If you tuned in to NBC for even a minute this summer, you saw them: the slick, tongue in cheek commercials plugging the new nighttime soap ”Titans” (debuts Wednesday 8 p.m.) as this fall’s guilty pleasure. With an alternative music soundtrack (Meredith Brooks’ ”Bitch,” Sneaker Pimps’ ”6 Underground”) and a cast of catty divas (stars Victoria Principal and Yasmine Bleeth), the ads emphasize hipster cool over ”Dallas” drama. But will advertising with an attitude drive away the hardcore soap fans who made ”Dynasty” and ”Melrose Place” hits? ”I think it’s very calculated,” says Bleeth, who’s already starred on two long running hit shows, ”Baywatch” and ”Nash Bridges.” ”We’re reinventing the genre a little bit, and this gives you a hint of that.”
But it remains to be seen whether NBC’s cheeky marketing will lure a new generation to a genre that reached its peak in the ’80s with ”Knots Landing,” ”Dallas,” and ”Dynasty.” No other prime time soap has scored a solid hit since ”Melrose Place” bowed in 1992; even the Spelling touch didn’t help ”Savannah,” which lasted little more than a year on the WB. Other notable flops include ABC’s ”The Monroes,” (sex, politicians), NBC’s ”Wind on Water,” (sex, Hawaii), the WB’s ”Young Americans,” (sex, teens), CBS’ ”Central Park West” (sex, real estate), and UPN’s ”Legacy” (sex, horses).
Still, Peacock execs say that with ”Titans,” they’ve finally found the missing ingredient: a sense of humor. ”This is the only show of its kind right now in the prime time landscape, and our advertising is pretty much saying we’re a big, old fun soap,” says John Miller, president of the network in house agency responsible for the show’s envelope pushing campaign. ”Even [Fox’s] ‘The Street,’ which is sort of a soap, wants to hide from that. But we think [’Titans’] is what it is, and if it succeeds, it will because it doesn’t take itself entirely seriously. People who watch this know they’re not watching another ‘West Wing.”’
No kidding. In the first episode, Navy pilot Chandler Williams (Casper Van Dien of ”Starship Troopers”) returns home to discover his ex-lover (Bleeth) is planning to get hitched to his dad (Perry King). Ewww. And since the happy couple live right across the street from King’s ex-wife (Principal), there’s no end to the catty possibilities.
With luck, ”Titans” may have landed an ideal time slot for its brand of hip adult humor. Though the show faces off against the megahit ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” on ABC and the star powered ”Bette” on CBS, both programs skew towards aging baby boomers. ”If you look at the demographics, ‘Millionaire’ still gets a large audience, but it’s aging,” says Miller. And even if teens end up flocking to the WB’s ”Dawson’s Creek,” that’s fine with the Spelling folks, who are interested in nabbing the 18 to 49 year old crowd that advertisers crave but which have few other network choices.