ABC’s Response to Loss in Viewership and Product Placement with Desperate Housewives

The 2007-2008 television season was faced with major set backs as the WGA went on strike over contract issues with major studies. They wanted to renegotiate to address how new media would shape distribution and viewing over the next couple of years and how it would affect residuals payments. The major studios and the writers were at a cross roads at finding an effected payment method for televised content that would air online or payment for strictly online content created by television writers. The strike lasted for four months and during this time many key players in the entertainment industry had a loss of profits. When the strike would end, the media landscape would be different and one such studio would attempt to embrace the changes.

My father and I were avid fans of Desperate Housewives and would enjoy those Sunday evenings catching up with the ladies on Wisteria Lane. We were upset during the 2007-2008 season when the Writer’s strike occurred as ABC stopped airing DH January 6t,h, resuming in mid-April. Writer and Creator Marc Cherry was a staunch supporter of the WGA strike and while the efforts of the WGA produced the results he and many wanted, Desperate Housewives would not be immune to the consequences of the strike. While it had experienced rave reviews and commanded a huge audience (its 2nd season opening viewed by 28 million people) it “…returned with ratings that were 10 percent to 20 percent lower than viewing levels before the strike,” (Littleton 237). Not to add insult to injury but I had watched the 2008 season finale online at ABC because I had missed its initial airing. New media and the Writer’s Strike would have further implications for the upcoming seasons, changing the ways in which content is created and through what mediums it is distributed.

ABC was determined to retain its former glory as one of the most powerful broadcast networks and it attempted to do this by promoting their shows seamlessly together. This clip is just one of the examples of ABC’s promotional campaign intending to show its wide range of programming and to insist a sense of unity among the shows, its viewers and ABC as a whole. They took it one step further and even paired shows together playing off of the comedy between the blending of genres and plotlines. In this linked video, the two main characters of both Lost and Desperate Housewives blend humor, mystery and sex appeal in a mysteriously soapy way.   DH even produced a behind-the-scenes clip of creating the 5th season promotional video that addressed the changes in the new season. Running at about three and a half minutes, the behind-the-scenes was created for the ABC website.

Commanding a smaller audience lost Desperate Housewives some of its advertising power that it had once held. The upcoming fifth season would prove to be a challenge for writers and executives as they were coming into a new season with a weakened audience and creative material that was potentially risky. The end of the 4th season saw a five-year jump into the future. On one had it could have alienated seasoned viewers who didn’t want change and on the other it could attract new viewers with a ‘”fresh start” approach” towards plot lines. ABC felt the backlash of the Writer’s Strike and whether or not the jump ahead was their idea or Marc Cherry’s, it certainly did its job at salvaging a loss of viewers.

The 5th season of Desperate Housewives saw a partnership with Sprint/Nextel Wireless that would come under scrutiny for it’s creative implications. Viewers were disappointed over the inclusion of product placement in the fifth season, an issue the WGA had fought vehemently during the strike. While there may have been an “…activist stance in challenging the growth of product placement and branded integration in television,” some writers had reneged on this issue in order to secure funding for production (Littleton 65). Remember that DH had lost a good amount of its audience and needed to recoup the losses that would have been found through greater advertising sales.

The issue of product placement in the series was dealt with but in a rather unique way. In order to continue the partnership Sprint/Nextel Wireless commissioned Marc Cherry to create 8 mini-episodes showcasing the product in a soap opera storyline titled Another Desperate Housewife. These would air during the commercial breaks of episodes during the 6th season. Major studios showed alarm over the ways in which new media affected the distribution landscape. Recording and streaming technologies challenged the traditional advertisement model and Littleton found that it “…hastened the industry’s embrace of product placement and branded integration in programming,” (8). While many criticized the deal between Marc Cherry and Sprint, it had effectively dealt with the issue on two fronts. First it included product placement but not in the actual episodes, calming angered fans, and second it challenged ad skipping by providing potential creative content for viewers.

The huge ABC promotional campaign for the 2008/09 season and the creation of Another Desperate Housewife show ingenuous ways in which ABC embraced the new media landscape. The promotional videos were both television and Internet content that could bolster audience excitement for shows and even attract new viewers.   The criticism can be made that ADH was “selling out” but as a viewer I found its campiness and transparency to be all the more entertaining.

Littleton, Cynthia. TV On Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War Over the Internet.Syracuse University Press, 2013. Print.

Featured image via Deadline

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