The Art of the Sell — TV Guide listings ads

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

tv guide ad

The primacy of one particular periodical in my pop culture–obsessed youth can’t be overstated. There was a time, tender young souls, when knowing what programs were going to appear on television required the consultation of regularly published reference materials. At one point, TV Guide had the highest circulation of any magazine in the U.S., the satisfying little slab of pages offering mostly cheerful puffery about small-screen celebrities and, most importantly, a complete listing of everything airing on television across an entire week. The descriptions in the listings were merely perfunctory, giving only the barest idea of what might be happening in any given episode. Discerning readers knew to peruse the ads.

The major networks snapped up column inches positioned around the prime time listings to tout the latest episodes of their priority series. The ads were structured with a common format: images of the stars lumped together, pithy plot summaries, and always — always! — the promise of grand entertainment for those tuning in. In addition to providing urgent promotion, the ads were a barometer of the respective shows’ popularity. As series withered in the ratings, the ads for them grew smaller and less prominent, until that already canceled series just burning off episodes were lucky to get a tiny corner in a different ad, touting other shows airing on the same night. Well before ratings information was readily available to anyone who clicked their way to it, I was keenly aware of the sad fate befalling some of my favorite shows by the ad space they were afforded.

TV Guide is still published, but I haven’t picked up a copy in ages, confident the digital grid that greets me at a button push will provide more than enough information for me. And the DVR is going to catch everything I’m likely to watch anyway. I do miss flipping  pages, my anticipation juiced by the cheery, simple marketing efforts. Mentally planning my week of television viewing was almost as good as sitting in front of the set and soaking it all in. Actually, I think sometimes the planning was even better.

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