Sunday, June 6, 2004

Advertisers cringe at 'Father of Pride'

By Lynn Elber
The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - When taped remarks from Roy Horn were played for a recent gathering in New York, the Las Vegas magician recovering from a near fatal tiger mauling was met with respectful silence.

Silence, too, greeted what followed in the NBC sales presentation to Madison Avenue: Clips of Father of the Pride, an animated comedy based on Horn and partner Siegfried Fischbacher's act, failed to draw laughs.

In a New York minute, bad buzz had started humming for one of NBC's highest-profile fall series.

"King of the Pride is DOA," was the headline the following day (May 18) in an online newsletter distributed by industry analyst Jack Myers.

"The animated series was in far worse shape" than Horn, Myers wrote, "and the reaction of NBC's advertising clients was so negative that it's unlikely the program will last on NBC's schedule."

In assessing advertiser response to new series, USA Today reported last week that Joey, NBC's Friends spinoff, could strike gold but that several unidentified media buyers had doubts about Father of the Pride.

The comedy represents a high-stakes gamble as part of the prime-time animation genre that, aside from a few Fox shows like The Simpsons, has largely flopped. It's also costly, at up to a reported $2.5 million per episode.

"With all due respect, none of those (post-upfront) comments matter. What matters is when they see the show as a whole," Zucker said.

He said that after last year's New York presentation, buyers decreed NBC's Las Vegas was a loser. The series starring James Caan as a casino boss proved to be the 2003-04 season's highest-rated new drama.

"You almost feel you're going to the intensive care unit," industry analyst Bill Carroll of Katz Television said in recalling the reaction - adding that he understood Horn and NBC's eagerness to show his improvement.

Father of the Pride has been touted by NBC and producer DreamWorks SKG as a breakthrough in computer-generated animation for TV and a key part of NBC's fall schedule. It's taking over the 9 p.m. Tuesday time slot vacated by the recently ended Frasier.

The pedigree for Father of the Pride is impeccable: DreamWorks is the studio behind the smash hit Shrek 2.

The TV comedy is an edgy, satirical take on Siegfried and Roy, their Las Vegas stage act and the notion that their show animals lead routine domestic lives with a touch of Vegas kitsch.

The "stars" are easygoing Larry the white lion, voiced by John Goodman; his sensible mate Kate (Cheryl Hines of Curb Your Enthusiasm), their two offspring and Kate's dad (Carl Reiner). Siegfried and Roy are voiced by Julian Holloway and Dave Herman.

Segments of the animated TV comedy shown to the media, to ad buyers at early development sessions and to the public for research have been well-received, Zucker said.

Whatever the advertising community's perspective may be, the final decision is made by a larger and more influential group, Zucker maintained.

"At the end of the day, it's the viewers that matter," he said. "It's the viewers who ultimately make the decision."

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