here and there that just make you more excited. Then, when the occasion comes, the end product will either be well worth the wait, or leave you feeling completely unsatisfied. (They don't call it post Christmas let down for nothin'!).

Teasers dangle their hook and bait tantalizingly. I might take the bait, but if the bait tastes like shit, you're NOT gonna reel me in.

In my opinion, having one person, and one person only, deciding what should and should not serve as a good teaser is wrong. It needs to be a cumulative process with the creator, the writers, and the teaser folks. Thank GAWD FX has the sense to see this.

The little blurb during the rerun of S2, by the way, left me wanting more. That, my friend, was good use of sight and sound. The music, the machine, the Reaper with the flag, and the word September all sent chills down my spine.

That's damn good teasin'.

Maria said...

Hi Kurt,

Just wanted to let you know that we all struggle with this. Whether we're writing a blog or not there's a point where everyone has to deal with "the man".

We all edit ourselves from our true beliefs so that we're not punished for it.

It's so frustrating living and working and constantly having to be on edit alert.

Sure I know we all can't walk around saying what ever it is we want to say. Yet at the same time we're forced not to be who we truly are. Forced to stifle our own integrity for the sake of a raise, an achievement, award or acclamation or even for just riding the wave we're currently on.

We're living in the land of yes men and women. We're telling each other what they want to hear instead of what they should hear, what they truly need to hear.

I love your writing you're telling it like it is attitude because it's real and above all it's honest.

Honesty and morality have been dropped to the waistside in order to pe "politically correct" and in order to achieve beyond our current standings.

It's a sad sad world we live in when honesty and integrity are thought less of than brown nosing and well kissing ass!

You Rock so does your show!

A constant fan who applauds your honesty!

Thomas Needham said...

That's too authentic looking to be a set. Looks more like the alleys between houses in the Holylands area of Belfast where I lived for a few years.

Looking forward to seeing some on-locatin shooting of SOA in my back yard :)

Unknown said...

I gotta ask something....What do you think of all the posts on YouTube of people making videos of the show? There are so many fans that are basically making mini movies, are you flattered or amused....?


Urno Talbot said...

So is this a hint that we should trust FX to start dropping some promos or something for Season 3??
I'm glad you're not dwelling on extraneous bullshit and are back to blogging about the show, and posting a pic of Belfast. You go Jersey!

Outsider said...

Nicholson said something about his ability to hang with the 'Suits' ...but I forget what it was exactly.
Sort of implying that he could hang with them and have a beer...that he didn't suffer from the Us vs Them far as studio execs go vs thesps.

And of course we all know Mick went to the London School of Economics..unless that's an urban myth. But I can't picture You as a Copywriter Suit Kurt....that would've driven you quite mad.

johnny said...

I don't need an extended promo to know I will watch every episode. The short clips of the reaper builds anticipation. The shit hits it, samcro cleans up, and we'll be doing this again next year!

trapper said...

Hey Mr Sutter....

Love reading you Blogs.....

Have any other Showrunners taken your lead by blogging?

As others have said, reading your blogs are very educating.

Thanks for the insights.

Anonymous said...

You do your job very well. I think your fan base speaks for that. Kurt, I'm Iraq bound. I'm missing the birth of my first born son and Season 3 of Sons of Anarchy. We'd love to see your show over there, it would make time pass just that much faster... Thanks for all you do.

Anonymous said...

With the exception of Deadwood, SOA is the finest television ever produced. The characters, the nuance, the subtlety and the in your face violence and mayhem are all blended into a cocktail that we must drink, at our own peril, from a glass that is spewing an unknown smog, like from the kettle of our favorite witch from our childhood. Unknown, alien, and scary, but enticing in its drama and our assumed taste. Keep up the good work, stay true, and don't let the bastards get you down!

Duane Of The Dead - DWI said...

Saw the 30 second spot late night last night during That 70's Show on FX. Consider me teased!!

therealzenobia said...

