ABC Hopes Whiskey Shot Produces Buzz

Why This Matters: Broadcast still holds giant promotional platforms with live events.

Whiskey Cavalier, a dramedy about a pair of secret agents who lead a team of flawed spies, had the coveted post-Oscars slot on ABC, ahead of the show’s official premiere on Feb. 27. Rebecca Daugherty, ABC executive VP of marketing, called the series “a really fun romp” that was ideally suited for the key perch.

The Alec Baldwin Show had the post-Oscars slot last year. “It’s the first time we’ve put a new drama after the Oscars,” Daugherty said. “We felt it was a really good match.”

Whiskey Cavalier creator/showrunner David Hemingson said the post-Oscars gift “fell in our lap.” In terms of its significance as a launch pad, he called it “crucially important.”

While broadcast viewership is not what it was, events such as the Oscars and the Super Bowl remain essential promotional platforms for their networks. On Feb. 3, CBS launched competition series The World’s Best out of Super Bowl LIII. After a 7.0 in viewers 18-49 on Super Bowl Sunday, World’s Best did a lukewarm 1.0 in its regular slot.

Nonetheless, “live events are still the secret sauce in linear television,” Dave Smith, founder/CEO of consultancy SmithGeiger, said. “When the whole nation watches together, it really resonates.”

Some 26.5 million viewers watched the 2018 Oscars. The Kevin Hart host debacle, where the film star stepped down not long after he was named, didn’t appear to be an ideal lead-up to the 2019 gala. Then again, it meant a lot of publicity. “The uncertainty has lingered so long — perhaps it increases anticipation for how the whole thing is going to go,” said Mike Bloxham, senior VP, global media and entertainment, Magid.

Hemingson’s TV credits include Just Shoot Me, Family Guy, American Dad and Bones. He describes himself as “genre fluid.” It looks like more producers will be swapping genres in a TV world where comedies are increasingly dramatic and dramas more comedic. Bloxham said the fluidity started with the subscription video-on-demand players blending drama and comedy, as in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, and comedy and drama, as in Amazon’s Transparent.

Cable followed suit, as comedies such as FX’s Better Thingsand Atlanta offer drama and cinematic flair. Sometimes, it seems the main thing these series have in common with sitcoms is their half-hour length.

Hit films such as Deadpool and Bumblebee have deftly mixed humor into drama, Smith said, satisfying viewers suffering from a “national angst” brought on by nonstop political strife. “It lets viewers off the mat after an emotional moment,” he said.

TV writers and producers have long shifted from comedy to drama, though it’s uncommon for drama scribes to move to comedies. Peak TV has spawned more character-driven programming, in which comedies offer more than broad punchlines.

Liz Tigelaar has been genre fluid for some time, working on dramas Dawson’s Creek and Nashville earlier in her career, running the show on Hulu comedy Casual, and now as showrunner on Hulu drama Little Fires Everywhere. She brought a couple of her Casual writers to Little Fires. “It’s been a seamless transition for all of us,” she said. “I don’t think length in minutes matters to them — it’s the story we’re telling.”

Major Promo Push

Hemingson described Whiskey Cavalier as “completely a dramedy.” ABC has been promoting the show heartily for months.

On ABC’s Christmas Day NBA telecast, a 60-second Whiskey Cavalier trailer ran. Spots aired in the Feb. 10 season premiere of The Walking Dead on AMC, as Whiskey Cav co-star Lauren Cohan used to star in the zombie drama. A “spyvertising” campaign — spoof products such as wedding rings with daggers in them — aired on ABC as well.

“We’ve been getting a lot of buzz from that,” Daugherty said.

During the Oscars, ABC pushed a second-screen campaign, with mobile spots reminding viewers to stick around for the Whiskey Cavalier premiere.

The show even got a mention during ABC’s upfront presentation in May, thought it wasn’t exactly flattering. Jimmy Kimmel was halfway through his annual onstage skewering when he lit into the Whiskey Cavalier title. “Should we cancel it now?” Kimmel quipped.

Nonetheless, the spy drama got a huge push from a massive live TV event this past Sunday. Time will tell if that translates to a hit. The Alec Baldwin Show, for one, did not use the platform to truly connect with viewers.

“There’s no guarantee that high sampling on the first night means the show is going to succeed,” Smith said. “It’s a huge advantage, but it still has to be a good show.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.