Fox Broadcasting

Chris Carlisle, executive VP, marketing; Brian Dollenmayer, senior VP, on-air promotion; Rick Laurenze, VP, on-air promotion

Dr. Gregory House is a tough character to sell. The abrasive, blunt lead on Fox’s recently renewed medical drama House isn’t warm and fuzzy, nor is he immediately endearing. And, to boot, he lacks the good looks of the network’s cavalcade of twentysomething stars.

But while that made it difficult to convince viewers that Dr. House and the show were worth watching, Chris Carlisle, former FX marketing chief and, since August, executive VP of marketing at Fox Broadcasting, figured if people just watched one episode, then they’d be hooked. Carlisle devised a strategy to get viewers to give House a shot: Fox sent out about 1.1 million DVDs of the pilot through Entertainment Weekly and People.

“That’s not a tactic you use every day, because it’s expensive,” Carlisle acknowledges. “But when you have tremendous faith in the pilot, the best tool is to get it into the hands of people. And because it has such a unique character at the center, we thought seeing him in context was the best way to do it.”

Working with Brian Dollenmayer, senior VP of on-air promotion, and Rick Laurenzo, VP of on-air promotion, Carlisle also experimented with a number of on-air promos to run on Fox and its sibling cable networks— which include FX—before settling on spots that incorporated three components: the show’s focus on medical mysteries, the Dr. Gregory House character and good reviews.

But Carlisle says the promos alone were too short to adequately explain Dr. House’s personality to uninitiated viewers, making the DVD that much more important.

“It was such a strong pilot, but when you boil it down to a 30-second promo, his character—because you have one or two soundbites to portray this acerbic character—seems magnified,” he says.

“Once you see the pilot, you see it in the context that he has a personality people live with because he’s such a great doctor. His personality [becomes] much more palatable.”

Still, House wasn’t an immediate hit. It took the rather lofty Tuesday lead-in of American Idol, which had its season premiere in January, to catapult it into one of Fox’s most-watched programs.

House averaged 13.2 million viewers for its entire run but, partnered with Idol, became a top-15 show among adults 18-49 by the end of the season, with a total audience of 19.5 million for its season finale.

Now that House has a fairly high profile, Carlisle says, promoting it next season will be far easier. But challenges remain, notably the show’s move next January from last season’s cushy post-Idol slot to Monday, where it will lead into 24.

“People have embraced [Dr.] House and other characters on the show, so now we have a returning show that people are already sold into,” Carlisle says, adding, “The on-air promotions were extremely aggressive [this past season] on our network and on our sister cable networks, and we’re going to come out next season very aggressively.”