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'Noble House' Hype: NBC's Heavy Artillery

THE SWEEPS: Another in a series of articles examining the TV industry's periodic ratings ritual.

February 21, 1988|PAT H. BROESKE

In September, 1986, the announcement was made: NBC had done the deal. It had bought the rights to "Noble House" and would make a miniseries out of James Clavell's very thick novel (1,370 pages) about international power struggles in modern-day Hong Kong.

Eight weeks later, late one afternoon at the network offices in Burbank, the next phase of the project was started. A contingent representing the network's brass--in publicity, advertising and promotion--assembled in a conference room and began plotting their attack.

And make no mistake of it: Since those early days, the campaign to make the American TV audience aware of the "Noble House" series has been executed with the precision of a military strike, a planned invasion.

The goal: nothing less than a sweep of America.

Results of the mission will be known in the next few anxious days: The eight-hour "Noble House"--NBC's most ambitious programming of the year--begins airing tonight, commencing at 2100 (that's 9 p.m. THE SWEEPS

Another in a series of articles examining the TV industry's periodic ratings ritual.

civilian time). It will continue over the next three nights.

The stakes are high, not only because of the $20-million production cost of the series but also because this is the February Sweeps--another of those periods of the year in which the networks (as well as the independent stations) turn most frantic and put on their best programming, or at least those with the broadest appeal.

Ratings garnered during this period directly affect the number of dollars that can be charged for advertising time. So the ratings for "Noble House," will help determine future ad rates during those respective eight hours of the week.

It's little wonder that the gathering of the forces of hype, back in November of 1986, resembled a war room conference.

Will NBC will the war? Well, there's a "hoped for" 50% audience recognition factor for new shows and usually higher for mini-series, said John D. Miller, NBC's vice president for advertising and promotion. But for "Noble House," he boasted, about 70% of the American public "probably knows it's here."

Whether or not the American public cares enough to turn its channels to NBC, we'll know that as the week unfolds.

"Noble House," directed by Gary Nelson, seems to possess all the necessary ingredients for a miniseries. There are power players bent on corporate takeovers, low-lifes who commit nefarious deeds along the waterfront, and mystery and murder. And what miniseries would be complete without seductive gazes--and longings of the heart? "Noble House" has that, too. And attractive players to act it all out.

Like dashing Pierce Brosnan, who has the starring role of Ian Struan Dunross, the tai-pan (head) of Hong Kong's most important trading house (the Noble House of the title). And pretty Deborah Raffin, who plays Casey Tcholok, the ambitious vice president of an American corporation that just might be attempting a takeover of Noble House. (In the meantime, Dunross seems bent on a takeover of her . . . romantically speaking.)

And Ben Masters, as Raffin's scheming boss. He gets romantically involved with gorgeous Hong Kong TV reporter Julia Nickson. As it turns out, she's being forced into this liaison by her former lover John Rhys-Davies, who wants a spy in the Noble House camp. He happens to be Dunross' longtime nemesis.

As befits an eight-hour miniseries, there are many more entanglements. A couple of natural disasters make an appearance, too.

As we said, all the ingredients appear to be there.

But that's not enough in TV--especially during a sweeps month when winning isn't everything--it's the only thing.

("Noble House's" opening night competition: the Winter Olympics on ABC and the CBS-TV movie, "Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis.")

Which is why NBC went to work beating the drums about "Noble House."

There was a point, however, at which there was a glitch, when it looked as if Brosnan might not make it here to participate in the obligatory Blitzkreig interview process. (He was going to do a batch of things from London, his home away from Los Angeles.)

Common wisdom dictates that a star's participation can only boost a publicity campaign. And in fact, over at NBC, those folks featured in miniseries and TV movies are contractually bound to be "reasonably available for normal publicity activities."

(Those activities, per contract: a photo session, a minimum of five in-person interviews, two half-days of phone interviews and, when applicable, participation in press tours or satellite TV interviews. NBC picks up the costs for such endeavors, but the actors aren't paid for their time.)

Of course, it's a bonus for publicity people when actors go beyond being "reasonably available." Which is why the folks at NBC doubtless breathed many sighs of relief when Brosnan did show and began promoting with enthusiasm.

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