Animal Planet fundraiser for a pit bull shelter rakes in viewers over holiday

By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 1, 2010; 10:24 PM

Marketing smarties at Animal Planet have come up with the Practically Perfect viewer magnet.

It's called: You Watch, We Give.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, Animal Planet promised to donate 10 cents per viewer, up to $50,000, for the Nov. 27 episode of its series "Pit Bulls & Parolees." The show, now in its second season, follows Tia Torres, the founder and director of the Los Angeles area's Villalobos Rescue Center for unwanted pit bulls that's run by parolees.

The Silver Spring-based network promoted the stunt on its own air, and got the word out via Facebook and Twitter.

Come 10 p.m. on Nov. 27, about 1 million people watched the show. That's 54 percent more people than the show has averaged this season to date, which is an impressive accomplishment on a holiday weekend, when the number of Homes Using Television - or HUT level, as it's called in the biz - tends to do a swan dive.

It's also 60 percent better than Animal Planet averaged on the Saturday night after last year's Thanksgiving.

"These were amazing numbers for us on Thanksgiving weekend," Marjorie Kaplan, Animal Planet's president and general manager, told the TV Column.

Having hit the cap, Animal Planet is donating $50,000 to Villalobos Rescue Center, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. That would, according to the animal rescue's Web site, cover about three months' operating expenses. For Animal Planet, however, it's chump change compared with, say, launching a marketing campaign to try to drive more viewers to the show.

"This is a way for us to use our own air to create value for us because it drives viewership - and value for Tia - in a way that is financially attractive to us.

"We're using the passion base," Kaplan added. "The same people who care about what she's doing will come to watch the show in a way that is far less expensive than trying to go out and reach them through traditional marketing efforts."

As marketing campaigns go, this one is kinda genius. Imagine if Fox had offered to hand over a few thou to a nonprofit group working to save the Amazon rain forest if people would only watch its new comedy "Running Wilde"? Instead, Fox has decided not to order the so-called "back nine" episodes on the latest Will Arnett series, and the show will end its short life, because the network's marketing people lacked the vision of the Animal Planet folks.

Heck, with enough nonprofit organizations and not too much money in broadcast-TV terms, NBC might actually get people to watch its prime-time lineup - even "Chuck."

'Old'-school 'Glee'

Social networkers swooned Wednesday when they saw a blog report in which "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy acknowledged that the show's "student" cast members will eventually be too old to play high schoolers and would be graduated.

Although we appreciate that any and all reporting on "Glee" must be done with the utmost hysteria - still: This particular report, for example, began with the headline:

Huge Glee News! Murphy To Replace Cast Members After Characters Graduate!

The actual information in Wednesday's blog post is utterly consistent with what Murphy has been saying whenever asked about what he will do when the cast members become too old to play high school convincingly.

That is, it's what Murphy has consistently said - whenever he's not saying that they will never graduate.

Just this past August, for instance, Murphy was asked at Summer TV Press Tour 2010 how he planned to handle the whole aging actors playing high schoolers thing:

"We obviously have to deal with the cast and the fact that, you know, the show will hopefully go many, many years," he said. But Murphy also said he had already "mapped out the first four years with our original cast."

"Glee" was unveiled in a single episode in May 2009, but actually launched as a series in the fall of '09. You do the math.

Murphy delivered these comments just a few months after appearing on Oprah Winfrey's syndicated daytime talker, where Oprah herself asked him:

"I'm already worried, what happens when everybody graduates?"

And he responded:

"They never will. . . . It's a 10-year high school - McKinley High."

A few weeks after Murphy's press-tour comments, he was asked - again - whether he would recast the high schoolers when they started to look too old for the roles. That time he responded that he knew he would have to do it eventually if the show ran many seasons but that, for now, Fox has committed to air the show through May 2012.

Meanwhile, since it somehow seems important to do some actual, you know, reporting, even on a story so important as the cast of "Glee," here are some things worth remembering:

Typically, an actor on a broadcast show signs on to do seven years, but the studio typically retains the right, every season, to decide whether to bring back a cast member or bump him or her off.

So while the latest bit of "Glee"-steria isn't exactly news, it is a great way for Murphy and 20th Century Fox - which produces the show for the Fox network - to enlist the press to send a message to all those agents and managers representing "Glee" cast members that if their client's salary demands become excessive, they can always be "graduated."

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