Saw the tease last night, and it has a big fucking spoiler in it - not funny!! Those assholes clearly do not watch the show carefully enough to know what a big deal it is. If you haven't seen it, avert your eyes, I kid you not! The spoiler is far worse than anything the silly tease has to offer. Jesus H. Christ!

Indianacat aka Lowecat said...

Saw the long tease (1:37) on You Tube last night, watched it 5x. Were there spoilers? Perhaps. Small ones. I really didn't see a big spoiler, and watching 5x, would think it wouldn't register.

Let's face it, promos are just that, promos of what's to come. The promos for S2 promised us a showdown between Jax and Clay. They never went after each other on the bikes, but they were definately at odds through 99% of Season 2!

The S3 promo was fast paced, evenly cut, with plenty to whet the appetite. I don't feel as if any was 'spoiled' for me. Being of the creative vein, don't really consider small teases spoilers.

We're still wondering will Abel come back, do the Feds ever arrest Gemma, does Stahl get her comeuppance, and lots of other questions.

Roll on 7 September. And Mr. Sutter, glad you survived your time at Comic Con. I know you were anxious, but you lived to tell about it! Bravo!

PS Enjoyed your repost w/the comments from the start of the production. Made for great reading!

Karma said...

Hey Kurt

I don't expect this comment to be published because it's very irrelevant to your world and the paradigms in Hollywood marketing.

I'm just a kindergarten teacher in Taiwan who started watching SOA recently and really associated with a lot of the issues.

Being South African I can relate to a lot of the violence, social justice and underlying satires to a democratic system that has never worked for the world; and probably never will.

Anyway, after I read this entry I got a lot of respect for you (more than I already had because your talent is undeniable). I've always been cynical about movies, tv shows, politicians, religion; well, any kind of group or superiority movement that claims to care about people yet have no fucking idea even what the people think, who they are etc. I've seen too many times that the powers that be, don't treat people as humans but numbers.

I'm glad to see that you are not like that. You rock and I do believe that you have taken the cotton wool off a lot of people's eyes.

Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

I saw the short black and white ad during 'Rescue Me'. It was absolutely, fucking awesome. I'm so hyped up for Season 3.

Anonymous said...

For Cycleryder's comment, that one clip out-take video put to the Lady Gaga song got me going, so I have to think it's a good thing, in way of promotion for the series.

Michael Taylor said...

As a viewer, I never watch the teasers for next week's show -- not for "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men," or "Sons of Anarchy." I can wait a week to find out what happens -- indeed, I WANT the next episode to come at me as clean and fresh as possible, with no teasers beforehand. My goal is to have an unvarnished experience each week, one that hasn't been tainted or influenced or shaped in any way by film-clip hints at what's coming. I want to let the show to unfold at its own pace.

Then again, I'm already a fan of your show, and will watch every episode of the upcoming season. If the show needs teasers to attract new viewers, then do what you've gotta do.

Me, I'll ignore them.

RogueTrooper13 said...

Always a pleasure listening to your point of view........ love the show too

Kind Regards Andy

therealzenobia said...

Looks like you got the spoiler pulled. If only I'd gone to the flippin kitcher for 30 seconds.

Natalie said...

I completely, with MUCH deliberation, and an act of uncharacteristic self-control, avoid, like the freaking plague, trailers for shows like yours (and most definitely the per-episode previews)!
I absolutely hate to be spoiled. As my mind reaches and grasps ahead, (over)analyzing everything, even a glimpse of something can lead me to a myriad of conclusions. What if one is right?!?! (@o@) Or even right-ish!

I love the way the story slowly and sexily revels itself to me - stripping away layer by layer... the slow sweet molasses drip tease of the naughty salacious nymph.

Seems to be quite the messy tight-line for you to navigate. I do not envy your balancing act.

( ^_^)/U*U\(^_^ )