Television series fight an uphill battle to get noticed. There's not just too much content on television for even the best team of TV writers to watch it all, there's too much good content. So when premiere dates approach, networks send out gimmicky press kits with all kinds of crazy stuff in them—bound books of photos, preview episodes, t-shirts, beach towels, branded water bottles—in order to get a reporter's attention. This stuff gets mostly piles up on desks or populates our giveaway table but, in the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that I have a whole collection of novelty flash drives.
Sometimes, though, the promo items are so over-the-top weird (or fun, or both) that they really do manage to catch the eye. Although of course we try not to let stunt marketing affect coverage, we also cover marketing, and after a few years of seeing this stuff pass through the mailroom, we figured it deserved a post of its own, if only to show off how much work goes into a side of the entertainment business that consumers almost never see.
Here are the 10 of the strangest TV industry press kits we've seen.
A Gold-Painted Gas Mask for TNT’s The Last Ship
This was actually an invitation to a full-blown fashion catwalk for exotic gas masks in honor of TNT's contagion drama The Last Ship. The show has flown under the radar a bit in terms of press coverage (probably because the marketing campaign was quite a bit better and more visually interesting than the show itself) but viewers seem to like the Michael Bay produced action-drama (it's hooked an average of some 2 million viewers in the crucuial 18-49 demo), and this was certainly one of the most surprising things I've ever seen in the mail. The fashion show is worth checking out, too:
An ID Badge for WGN’s Manh(A)ttan, Featuring an Actual Picture of Me
WGN has done a bang-up job promoting its originals Salem and Manh(A)ttan, but this dossier from the press kit for the latter may have crossed the line into the creepy: included in little yellow envelope is a badge with, yes a picture of the reporter on it, taken from a LinkedIn profile.
Granted, LinkedIn is probably the most public of the social networks—WGN isn't Facebook-stalking me—but it's quite surprising to open up a package (which in this case was a big steel Army-surplus ammo box) and find a picture of yourself inside. I'll watch the show, guys, just don't, y'know, come to my house or anything.
A Wile E. Coyote Umbrella for Syfy’s Sharknado 2: The Second One
Syfy pulled out all the stops for the sequel to its ridiculous runaway hit Sharknado (and it turns out it was justified in doing so—the sequel managed to hit the big time, too), but this particular item from its press kit deserves some further scrutiny: a purse-sized umbrella.
Guys. Are you messing with us? This would not stop a single shark, let alone an entire nado. We need cast-iron umbrellas for this next time, or possibly portable bomb shelters. Did you see the sharks in the second movie? They were on fire. At the very least, send out a chainsaw.
A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Piggy Bank for Nickelodeon’s TMNT Cartoon
Nickelodeon's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an extention of the original consumer products success story—the Turtles went from indie comic to movie/toy/trading card/Spaghetti-O's franchise in a few short years. But this may actually be the oddest version of the Turtles I've ever seen.
He's a fully-functional little clay guy with a coin slot in his shell, but he also has pig ears and a nose. Given the tsai daggers in his belt, this is almost certainly a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turt ... uh, pi... uh, bank? Anyway, it's definitely Raphael.
Cartoon Network Lunch Trays
Simultaneously the most beautiful and the most useless things here, these four elementary-school style lunch trays feature art from (clockwise) Ben 10 (which gets the most radical overhaul) The Amazing World of Gumball, Adventure Time and Regular Show, four of the network's flagship programs and honestly, they'd be suitable for framing if they weren't, y'know, lunch trays.
But they have actually been used as lunch trays by people in the office, so I suppose it evens out.
A Lamprey-Faced Lollipop in Honor of Animal Planet’s Monster Week
Animal Planet's Monster Week got infinitely more disturbing when it greenlit its very first B movie, Blood Lake, as part of the programming block. To celebrate, the network sent around these bright red lollipops with the hilariously disturbing image of a lamprey's gaping maw printed on the front of them. It's possible to feel hungry and nauseated simultaneously while looking at this thing.
The movie starred Shannen Doherty and Christopher Lloyd, and yes, it kind of sucked.
A Rick and Morty Hide-A-Book (With Flask)
When Adult Swim landed Dan Harmon in the wake of his firing from NBC's Community, the network went on a major promotional spree around his sci-fi cartoon Rick and Morty. They crashed a spaceship on 23rd Street and put up outdoor ads all over the city, in addition to running promos night and day on their air. And it paid off: the show did so well for the Turner-run network that it ultimately outperformed Harmon's broadcast sitcom (he was rehired in the interim) and earned critical plaudits far and wide.
And, of course, to promote a series about an alcoholic genius and his know-nothing grandson, Adult Swim sent reporters a hollowed-out hardcover called The Big Book of Boring Science Things and a branded flask. It was the third flask of the season—one from A&E for Bonnie & Clyde, one from Discovery in the shape of a fish—but it was the only one you could hide within arm's reach.
A Seth Meyers Action Figure for Hulu’s The Awesomes
Hulu's first and foremost original series is still The Awesomes, a cartoon about a dysfunctional group of superheroes created by Seth Meyers, who also voices the main character, Professor Dr. [sic] Jeremy "Prock" Awesome.
Meyers isn't shy about his nostalgia for superhero stuff, and what could be more nostalgic than a doll in the style of the old Mego toys—like a Barbie, but for boys (and if you've ever played with an action figure, don't laugh—you owe Mego your childhood). Hulu's second season of the series premiered this week.
A Toilet Mug (Filled With Brown M&Ms) For Destination America’s King of Thrones
If you're going to air a show about toilets, best thing is to own it. So for Destination America's fixture-fixated King of Thrones, the network sent around a toilet-shaped coffee mug with the network's logo emblazoned on one side and the show's title on the other, along with a little bag of M&M's (brown only). We can't decide whether it's less appetizing filled with chocolate candies or with coffee.
Shame on you, Destination America. If you send us anything this gross again, we'll be forced to write about it. Hey, wait a minute.
A Doughnut Pillow to Soothe Your Hemorrhoids During The Simpsons Marathon on FXX
The Simpsons marathon is coming to FXX, and, as we all know, this will cause the world to end. But before the world ends, Comic Con-goers (and press who attended the network's big Simpsons-themed carnival) were given these pillows to keep any kind of rectal tenderness from affecting our enjoyment of the series, under the assumption that we will be sitting for long, long, periods of time.
Thank you, FXX.