Studios, Nets Play to Comic-Con


The other hanging question, at least as far as the movie hullabaloo is concerned, is whether any of it really matters.

Last year, when Summit arrived at Comic-Con with a little movie called Twilight, an army of teenage girls, the likes of which never had been seen there before, showed up en masse to squeal in delight. Twilight went on to gross $191 million domestically after its November release, but in that case it appears the Con was the beneficiary of the already-building frenzy surrounding the film, rather than the fuse that ignited the explosion.

Conversely, fans roared their approval last year when director Zack Snyder promised to color faithfully within the lines of celebrated graphic novel Watchmen as he adapted it for the big screen. That appeared to translate into a solid first weekend for the movie, which bowed in March to $55.2 million. But the appeal failed to reach much beyond the graphic-novel cognoscenti as its second weekend dropped nearly 68 percent and the movie stalled at $107.5 million domestically.

While other movies, like Iron Man 2, also will make a bid for attention during the weekend, the focus quickly will shift to the small screen.

Television's presence at Comic-Con has been building since 2004, when ABC launched Lost by previewing its pilot in a large hall that was only half full. Slam cut to 2007, when NBC's Heroes, having completed its first season, made its second visit to the convention. Fans lined up early for a look at the show's creators and cast and went crazy when it was announced Smith would direct the first episode of spin-off Heroes: Origins. (That plan would be scuttled because of the WGA strike.)

As far as TV is concerned, this year's convention has taken on increased importance as broadcasters ramp up for fall with several new and returning genre-driven shows.

With new series such as ABC's FlashForward, Eastwick and midseason show V, Fox's Human Target and the CW's Vampire Diaries, Comic-Con represents a key marketing opportunity. With ratings sliding for such returning dramas as Heroes, NBC's Chuck and Lost, it could help recharge fan interest.

But how much does Comic-Con really help a show?

Last year, Heroes hosted a full screening of its premiere episode and fielded most members of the cast. Fan reaction generally was positive, but the show dropped sharply in the ratings when it returned.

This time, NBC Universal hesitated to book a Heroes event, then added a more modest-sized panel at the Hilton. On the other hand, after Bang made its Comic-Con debut last year, the show came back strong and became a full-fledged hit for CBS.

In general, however, the marketing potential -- and peril, should a panel or screening go poorly -- seems more pronounced for new shows seeking to get on fans' radars than for returning series.

The key event this go-round is expected to be the final-season panel for Lost. Presented in Hall H, Saturday morning's panel is being presented as a produced show, rather than a mere Q&A. Some news announcements are expected.

Indeed, with Comic-Con coming before the TCA press tour, there's a chance the fan event will become a bigger generator of breaking news than ever before, with several networks planning announcements at their panels and fans getting a chance to grill talent before TCA critics do.

In that sense, Comic-Con 2009 is all about turning the pop culture power over to the people.

Borys Kit and Steven Zeitchik contributed to this report.

Nielsen Business Media