October 12th, 2008

'Enemy' Could Be GM's Best Friend

By Julie Hinds
Detroit Free Press

New NBC series gives GM cars a nontraditional showcase

When Christian Slater’s new series for NBC, “My Own Worst Enemy,” debuts Monday, he’ll be playing two very distinct characters.

Henry Spivey is a husband and father who lives in the suburbs. Edward Albright is a secret agent who speaks 13 languages and is trained to kill

The twist is the two men reside in the same body. Oh, did we mention that Slater’s dual personalities have separate cars?

That’s another wrinkle to the series, which is one of NBC’s stronger fall offerings. The network and General Motors have teamed up in a special way for “My Own Worst Enemy.”

The official announcement back in May called GM “the exclusive automotive integration partner” for the show.

That’s corporate-speak for a deal that essentially gives two vehicles—the 2009 Chevy Traverse crossover for family man Henry and the 2010 Chevy Camaro SS for slick spy Edward—a chance to be part of the drama, not just cars plopped into a handful of scenes.

As GM shares dropped to historic lows late last week, and fears about the company’s liquidity continued to rise in the midst of the global economic shake-up, GM remained optimistic about the upcoming series and their relationship with NBC.

“Products like the Camaro and the Traverse are going to lead us through this turbulent time,” said Terry Rhadigan, director of Chevrolet Communications. “We are happy to integrate them into this TV show ... to showcase our products in a nontraditional way.”

The relationship between auto companies and Hollywood has become more intertwined and elaborate as TV shows and movies have found ways to move beyond the old model of merely getting products in front of the camera.

The 2007 blockbuster film “Transformers” set a new standard for giving vehicles a star turn. It featured GM cars and trucks in leading roles as the heroic Autobots.

Early this year, Ford grabbed attention when NBC’s TV-movie update of “Knight Rider” (now a regular series) debuted with a Ford Mustang replacing the original Pontiac Trans Am as the talking, tech-loaded KITT car.

“My Own Worst Enemy” is a sophisticated action-adventure romp with some of the psychological flavor of “Alias” and the “Bourne” movies. In a conference call with reporters, Slater said he was attracted to the project by the Jekyll-and-Hyde premise and the overall commitment to quality.

“They told me that ... they were going to try and put a movie on TV every week, and, as far I can tell, the production value and the things we’ve been able to do have been extraordinary,” said Slater.

The first episode explores the details of the Henry/Edward split personality. And in one memorable scene that helps set the tone of the drama, one of the Chevy cars plays a juicy role.

Dino Bernacchi, GM’s director of branded entertainment, said he was hooked as soon as he read the script for the series

“Hands down, this is an incredible opportunity to be able to leverage two distinctly different vehicles,” he said.

GM and NBC put together the type of partnership that, as Bernacchi described it, “literally means being a part of the show, and not just product placement, but integrating our product into its property, so that ... we’re part of the storyline or story arc that ends up transitioning throughout the entire season.”

One example of how closely GM and NBC have worked together? Before shooting on the series started, NBC made promotional spots for “My Own Worst Enemy” that featured GM cars and had them ready in time to air during the Beijing Olympics.

That step was “very unique,” according to Ben Silverman, cochairman of NBC Entertainment.

Many critics of TV advertising feel that the mingling of consumer goods and entertainment has gone too far—way beyond the old model of limiting sales pitches to actual commercials.

But Silverman, who’s known for embracing the branded entertainment approach, says younger viewers are ready to move beyond such debates and focus on how skillfully the marketing is done.

“What you’re seeing is a generation of people who’ve grown up being advertised to everywhere they go,” said Silverman. “They’ve been advertised to inside the TV experience, inside the Internet experience, inside elevators, inside taxicabs, on their cell phones. They get that shows are brought to them by advertising investment, so they forgive it if it’s done tastefully.”

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