With the post-Oscars airing of “Whiskey Cavalier,” ABC is going the Super Bowl route to offer fresh programming that will draft off the main event’s massive audience. It’s the first time that the network has leveraged that coveted slot to launch a new show and push viewers toward its primetime lineup as opposed to reverting to its usual Jimmy Kimmel post-awards wrap-up.
“Whiskey Cavalier” won’t immediately follow the Academy Awards everywhere. On the East Coast, the Oscars will air 8-11 p.m., followed by a 30-minute local news spot, and then “Whiskey Cavalier” at 11:35 p.m. On the West Coast, which airs the Oscars live, the new series will air at 10 p.m. PT, followed by the local news.
IndieWire spoke to ABC Entertainment’s EVP of programming strategy Andy Kubitz and EVP of marketing Rebecca Daugherty to gain insight into the strategic move.
“It’s unusual that we’re doing scripted programming, absolutely,” said Kubitz. “Three months ago we started having the discussion of, ‘Why not?’ We’re hoping to expose it to a group of people who may not be catching the rest of ABC or watch ABC during the week. Doing different things is the new norm, so this is us trying to think outside the box and use every lever we can to get a show exposed. If you’re gonna launch something big there’s nothing bigger than the Oscars.”
In the sexy spy dramedy, Scott Foley stars as FBI agent Will Chase (codename: Whiskey Cavalier) alongside Lauren Cohan as the CIA operative Frankie Trowbridge (codename: Fiery Tribune). They disagree on their ideas of romance and teamwork, but they’re tasked with working together to lead an inter-agency team to save the world. The series also stars Ana Ortiz, Tyler James Williams, Dylan Walsh, and Josh Hopkins.
“We took a look at the show and said this is a big, fun, sexy drama that’s full of action and beautiful settings filmed in Europe,” Daugherty said. “It’s got big stars in it too, so we felt that it was compatible with an Oscar audience.”
Kubitz added, “They put together a mini-movie every week. It’s high action, it’s a romance at times, it’s a ‘will they, won’t they,’ it’s spies. It’s got all the great things of a spy show set in Europe, and that matches with people who want to go to movies. This is a big tent show, and the Oscars is a big tent special. So those two things go well together no matter what any specific demo. We’re broadcasting for everybody, and the Oscars bring in everybody so that’s why the two match very well.”
Although “Whiskey Cavalier” will get this plum spot on Oscars Sunday, it will still officially premiere as planned the following Wednesday. The special airing will serve to hopefully create an even bigger audience for the show overall. ABC’s marketing team has been working overtime to make sure that even before “Whiskey Cavalier” takes over the airwaves, audiences will have an inkling of what it is.
“We worked with an agency called Deutsch and produced fake commercials that include the product in the show, things that they would use in their spy work, such as a watch that explodes, wedding rings that have a little dagger that comes out,” said Daugherty. “In the pilot episode, there’s an exploding tampon so we actually did the fake commercials based on these products and we married the two traditional trailers so you understand that it really is a fake commercial. Those have been getting quite a lot of attention”
Check out two of the commercials, including the one for exploding tampons, below:
— Whiskey Cavalier (@WhiskeyCav) February 18, 2019
— Whiskey Cavalier (@WhiskeyCav) February 15, 2019
Daugherty added, “We also took a look at other audiences for this show and we’re leveraging Lauren Cohan’s huge following from ‘The Walking Dead.’ We purchased some spots inside the [midseason] premiere of ‘Walking Dead’ [on Feb. 10] and also the second episode of ‘Walking Dead.’
“We basically launched the campaign also in the NBA on Christmas Day at the Lakers game. Also in ‘New Years Rockin’ Eve,’ which is a huge platform for us. We tried to find these really big, tentpole sort of events to give the show the exposure we felt it deserved.”
Those efforts appear to be working. Daugherty said, “In these final two weeks before the premiere of ‘Whiskey Cavalier,’ when marketing is reaching its peak, we’ve seen awareness continue to build exponentially at a pace that is consistent with similar midseason drama campaigns, and in many instances it has exceeded expectations thanks in part to the excitement we’ve been able to create around the Oscars sneak preview.”
While “Whiskey Cavalier” has been receiving much of the attention, ABC will also leverage the Oscars for its other programming. Viewers of the telecast and the red carpet specials can catch spots for “The Bachelor,” and new shows “The Fix” and “Bless This Mess,” but the other big push will be given to “American Idol,” which returns on March 3 for Season 17.
ABC has given “Idol” a presence at the Oscars with auditionees giving a special 90-second performance that will be aired during the live broadcast, as well as a 30-minute special before the awards ceremony itself. The “Oscars Countdown: The Red Carpet LIVE!” and “Oscars Opening Ceremony: Live From the Red Carpet” programs will bookend the special “American Idol: A New Journey Begins, in which host Ryan Seacrest sits down with judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie, and discuss behind-the-scenes secrets.
Kubitz said, “We always had the half hour in-between there that our affiliates can fill. What we ended up doing this year was talking to affiliates and asking them for that local time and so we filled it with the half-hour ‘Idol’ special.”
“We had done some interviews with Ryan and the judges that we were just, we were planning to use it for other promotional opportunities, and we got so much extra content that we turned it into a half hour special to help promote this great season of ‘Idol.’”
The 91st Academy Awards will be telecast live beginning 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Sunday, Feb. 24 on ABC.