"We're still the one, we're really alive / Still the one, as the '80s arrive / You're still having fun, 'cause we're still the one."
That's the ABC song.
"We're looking good, we're CBS/America, we're looking good, we're CBS!"
That's the CBS song.
"Gonna spread our wings and show off all that we're got/NBC - Proud as a Pea-cock!"
And that's the NBC SONG.
PBS doesn't have a song yet, but don't put it past them. They've imitated nearly all the other whoopla techniques of the networks, and the PBS president, Lawrence Grossman, is an old promotion man from NBC himself.
What the networks are singing for is, of course, their suppers. As of last week, all three were on the air with fall promotional campaigns. CBS and NBC even got the jump on front-runner ABC by ignoring the traditional July 4th starting date for on-air promos and launching their campaigns in mid-June, with teasing theme ads that didn't mention specific programs but endorsed the notion that each had cornered the market on cheer.
Networks don't like to say how much they spend on promotion. Jack Curry, who directs ABC's promotional effort, says, "We're all very cagey about costs obviously, because it's such a small universe." W. Watts "Buck" Biggers of NBC says he thinks each network will spend, oh, maybe $750,000, but he isn't sure. And at CBS, promo major domo Steve Sohmer will not respond to any question about anything.
But NBC President Fred Silverman says it is a given that each network will spend "significantly more than" $1 million on its fall promo effort. That's not such a fortune when you remember that the networks made $560 million in profits last year, according to what they told the FCC.
Good promotion is considered more important than ever in network TV - not only at NBC, which is desperately trying to wriggle out of the tar pit known as third place, but also at ABC, the No. 1 network in ratings and profits, where competitive zeal is still at the panic level year-round.
Curry has been with ABC 16 years, so he can remember the network's pre-salad days; he can remember when the promo department "would have to use pyrotechnics to disguise the fact that sometimes we didn't have the most attractive programs to put on the air in the first place."
Things do not relax when you reach the top; if anything, they may get more hectic. "People would see me on the train in the morning," Curry recalls, "and they'd say, 'Hey Jack, what are you going to do today, now that you're No. 1?" I'd get kinda ticked off. In some respects the pressures under these circumstances are far greater than when we were in the tank."
And meanwhile, over at the tank - NBC's Biggers probably sits on the most precarious perch of all the promotion chiefs. Silverman has vowed NBC will be No. 1 by December of 1980 and he is known to be ultra-keen on the importance of promotion in building audiences. Silverman says he is even withdrawing thousands of dollars' worth of commercial time from Saturday morning shows so that it can be given over to NBC promotional spots. Silverman always tries to snare the kids first and then seduce the rest of the family later.
Biggers, who has a whimsical little beard at the bottom of his chin and a green piano autographed by stars in his office, says of his job, "I like it. Maybe I'm crazy." What NBC is trying to sell viewers is not craziness however, but pride. The fall theme is "NBC Proud as a Peacock," and in this cause the network has retrieved from extinction its corporate Pavo cristatus, the color peacock sent off to premature retirement in 1975.
Not only was the peacock banished, but so was "the snake," the old NBC logo that had the N and the B on top of the C. And then NBC even phased out the inventor of the peacock, art director John T. Graham, in a purge of 260 employes back in '77. Networks are not known for their big hearts.
RCA-owned NBC had used the peacock not only to open programs (with a 12-second unfolding of its animated feathers) but also to keep up steady support of the sale of color television sets. Now that every show is in color and most families have a color set, the peacock's usefulness would appear limited.
But then NBC Entertainment chief Mike Weinblatt was saying to Biggers one day that he missed the peacock. And then Fed Silverman said to Biggers one day that HE missed the peacock. Cue the peacock!
"We were looking for something that first of all would be identified with us," Biggers recalls. "This network alone had something we could show. We have research on this, and it shows that still today the peacock is identified with NBC in the public mind. Kids who used to watch cartoon shows in 1964 saw it before each show - bloople oople oople, there was the peacock - and now that they're grown up, they still remember it. We felt it would help tie our past history to our coming season."
