'Tyrant': How FX Is Marketing Its Middle East Drama to Islamophobes, Islamophiles and Everyone Else
Says FX's John Landgraf of capturing the region's formalistic beauty, "If we give you footage that looks like the news, then it'll fail."
This story first appeared in the June 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
FX began testing the series' concept and logline through an outside research firm when Tyrant was no more than a script.
What the network found is that those sampled broke into three distinct groups of equal size: Islamophobes, who would reject the show out of hand because they didn't want that part of the world in their home; Islamophiles, who would reject it because they assumed it would be another negative Western portrayal; and those who were open to what appeared to be a compelling drama. Convincing the former two groups to give the series a shot will come down to word of mouth and an ambitious marketing push.
Without the benefit of recognizable stars -- a challenge FX hasn't had to deal with since it launched the short-lived 2011 drama Lights Out -- the campaign will look to draw on the epic scope of the series along with the region's beauty, rarely seen in gritty news coverage.
"It's not that you can never show something that looks like a street riot a la Tahrir Square," says FX CEO John Landgraf. "It's that, generally speaking, all of it has to have this kind of formalistic exotic beauty to it, because if we can't seduce people into this world, then we fail."
To capture the latter as well as the lead character's struggle to make sense of a world and power that he long ago tried to escape, FX Networks marketing president Stephanie Gibbons' team took star Adam Rayner to the sand dunes of Tunisia.
"We put him in a desert because we wanted it to be rooted in a landscape that was very mutable and that has a bit of surrealism to it, because power at that level is inherently surreal," she says of a campaign aimed at FX's adult, drama-loving demo.
The accompanying posters and billboards feature a dubious-looking Rayner, dressed in a distinctly Western suit and tie, standing on a red rug in that desert.
"The rug points to the way to power," she adds of the symbolism, "but at the same time, it's on a surface that's highly unstable."