How do you stoke interest in a show launching in a crowded midseason television market? ABC decided to go beyond traditional means of promotion, debuting its new series The River in movie theaters located in Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Austin a couple of weeks before its television premiere on February 7.
The River mixes drama, adventure and horror, relying on found footage to tell the story of the disappearance of wildlife expert and TV personality Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), who vanishes along with his film crew after they venture deep into the Amazon. It seems that they might be lost forever, but when Dr. Cole’s emergency beacon sends a signal six months after he goes missing, his family and friends — accompanied by a documentary film crew — enter the jungle and launch a frantic search for him that takes them to all sorts of scary places.
It’s the kind of “big, event-style television that warrants a unique and innovative approach,” said Marla D. Provencio, CMO of ABC Entertainment Group. “The cinematic feel and the pedigree associated with The River is what inspired us to create exclusive events in theaters to preview the show to targeted entertainment enthusiasts.”
The filmic series is executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Oren Peli, the latter of whom enjoyed enormous success with the Paranormal Activity franchise. With that in mind, ABC aimed to fill the seats at The River screenings with Peli’s horror film fans, hoping they would spread the word about the show after seeing it. The series was screened for a similar audience at San Diego Comic-Con 2011, where it received a positive reaction.
At press time, ABC was also considering screening The River on college campuses.