My Turn

Shatnerpalooza

7/31/2011 12:18 PM

Shatner on deckCapt. Kirk was on deck at the aircraft carrier Intrepid Saturday night.

After working the room at a VIP reception with his wife, Elizabeth, there was William Shatner, in the spotlight, on a walkway above the carrier (now a floating museum in New York City).

“Wow! What a magical moment,” he said to a couple hundred fans who’d gathered on a warm night on the flight deck for a free outdoor screening of The Captains, the new documentary airing on Epix. “We’re aboard an aircraft carrier. Maybe this was the size of the Enterprise, and maybe you’re the crew. And we’re having a little entertainment aboard the Enterprise. And we’re gonna beat the Klingons soon! But it’s better than that — the reality is better. The skyline of New York. This great warship that’s docked in memory of all those sailors who fought in World War II and other wars. And we’re here to see a film that I loved making. It was a happening.”

Epix, the upstart premium movie channel, backed Shatner in making the documentary about the actors who have played captains in the various Star Trek iterations after Shatner created the original role, James T. Kirk, in Star Trek. As Shatner noted, even though the original series was canceled in 1969 after just three seasons, it’s become “the most durable and profitable franchise in the history of entertainment.” Viacom and Paramount Pictures, a co-owner of Epix, has enjoyed those profits. (Epix’s other owners are Lionsgate and MGM).

The Intrepid screening was like a mini Comic-Con. At that San Diego convention, Epix and Shatner had put on a screening on July 22 that drew more than 2,000 fans. Fans came to the Intrepid in costume Saturday, some showing them off to win a prize. (The intrepid winner wore a lit-up model of the original Enterprise as a hat.)

Epix EVP Doug Lee introduced Shatner, saying, “Epix really wants to make a thank you to Bill.”

Besides backing the doc — and Shatner said he hopes to work with Epix on more projects — Epix already has thanked Shatner by promoting the heck out of the film.

Not as a favor to Shatner, mind you, but as the centerpiece of a brand awareness and subscriber acquisition campaign the network calls “Shatnerpalooza.”

Nora Ryan, the network’s chief of staff, said it’s all about tapping into the Star Trek fan base online, getting fans to try the Web version of the movie channel for a two-week trial and then sign as many as possible up as paying subscribers. TV-Everywhere style, the online portion of the multiplatform Epix channel is only available to authenticated subscribers of the linear network.

Star Trek fans are an amazing fan base, so passionate, and Bill Shatner is emblematic of that and taps that vein in a way, to tell you the truth, took many of us by surprise,” Epix chief of staff Nora Ryan said ahead of the screening. “Shatner embodies everything that the Trekkies are so excited about in terms of the franchise.”

Other elements of the campaign include “The Long Khan,” a stitched-together version of fans’ recreating Kirk’s famous anguished cry in the 1982 movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. (See them at thelongkhan.com.) Epix has been showing hilarious shorts of Shatner in action in other roles, hammy and serious alike, dubbed “Now That’s Sh-Acting!” It aired all six Star Trek movies this past weekend.

Shatner and Avery Brooks (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Capt. Benjamin Sisko) appeared at a Comic-Con panel in San Diego on July 22 that drew 2,200 people, with an unknown number turned away. Epix also premiered the documentary on July 22 and produced an hour-long online Q&A with fans that day that drew 20,000 participants.Epix Live with William Shatner

EpixHD.com Webcast the Q&A live from the Cox Communications San Diego production facilities with Cox’s help, and Epix affiliate Cox will have that video plus footage of the Comic-Con panel and other material to offer subscribers on video on demand. Cox California SVP and general manager David Bialis is a big Trek fan, Ryan said. About half of the fans who participated in the Q&A signed up for a free two-week trial and are marketing prospects later, she said.

Along the way, through screenings and other fan interactions, the channel has offered fans a two-week free trial of the network online, and affiliates will use that database to do direct marketing of the channel. EpixHD.com tripled its Web traffic the weekend after July 22, the channel said.

Overall, Ryan said, the message was targeted to 10 million people on fan sites and social media. “You tap the online passionate audience, they come to you online, and it’s a very organic way to expand the TV Everywhere proposition because it’s fishing where the fish are,” Ryan said.

The doc is a fun watch, with some signature goofy Shatner moments, including ad libbing a tune with jazz pianist Brooks at Brooks’s home in Princeton, N.J., and getting Kate Mulgrew (Capt. Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager) to volunteer that she snookered her dad into helping her begin an acting career in New York by paying her tuition to NYU.

Pictured below, at Epix Live With William Shatner at Comic-Con in San Diego on July 22, left to right: Sharon Taylor-Huppert, social media specialist, Cox Communications; Andy Hunter, chief marketing officer, Epix; Ceanne Guerra, media and public relations manager, Cox; William Shatner; Nora Ryan, chief of staff, Epix; Dave Bialus, SVP and GM, Cox Communications California; Aaron Wilson (back), media marketing specialist, Cox; Zack Fields (front), competitive & retention specialist, Cox; Ryan Witt, account manager, Epix; Mike Ruggiero, VP, programming planning & strategy, Epix. Photo by: Jonathan Leibson/Wire Image.

Cox, Epix Crews at Epix Live in San Diego

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