Comic-Con caters to small screen

TV studios will be out in force, using fan-friendly confab as launchpad

With action heroes and sci-fi themes populating the fall schedule, studios are planning to again increase the presence of their television properties at Comic-Con International.

The July 24-27 fandom mecca in San Diego will feature more than two dozen sessions promoting upcoming TV series. The events including panels for such freshman tentpole shows as Fox's "Fringe" and "Dollhouse," NBC's "My Own Worst Enemy" and ABC's "Life on Mars."

A few years ago, 20th TV didn't have an organized presence at the event. This year, the studio will have a booth on the show floor for the first time as well as panels for at least eight series.

"We've come to realize there's tremendous value in genre programming, and Comic-Con has become an incredible opportunity to reach out to its core fans," 20th chairman Gary Newman said.

The continued momentum follows an overall industry trend of studios taking a more active role promoting their TV properties instead of relying on networks to spread the word. Making a splash at Comic-Con has become a mandatory stop for programs of a certain psychographic — especially with genre shows marked by high DVD sales, licensing of related products and passionate fans.

"They're an unbelievable viral audience," said ABC Studios president Mark Pedowitz, whose ABC hit "Lost" is typically the broadcast headliner of Comic-Con. "They have a deep-seated need to spread the word. They are a marketer's dream."

Added Peter Roth, president of Warner Bros. TV, "Comic-Con has been a launching pad for many of our shows, including 'Smallville' and 'Supernatural,' and the dedicated fans who attend each year serve as ardent advocates for series they love and embrace."

Last summer, NBC's "Chuck" and ABC's "Pushing Daisies" received some of their most significant initial buzz from Comic-Con screenings, where the audience is generally so appreciative that it's rare for a show to outright flop. The excitement also provides an increasingly stark contrast to that other July promotional event, the Television Critics Assn. press tour. With newspaper cutbacks inhibiting reporters' TCA attendance and with the Comic-Con influence growing, critics last year reacted angrily when ABC tried to hold back a bit of "Lost" news for the fans.

Studio heads said that promoting a show at TCA (which is paid for by the networks) still provides a crucial service. "Comic-Con is going to a much more specific audience, while TCA is about getting articles about your whole schedule and your shows throughout the course of the year," Pedowitz said. (partialdiff)