Comedy Central, acting on the old saw that laughter's
the best medicine, plans to accelerate its "Comedy RX" local marketing and
ad-sales promotion campaign next year, using a Tele-Communications Inc. system's
recent experience in Madison, Wis., as its model.
After months of fine-tuning its local off-the-shelf Comedy
RX efforts, the network has found that adding off-channel appearances by comedians under
the Comics Come Home banner is a strong fund-raising tool for local charities.
Steve Males, Comedy Central's vice president of
affiliate marketing, indicated that operators can tie in with Comedy RX in various ways.
These can range from "a heavy dose" (creating a live event whose proceeds
benefit a local hospital or other healthcare facility) to "a light dose"
(running customizable public-service announcements or selling sponsorships).
One PSA says, "Laughter lifts spirits, lessens pain,
promotes healing. Comedy RX -- it's serious medicine."
Males cited the Comics Come Home fund-raiser in Madison in
late November, cobranded with TCI Cablevision of Wisconsin, as the way such local events
should be handled.
That operator used Comedy Central's launch fund in an
unusual way, said Brian Shirk, the system's general manager, in that the money
didn't go toward the typical direct mailings and the like. Instead, the system's
spokeswoman said, two-thirds of that money paid the comics, their transportation costs and
theater rental -- with the rest donated to Rebos' Chris Farley House, a local
alcohol- and drug-dependency halfway house named for the late Saturday Night Live
comic (who grew up in Madison).
Comedy Central, which launched there last May,
"didn't care how we used the money," Shirk said. "That [fund] allowed
them to stretch the budget for this promotion," Males added.
The Madison event, which starred SNL's Jim
Breuer, SNL alumnus Victoria Jackson, plus local talent, sold 1,200 tickets and
raised $70,000 for the Farley House, Shirk said. That charity had operated in the red
until this event, Males noted. Use of the launch fund enabled TCI to turn over the
event's entire gate receipts to the Farley House, TCI's spokeswoman explained.
A number of tradeout deals also helped. For instance, radio
station WMAD, as a promotion partner, hyped awareness. TCI itself ran $80,000 worth of
cross-channel spots alone, said a system spokeswoman. Both TCI and Comedy benefited from a
barrage of local media coverage of the event, including more than a dozen stories on local
TV stations' newscasts and in local newspapers.
"It's our hope" that Comics Come Home
becomes an annual event, Shirk said, "but there will be no [financial] help from
In preparing for the 1999 rollout of Comedy RX, Males said
the network is talking up the Madison experience in discussions with operators in Miami,
Minneapolis and Nashville, Tenn., and with Adlink, the Los Angeles interconnect. Officials
at TCI in Miami and MediaOne in Minneapolis and Adlink did not return calls seeking
comment by press time.
Meanwhile, in New York, Comedy is working on four or five
event possibilities for a tie-in with Time Warner Cable, Males said, perhaps including
appearances at a local Gilda's Club, a support group named for the late SNL
star Gilda Radner. Last summer Comedy and Time Warner teamed up for an unusual Comedy RX
appearance by comic Jeffrey Ross before 50 cancer patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering
Cancer Center in New York -- a "medium dose" linkup in Comedy RX parlance.
Males, looking well ahead, hoped to be able to eventually
work out a Comedy RX tie-in with Universal's December theatrical release, Patch
Adams, once its pay-per-view window approaches. That film stars Robin Williams as a
doctor who uses humor in his dealings with seriously ill patients.