ABC's 'V' is for vastly polluting PR stunt

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The next time ABC and its parent company Disney start thumping their chests about how they're "going green," please spit in their eye and remind them of Monday's announcement that the broadcast network will dispatch a fleet of skywriting planes in 15 cities around the country over 12 days to write large ominous red V's over U.S. landmarks -- all to promote a four-episode sampling of a science-fiction series that is reportedly already having problems.

Cities being subjected to the Why The Face campaign: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Orlando, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Dallas, Austin, Tempe, Ariz., and Santa Monica, Calif.

Mercifully, Washington is not on ABC's Landmark Target List, even though you can't throw a brick without hitting a major landmark in our fair city.

We asked ABC why Washington is being spared, er, exempted. An ABC spokeswoman said that, as we suspected, it had to do with the strict limits about the airspace over Washington that have been in place since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

And, let's face it, no good can come of people freaking out when they see gigantic red V's suddenly appear over the Washington Monument, the Capitol dome and the World War II Memorial. You might still see photos of Washington landmarks with ominous V's hovering over them as part of the show's viral marketing campaign; those photos will have been computer-generated.

Some cities, like New York and L.A., are set to be V'd multiple times.

All told, we're conservatively talking here about around 400 gallons of fuel containing maybe 800 grams of lead -- aviation fuel is exempt from the EPA's ban on lead -- and around three tons of CO2, among other pollutants, if each "V" outing took about one hour of flying time. This is according to various aviation pundits contacted by The TV Column.

While this may not hit the "ecological miscarriage" threshold, it's maybe not the best marketing scheme for a network whose parent company only seven months earlier announced -- one day ahead of its annual shareholder meeting in its "corporate responsibility" report -- that it would cut carbon emissions from fuels by half by 2012 as part of its goal to achieve net zero direct greenhouse emissions at its office and retail complexes, theme parks and cruise lines, because, the company's senior vice president of environmental affairs explained, "we thought it was important . . . to communicate a sense of commitment."

And, to recap, all in the service of four episodes of a TV show that ABC will then yank off the air to get it out of the way of the launch of "American Idol" and the Winter Olympics, and which will not be seen again until maybe March.

"Every time you go to a press briefing now you get a whole diatribe about how it's carbon neutral and recycles, [which] strikes me as a bit hypocritical," aviation expert Miles O'Brien told The TV Column on Monday. This marketing campaign "even crystallizes this -- literally -- in the sky." You may remember O'Brien from his long tenure as aviation and aerospace pundit for CNN; these days he's working on projects for PBS's "Frontline."

"Marketing departments want to make a big splash, and inevitably when you make a big splash you are doing something to the environment," he said, adding, "This is not the end of the world and they are not going to melt the glaciers tomorrow but I think [networks] should be more circumspect in pitching the carbon neutrality of all their efforts in toto."

Muzzling Blagojevich

Poor NBC keeps getting thwarted in its efforts to cash in on ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.

Monday, federal prosecutors told a judge they want Blagojevich muzzled if he is allowed to participate on the network's Donald Trump reality series "Celebrity Apprentice."

And, let's face it, a muzzled Blago is just an incredible mop of hair in a suit.

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said at a hearing in Chicago that he too is worried that anything Blago says on the show might complicate his corruption trial. He has pleaded not guilty.

Blago has "repeatedly commented on the evidence" in various TV and radio appearances since he was indicted on charges of trying to trade or sell President Obama's former U.S. Senate seat, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar complained to Zagel, the Associated Press reported.

Prosecutors stopped short of arguing Blago should not be allowed to appear on the show, which is scheduled to debut in March -- right around the time jurors are to be qualified for his corruption trial in Chicago.

Blago is already taping material connected to the latest edition of the reality series.

Zagel, you'll recall, is the same judge who put the kibosh on Blago's participating in another NBC reality series, "I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!" which NBC announced with great fanfare last April.

Once the judge ixnayed the owshay, Blago's wife Patti graciously stepped in, but the viewing public was having none of it and the show was added to the pantheon of NBC ratings disappointments -- even though it featured an extremely ill Speidi.

Prosecutors said Monday they were concerned a high-profile TV role just before Blago goes to trial could taint the jury pool. You know, like David Letterman, who took to the airwaves to portray himself to potential jurors in his extortion case as a self-deprecatingly funny guy who was being blackmailed by the boyfriend of one of his staffers/girlfriends and who is in some kind of big trouble at home for having canoodled with consenting single women. This is also known in some circles as the Tom DeLay School of Reality Show Participation. The former House majority leader, once known as the Hammer, is awaiting trial on charges stemming from a campaign finance investigation, and has been productively filling his time remaking himself as That Nice Old Man Who Hurt His Feet and Had to Resign from ABC's "Dancing With the Stars."

Blago defense attorney Samuel E. Adam wondered to the press, after Monday's hearing, why his client shouldn't enjoy the same advantages as Letterman and DeLay. Actually what he said was that it would be unfair to block Blagojevich from publicly proclaiming his innocence. Blago faces up to 30 years in the slammer.

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