The Worst Intentions
But we mean that in a good way
Pity the Parents Television Council. The group, whose mission is to "ensure that children are not constantly assaulted by sex, violence and profanity on television," fulfilled its policing obligation last year by slamming the debut of The CW Television Network show Gossip Girl. The council singled out the show as its "Worst TV Show of the Week" and described the behavior of rich, designer-clad, over-sexed Upper East Side teenagers as "mind-blowingly inappropriate."
While the kindly grandparents of the Bible Belt surely felt quite pleased with themselves (the PTC is still bitter, seriously, about the cancellation of 7th Heaven, a series about a Protestant minister's family which had an opening that included a shout-out to the family's dog, Happy), the description of the show itself was certainly accurate.
So accurate that The CW slapped it atop a print ad depicting two of the show's characters lounging together in bed, enjoying what one can infer is post-coital bliss. The ad was one of four featured in CW's summer-long campaign to promote the second-season premiere of Gossip Girl, accompanied by quotes from critics that were intended to be, of course, very critical.
"A nasty piece of work" says the New York Post above an image of another couple making out in a pool. "Very bad for you" cries The San Diego Union-Tribune as a handsome gentleman places a cherry onto a young woman's outstretched tongue. The Boston Herald's "every parent's nightmare" was emblazoned across the bosom of an aroused young lady being kissed on the neck. You get the idea.
Post critic Linda Stasi got the joke, writing, "The ad campaign - a kind of middle-finger, up-yours 'nyah, nyah' to the critics - is actually a pretty funny idea." The PTC? Not so much. "I think it reeks of desperation, if they have to position themselves as so edgy and so controversial that they've been called out by us," Melissa Henson, director of communications for the PTC, told the Associated Press.
Shoving a few pretty young things in front of the camera for an over-the-top, angst-ridden high school drama hardly qualifies as an edgy, or even new, idea (see: any 1980s film starring Molly Ringwald, the original Beverly Hills 90210, the first couple seasons of Dawson's Creek, and The O.C., cancelled just last year). Appropriate for a new MTV golden age of teen shows like The Hills and Laguna Beach, Gossip Girl, based on a series of young adult novels, hit both the teen Abercrombie and the discerning 20- and 30-something zeitgeist in a way few others have. Heck, even New York magazine featured the cast on its cover with the headline "Best. Show. Ever." Part of that, of course, is the inherent sex appeal of its cast and the clever marketing campaign that quite shamelessy flaunts it.
That lack of pretension about being anything other than a soapy teen drama, coupled with a marketing reputation for going against the grain, is finally paying off. Even the buzz-generating "OMFG" campaign that announced new Gossip Girl episodes couldn't bring viewership above 2.5 million right after the writers' strike, a number that fell short of the show's fall audience. (Print ads in magazines like Entertainment Weekly, People and In Touch ran with the tamer "OMG," though the network responded to criticism of OMFG with a coy, What's the big deal? Is there something wrong with 'Oh my freaking gosh'?)
But the series's second season opened at about 3.4 million viewers, nearly its biggest audience ever. In fact, the premiere won its Monday-night-at-8 time slot among the coveted demo of women age 18-34, according to Nielsen. One Tree Hill, which airs right after, even retained its complete 18-34 Gossip Girl lead-in audience. And things just improved from there: The Sept. 15 episode garnered 3.7 million pairs of eyeballs, the series's best.
But CW bosses can't start high-fiving and chest-bumping each other just yet. KFC, which has spent a hefty $5.4 million on ads on the network so far this year, according to TNS, is clucking over the network's racy programming. A KFC spokesman says the company will carefully monitor shows "to ensure they meet our guidelines." And the Parents Television Council is calling upon advertisers to boycott The CW's new Beverly Hills 90210 spin-off: "Gossip Girl storylines have glamorized drug and alcohol use along with casual teen sex, including threesomes?.... Advertisers shouldn't expect any restraint with 90210."
We'll just go ahead and save the marketing gurus at The CW some time so they can leave the office early today: "Drugs. Alcohol. Threesomes. 90210 has ... NO RESTRAINT."