When it comes to studio plugging, there’s a loosely defined tipping point between saturation and desperation—between, say, forming failsafe “partnerships” that make your artist’s talents just one insignificant piece of your crass, calculated vertical integration, and the sort of round-the-clock serenading outside the public’s door that, if it were a regular person doing it, would normally get the cops called. It should probably come as no surprise that NBC has chosen the latter with its promotional campaign for Jay Leno’s new prime-time show: As the New York Times points out in this chilly distillation of the network’s evil Jayhad, NBC has taken such a huge gamble on handing over all of its weeknights at 10 p.m. slots that now the nation’s foremost supplier of e-mail forwards from your grandpa is essentially “the new TV season’s sun, around which the rest of prime time will orbit.” And six weeks before it even crests the horizon, NBC will ensure that that sun will reach down and scorch the earth, leaving nothing but charred, sort-of-grinning corpses in its wake.
Despite the fact that NBC surveys reveal that over 80 percent of the nation is already aware that Jay Leno has a new show at 10 p.m.—which is more than twice of the number of people who are aware that life is fleeting, and too precious to be wasted taking "awareness surveys" for major television networks—the next month will see a Dresden-like blitz of Leno-related charges strafing the landscape, ranging from billboards and bus shelter ads to “popcorn bags, soda cups, and in on-screen advertisements at movie theaters” that will accompany the incessant bleating of “Leno at 10 p.m.” ads already occupying your TV screen.
But really, these are pedestrian tactics, worthy of some ordinary teen vampire franchise or garden variety charitable cause, perhaps, but not something as momentous as a tossed-off contract loophole granted to an entertainer last minute so his easily upset, change-fearing fans wouldn’t desert the network full stop. “Awareness” isn’t enough in this case; the audience has to be convinced that the earth will spin wildly from its axis if they miss out, hence NBC’s full-bore campaign to make sure every level surface in America is employed in heralding Leno’s return to primetime, including adopting “a portion of Interstate 10 in California to reiterate Mr. Leno’s time slot,” and marking “the 10th aisle of about 700 supermarkets in 12 American markets.” Yes, soon enough you'll see Leno on the smile of every newborn babe, every time the church bells ring, it will be 10 o’clock, and whenever the wind whistles through the leaves, you’ll hear the laughter of a studio audience halfheartedly enjoying another installment of “Jaywalking.”
Of course, it’s not enough to merely upend and sculpt the landscape in Leno’s blessed image. A campaign of this magnitude necessitates a shaky philosophical grounding to justify its inflated sense of importance, and NBC marketing president Adam Stotsky has a doozy: Leno will save your life!
The network’s strategic proposition for Mr. Leno’s show is “life needs more laughter,” Mr. Stotsky said. “Most people are dealing with daily pressures, day-to-day drudgery; the economy’s got them down, or they may be tiring of the crime time that exists across the 10 o‘clock landscape,” Mr. Stotsky said. The comedy show “will be the antidote.”
So flush those expensive antidepressants and put the safety back on, America: NBC has discovered the elixir to treat your suicidal malaise, and it’s a can’t-miss formula of toothless Sonia Sotomayor jokes and clips of average people giving stupid answers to basic geography questions. In that sense, etching the very night sky with Jay Leno’s visage wouldn’t be out of the question—after all, you’d do the same for someone who discovered the cure for AIDS, wouldn’t you? Why not the one man who boldly stands as a force for good in a world so bent on self-destruction? And unlike some other messiahs, Leno will be more than just an image: He’ll be there to walk and talk amongst you in the most mundane of places, breathing his middling humor into that collapsed lung you call a life.
Later in the month, Mr. Leno’s bits of comedy will also appear on airplanes, at gyms, in elevators and in New York City taxi cabs. “These are moments that are just begging for a bit of laughter,” Mr. Stotsky said.
Indeed, and no longer do you have to settle for a dreary existence unleavened by family friendly observational humor, where your only cold comforts in the whistling abyss that is your day-to-day are your own thoughts and the empty promise of actual human interaction. Wouldn't you rather spend those few rare minutes of solitude being entertained with a quick, repetitive, promotional gag than on something so wasteful and petty as self-reflection? Now that there's no escaping from Jay Leno’s omnipotent mirth, never again will you know the awful silence of a moment un-Lenoed. As the oddly Shakespearean chief marketing officer John Miller puts it, “We have to drive this feverish intent.” So how about it? Are you feeling feverish yet?