LAUNCHED HIS OWN FIRM PROMOTING LOTS OF POPULAR SHOWS
Michael J. Fox may have quit "Spin City" at the end of the TV season, but he will be rolling in syndication heaven starting in the fall. And Stuart Weiss, president and founder of promotion agency Studio City, intends to make sure TV viewers are ready and waiting.
Companies like Paramount Domestic Television, which is distributing "Spin City" in syndication, turn to firms like Studio City to make their shows snap, crackle and pop in 10- to 30-second blurbs aimed at hooking viewers to their shows.
"What we try to do is (turn) every episode into an event," said Weiss, a former NBC vice president in charge of on-air promotions. "It is not just Heather Locklear and Michael kissing. It's 'Michael's First Kiss.'"
It's Studio City's job to distill the essence of an episode into fast-moving promotional spots. Like with movie trailers, most of the material comes from the show itself, though sometimes new material is shot. Music is nearly always added to heighten the impact.
"We brighten something," Weiss said. "We add energy if something has a hole. We add music to set up a joke and use dynamic cutting. We heighten the funny. If something isn't funny, we can add a sound effect like a cow bell or a horse whinnying."
The price of getting noticed
Clients of Studio City don't buy one or two promos, but a package of spots that vary in length 5-, 10-, 15-, 20- and 30-seconds. Prices for such a package range from $4,500 to $25,000 depending on the amount of work needed. If original material must be shot for a promo, the price could soar into six figures like the $185,000 spent on the package of spots for the late-night syndicated comedy "Change of Heart."
In the cluttered world of 500-channel television, a sharply pointed promo can make all the difference, and the services of well-known promo producers are highly in demand. But the industry that has sprung up to serve the $1 billion annual market is a highly competitive one, and only the strong survive.
Weiss and the 31 staffers at Studio City, which is located near the Studio City area of Los Angeles, are considered among the best at what they do, and have won numerous Promax Awards, sort of the Oscars of the TV marketing business. The company is currently a finalist in seven categories for this year's awards ceremony, which gets underway June 14 in New Orleans.
"Studio City is one of the best episodic vendors in the business," said Gary Holland, vice president for advertising and promotion at Paramount Domestic Television. "They are quick and responsive, and they get the changing needs of the industry and know best how to capitalize on those needs."
Holland said it was especially important to develop the right campaign for "Spin City," which marks DreamWorks' entry into the syndication market.
"Stu is a perfectionist," he said. "He adds an urgency to topical promotions that is quite refreshing. He doesn't let anything go out until he has nailed it from every single angle he can create to make it work."
In addition to Paramount, Studio City's clients include NBC, Warner Bros. Television, Walt Disney Studios, Buena Vista Television, Twentieth Television, Priceline.com and NBC's Snap.Com. Weiss hopes to expand Studio City into home video and motion picture trailers.
His show list includes the syndication campaigns for "3rd Rock from the Sun," "Roseanne" and "The X-Files." Weiss also masterminded promos for NBC's miniseries "Gulliver's Travels," "Noah's Ark" and "Alice in Wonderland."
In 1995, the company's first year in business, Studio City generated $875,000 in revenues. In 1999, the company generated $4 million, and Weiss is projecting $4.7 million for this year.
Tired of 'women in peril'
After tiring of working on movies of the week at NBC as a network promotions executive, Weiss decided to form his own company five years ago with three employees.
"I was beat to death working on women in peril," he said.
NBC officials liked his work so much that they gave him a two-year deal to continue cranking out promos as a freelancer. Armed with the contract, he bought an Avid digital editing machine and sublet an editing room at 3330 Cahuenga Blvd. from Unitel Video, a post-production company that is no longer in business.
"We (NBC) said we would like to be his first client," said John Miller, president of the NBC Agency, which oversees all of NBC's marketing and advertising. "We feel comfortable with him, and we will go elsewhere, but we are pleased with what he does and as he has grown in size, he has added more creative people to our account."
His company now directly leases and operates nine digital editing bays and two audio bays at the Cahuenga site, along with office space. But the early days were thin.
"We couldn't afford a microphone," he recalled. "We had to borrow one. We used a lot of milk cartons for chairs. It was TV Bosnia."
Like most people in the TV marketing business, the 42-year-old Weiss didn't start out in promotions. He was a radio disk jockey spinning Top 40 songs at his college radio station at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pa. During a TV internship at WBNG, the CBS affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., he began working in promotions.
That was in 1980. Weiss stayed two years and began what almost everyone in local television does at the beginning of a career migrating from job to job. He landed his next at the ABC affiliate in Dayton, Ohio, where he spent two years. In 1984, he headed west and went to work at KTTV-TV Channel 11 in L.A.
Weiss began working on TV movies and miniseries in 1989 at NBC and two years later was named vice president in the network's on-air promotion department.
Weiss likes to keep Studio City youthful. Most of his staffers are in their 20s or 30s. To keep them sharp, he gives them pop-culture quizzes periodically; the winners get bonuses. He also prides himself on retaining his staff, something of an anomaly in the migratory world of entertainment marketing. No one in his five years in business has gone to another promotion house.
"This is a fun atmosphere," said John Wadley, an audio designer/mixer at Studio City. "We are all friends. It feels like brother and sister. Stu treats us all like equals. There is no hierarchy. No one is more valuable than anyone else."
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