TV Remake PR Campaigns: Part 2 of 2

From Roseanne to Sherlock, Eight Strategies for Your TV Remake PR Campaigns
Guaranteed to Make Audiences Fall in Love Over and Over Again

Welcome back! Last week I discussed four effective strategies for TV remake PR campaigns with the promise of four more this week. So without further ado, here they are…

  1. Choose Your Words Carefully

Whether a classic or a one-hit wonder, the original show must have been adored on some level, which means its remake will be scrutinized more than the usual new TV program. While virtually impossible to prevent comparisons, you can set the right expectations through the wording in your TV remake PR campaigns.

For example, be sure to emphasize any of the original cast or creators involved in the remake. This usually provides a level of comfort and credibility. In addition, carefully describe the elements that are similar versus those that are different. Try to frame the changes in neutral or present-day terms.

Remember our Holly Marie Combs/Charmed example from last week? Maybe her rant could have been prevented if the CW had couched the reboot as a feminist update in the era of the #MeToo movement.  This is less of a jab at the original, which obviously ran in a time when there wasn’t the same intense focus on women’s rights.

In fact, the question of whether a reboot holds up or not in today’s particular social climate seems to be a make or break element in all recent attempts. For instance, many wondered if Will & Grace’s groundbreaking gay-themed storylines from the 90s would resonant in a more culturally-evolved 2018. In anticipation of this, the PR team reinforced the fact that the original series helped to normalize gay life. They also brought leading gay and lesbian advocacy groups, like GLAAD, into the conversation. Here’s what Sarah Kate Ellis, chief executive of the organization, said in a New York Times article last year:

What we know for sure is that this series had a profoundly positive impact on the culture during its original run, and we need its help again. LGBTQ acceptance is slipping in this culture, and hate crimes are on the rise.

In summary, look for casting decisions, storylines, themes and the like that make your new versions relevant to today’s audiences and be sure to emphasize them in your TV remake PR campaigns.

  1. Keep Media in the Production Loop

Once again, the optimal word here is “control.”

Announce each new actor as soon as they are cast.  Explain why there were selected, especially if they are an unexpected surprise and/or huge departure from the actor(s) who played the iconic role in the past. A good example here is Mexican-American actor Jay Hernandez, who CBS recently announced to play the iconic role Tom Selleck created for Magnum P.I.

Whenever possible, quote the showrunner who made the casting decision.

You can take some cues from what creator Rob Doherty said below in 2012 about casting Lucy Liu in the role of Watson for Sherlock, his CBS remake of Sherlock Holmes, which, by the way, returns for its sixth season on April 30. Fans and reporters still may not agree with his choice, but at least his quote provides an honest and valid reason for his decision.

When this opportunity arose, I did a lot of research — psychological assessments of original characters by actual doctors — and Holmes struggled a bit with women. He struggled with people in general, but there are moments when he doesn’t quite get the fairer sex,” creator Doherty said. “It made me laugh: the idea of what would be more trying than Sherlock Holmes living with a Watson who’s also a woman. It really shouldn’t make a difference; it’s a challenge of the series to not turn it into a will-they-or-won’t-they. It’s not about that, it’s about honoring the source material and … the bond.

Note, his final comment about “honoring the source material.” It’s a touching comment and some version of it should be used in all TV remake PR campaigns. There are, of course, other details (new character traits, fresh storylines, filming locations, etc.) that should be revealed throughout the production process, too. But, if you’re going to announce them, be sure to include a reason for them. This will help prevent the media from taking the news out of context or fans jumping to wild speculations and conclusions.

In another great example, Sallie Patrick, the showrunner on the Dynasty reimagining, does an excellent job of explaining the method to her madness in this Los Angeles Times article called “The Do’s and Don’ts of Reboots.”

  1. Think Twice Before Doing the Tease Routine

My hat’s off to the savvy publicist who can not only devise but execute a strategic teaser campaign for any television show debuting this year. For TV remake PR campaigns in particular, it’s a powerful way to build anticipation among both existing fans and potentially new ones, which usually translates into greater tune-in, at least for the first episode.

Or, maybe you decide to unveil a 15-second video clip about the show. You and the rest of the creative team better be darn sure that clip is the right representation of the finished show because fans, and even the media, will start to critique it based on that one little snippet.

Now there are plenty of instances when teaser campaigns have worked; Netflix, one of the current leaders of the reboot trend, seems to know exactly when and how much info/artwork/video to release for their shows. Most recently, they unveiled artwork and video for their “dramatic and modern reimagining” of the classic 1965-1968 Lost in Space series.

But remember, keeping control trumps building suspense, so be careful with the teases! They can come back to bite you in the “you know what.”

  1. Evaluate the Pros and Cons of the Sneak Peek

This strategy has been a source of controversy between publicists and TV critics for years —and not just in TV remake PR campaigns. What it basically boils down to is this question: Does the first episode of the reimagined live up to what the creators promised it would? If as the publicist you believe it does, then email downloads of the first episode to the appropriate critics and even host a red-carpet premiere.