So the peacock will be getting hundreds of exposures over the summer in sprightly promos heralding the new season in five phases. The first phase, which started June 18, merely established the "pride" theme with shots of happy people looking proud and wearing peacocks. Promos of show types - movies, comedies, news programs - are on now, and star promos will follow later.
As part of the campaign, NBC peddles to its affilliated stations such booster items as the Peacock T-Shirt (in men's "beefy" or women's "French cut"), the Gold Cloisonne Stick Pin and the Gold Cloisonne Lapel Pin, and the "Black Satin Baseball Jacket with tackle twill peacock on back." That goes for 32 bucks.
At ABC, new promos went on the air Monday with a sure-fire and exhilarating visual motif: soaring, multi-colored balloons with ABC stars riding in their baskets.Actually, the balloons in flight were photographed in Albuquerque, N.M., while the stars in the gondolas were shot in Long Beach, Calif., New York and at other locations. But it is all spliced together with infectious bounce, giving one the impression that the fall season will be filled with dear old friends and fresh new surprises and transport us, spiritually at least, into the stratosphere.
Anybody who honestly thinks that's what will happen has been living in a refrigerator for the past 30 years.
Curry likes balloons because they catch the eye, they're fun to look at, ABC, which is sticking with its old "Still the One" slogan, hired the Los Angeles firm of Sullivan and Associates to create the campaign; NBC and CBS roll their own, though all three rely on outside talent to some extent and all are now shooting special material just for the promos, not relying purely on scenes from shows, as was done years ago.
For one thing, none of the shows is ready by the time the fall promo campaigns begin.
ABC and NBC agreed to screen some of their promos for this report. CBS would not. But the CBS campaign has been on the air for a month already, and its seems a fairly persuasive load of hooey about how CBS is an integral part of the good life lived in the United States. On the earliest spots in the series, quickie vignettes of people looking jolly around the country, the TV presence was so minimal one could hardly tell these were network promos at all.
Biggers thinks that may have been a brilliantly executed blunder. "It misses in several areas," he says. "I can see what they were hoping for, but the joining of the Eye (the CBS trademark) to the promotion is so far removed that if you happen to blink or go to the bathroom, you won't even know what it's about. It's so much like the Coke stuff and the Pepsi stuff that I don't think it's going to be as impactful as they anticipated."
At any rate, the strategies are set, the battle plans are laid, and the warfare will continue for weeks to come, until the arrival of the new season shows themselves. As usual, there is no thrilling wealth of riches to promote. There'll be a funny butler on ABC and a funny sheriff on NBC and a funny Frankenstein on CBS. Obviously, the networks have forsaken the ratings race in order to give us unadulterated quality and cultural uplift.
But those fiery "pyrotechnics" and the catchy "impactful" jingles will make it all appear superb. And pyrotechnics certainly do matter; NBC redid some of the animation on its redesigned peacock because it wasn't flashy enough. "It was colored snowballs there at the end, and now it's crystals," Biggers explains.
ABC supplied its affilliates with a storyboard describing its new electronically animated logo and season slogan in a veritable "Star Wars" fervor:
"We are flying at very high speed through a city-like grid corridor at a steeply banked angle. A series of small light explosions plot an S-curve on top and bottom surfaces . . .
"We start to pull out of the bank as the slogan builds out of brilliant tubes of lights . . .
"Closer . . .
"We smash into the tubes as two rows of lasers light up the edges . . .
"We have passed beyond the city grid. The light tubes start to bank as lasers pulse through them and a black hole begins to appear . . .
"The logo flares on as the light tubes continue to shoot behind the disc. . . ."
My, my, my, my, MY! If there's anything that exciting in the fall schedule itself, we'll all be riveted to our sets until the next rerun solstice, and the next fall promo campaign, comes to rescue us. CAPTION: Picture 1, NBC; Picture 2, ABC; Picture 3, CBS