With Oscar balloting in full swing, studios are accustomed to buying splashy print ads and 60-second television commercials for their biggest contenders.
But in an unusually prominent and extensive TV ad, Warner Bros. bought a half-hour of prime time beginning at 9:30 p.m. on NBC in Los Angeles on Tuesday night to promote its Oscar front-runner with a show called "Argo: Declassified."
The ad did not air nationally -- it didn't appear in New York, one of the largest Oscar voter strongholds outside of Los Angeles. (The State of the Union address was airing on the East Coast at that time.)
Still, the presence of a full 30 minutes in Hollywood during a key viewing slot underscored what's at stake for the studio as the Oscars approach on Feb 24.
The ad walked viewers through the making of Ben Affleck's Iranian hostage drama, with the actor-director touting the "granular" realism of his actors. Interviews with those actors were interspersed with thoughts from the real-life men and women they played, the reflections of then-president Jimmy Carter, explanations from Affleck and the crew on the shooting of the film and clips from the set and the film itself. It appeared as though much if not all of the footage was taken from the upcoming "Argo" DVD, which includes a lot of behind-the-scenes-material in a featurette also titled "Argo: Declassified."
The half hour ended with an on-screen touting of its awards and nominations and the familiar pitch that the film is "now playing at a theater near you."
With top wins from the DGA, PGA, SAG and Golden Globes, "Argo" is now considered a heavy favorite to win best picture at the Academy Awards in ten days. WB wants to be sure to fend off any late-breaking challenges from other candidates -- they include DreamWorks' "Lincoln" and Weinstein Co.'s "Silver Linings Playbook" -- while also showing Affleck, with whom it has a deal for future films, that it is making a maximum effort on his behalf. The ad followed a similar half hour on CBS in Los Angeles for the Weinstein Co.'s "Silver Linings Playbook" as balloting kicked off several days ago.
The cost of the "Argo" ad wasn't disclosed, though a half-hour in broadcast prime time, even on a slow night of reruns for many of the networks, is far more expensive than the individual 30- or 60-second ads the studios normally take out. An Oscar consultant for "Argo" did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the cost and genesis of the ad.
The ad sought to reinforce the standing of "Argo" -- particularly its voter-friendly fact-based qualities -- at a time when Oscar voters are filling out their ballots, which are due next Tuesday. But it remains to be seen how the ad plays with voters. Many are conditioned to the award pitches that blanket television and newspapers this time of year, but it's unclear whether a half hour in prime time will be viewed as bold or overkill.
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