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Out There in TV Land ... : Still crazy and campy after six years, Nick at Nite airs promotions matching its philosophy

June 30, 1991|LAUREN LIPTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One can just imagine the brainstorming sessions that go on behind closed doors at Nick at Nite's headquarters in New York:

Deep, intense discussions about Donna Reed's impact on the Feminist Movement. Philosophical discourse over the concept of "TV Land" as an antidote to late 20th-Century alienation. And lengthy arguments over whether Mr. Ed is alive somewhere, maybe hanging out with Elvis (remains of the famous talking horse have never been located, which leaves some to ponder the possibilities).

One thing is for sure: They think a lot about old TV at Nick at Nite, the spinoff of cable's Nickelodon that celebrates its sixth birthday this week. The channel, which is available to 55 million basic cable subscribers, is known for elevating old reruns to high camp. To that end, Nick's promotions and marketing staff members spend their time dreaming up attention-grabbing gimmicks that are often more entertaining than the shows themselves.

These are the people who celebrated St. Patrick's Day last year by tinting that night's episodes of "My Three Sons" green. They kicked off a "Seven Days to Tidy the World" Donna Reed marathon by having 30 Donna look-alikes run their own marathon through the Chicago Loop. They put tongue-in-cheek travel posters up in New York commuter trains ("The S.S. Dragnet: No frills! No thrills! Just the facts!"). They assembled a "TV Land Travel Kit," complete with a "Get Smart" Shower Cap of Silence and Alfred Hitchcock's Spine Tingling Soap.

The key, say those who are paid to come up with this stuff, is the "TV Land" theory: Nick at Nite is promoted not merely as a channel with old episodes of old shows, but as a hip-yet-wholesome friend to come back to for quality reruns, night after night. Making the old seem new might sound like a constant challenge, but that's the fun of it.

The folks at Nick at Nite promotions have found and interviewed the actress who played the back of Patty Duke's head on "The Patty Duke Show." They successfully marketed a working shoe-phone in honor of "Get Smart." In March, they unleashed on the streets of Los Angeles six "beetleboards"--vintage Volkswagen Beetles painted to represent some of Nick's cornerstone shows.

So it seems anything is possible when it comes to promoting "TV Land." Not so. Some ideas have been so off-the-wall that even Nick's experts couldn't make them work.

We share below some of our favorite near-miss campaigns, as described by Rich Cronin, Nick's senior vice president of marketing.

Nick Near-Misses

The Campaign

"Nick at Nite Subliminal"

The Concept

A campaign suggesting that Nick at Nite programs were planted with subliminal advertising--complete with hidden messages about fake products ("Honey, I have this odd craving for Shanghai Sesame Twists . . . .").

The Glitch

"We thought it was just too subtle for people to get."

The Result

Boxes of Shanghai Sesame Twists languish forever in that fictional grocery store in the sky.

The Campaign

"Win a Winnebago"

The Concept

A fast-food chain-sponsored sweepstakes giving away a recreational vehicle redone with "the ultimate 1962 interior."

The Glitch

The fast-food chain's headquarters loved with the idea, but its regional decision-makers "just didn't see the vision."

The Result

Says Cronin: "My family is living in it now."

The Campaign

"Nick at Nite in Smell-O-Vision"

The Concept

A night of programming with a corresponding scratch-and-sniff card, featuring such olefactory delights as pancake and pot roast smells (for "Donna Reed") and farm odors (for "Green Acres").

The Glitch

"We're still trying to figure out how we would distribute the cards."

The Result

This idea is far from dead . . . but don't hold your breath, or your nose.

The Campaign

Scratch-n-Sniff ad for "Mr. Ed"

The Concept

A scented magazine ad invited readers to sample the fragrance of Mr. Ed's after-shave.

The Glitch

A debate ensued among staffers for and against having the actual scent be an offensive--yet realistic-- eau de stall .

The Result

"We decided instead to go with a perfumey sort of hay smell. It was a very popular ad."

The Campaign

"Nick at Nite Dead Giveaway Contest"

The Concept

During a weeklong Halloween marathon of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" episodes, viewers were given a toll-free number and instructions to predict the total number of dead bodies at the end of the marathon.

The Glitch

One prize possibility, to go to the randomly drawn winner: A family plot. The determination: Too macabre.

The Results

Thirteen winners took part instead in a June 15 murder-mystery dinner cruise.

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