The hot days at the end of July signal not only the halfway point for the summer but also the arrival of Comic-Con International, an annual pilgrimage to San Diego for hundreds of thousands of faithful fans, many of whom dress for the occasion.
The four-day convention, which begins officially tomorrow, has in recent years become ground zero for film and television studios to tease a captive and obsessed audience with trailers, film highlights, and full-length pilots in a bid to create an early buzz for their product.
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Comic-Con may have once been a retailer-focused event, it’s quickly become one of the most important—if not the most important—Hollywood industry event of the calendar year, offering the publicity machine the rare opportunity to interact directly with the consumer and get them blogging, tweeting, and speaking excitedly about whatever new film or television show is in the pipeline.
This year’s convention, the event’s 40th, promises to be the most overtly Hollywood-pointing yet, with panels scheduled for a slew of high-profile films such as Tron: Legacy, The Expendables, Scott Pilgrim, Green Lantern, Cowboys & Aliens, Let Me In, and Paul (which itself recounts a comedic journey to, of all places, San Diego Comic-Con)—and such upcoming television series as The Walking Dead, True Blood, Falling Skies, The Event, Nikita, and The Cape, as well as Glee, Community, Dexter, True Blood, Chuck, and many others.
Warner Bros. Television is single-handedly bringing 14 shows down to the convention, a record for the studio, known for its oversized convention-exclusive bags and elaborate booth on the floor.
“The timing of Comic-Con hits the sweet spot for the marketing and publicity efforts for most new and returning broadcast television series,” Lisa Gregorian, the chief marketing officer of Warner Bros. Television Group, told The Daily Beast. “The fans that are passionate about our shows make the best evangelists, and in today’s social media world they have enormous word of mouth impact and influence with our viewers. Our goal is to engage and empower them with access through screenings, signings, and sessions so they can spread the word on our series.”
However, the passionate crowds that the studios are looking to court are also notoriously fickle. Last year’s panel for James Cameron’s Avatar—held in the gargantuan Hall H, which seats 6500—was half-empty, and attendees, who were treated to about 20 minutes of the technologically advanced film, didn’t seem to love what they saw. The film went on to become the highest grossing film of all time. Meanwhile, crowds roared for Jonah Hex, which completely bombed when it was released last month.
While the convention hasn’t even begun, this year’s con is already immersed in controversy. 20th Century Fox Television pulled its panel for Fox’s dinosaur drama Terra Nova a week before the start of the event, claiming that they had no footage to show (it begins production next month) and that the series’ producers—who include Steven Spielberg and Peter Chernin—wanted to leave the show’s mythology under wraps.
At roughly the same time, director Alexandre Aja opted to pull his panel for the horror flick Piranha 3-D from the convention and host it off-site after the convention’s organizers disapproved of a risqué scene in the footage Aja planned to show during the session. It’s a reminder that the convention—which now celebrates everything from comics to mainstream entertainment—is attempting to cast a much wider net than just men in their twenties and thirties.
But the true question lingering on everyone’s minds is whether the convention will stay in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter or move elsewhere. The convention is under contract to remain in San Diego until 2012, at which point it could move to Anaheim, Las Vegas, or even Los Angeles. Given the increasing importance and scope of Hollywood’s involvement in the annual event as well as the feeling that it has outgrown the space at the convention center, this could be one of Comic-Con International’s last years right on the water in San Diego.
Jace Lacob is the writer/editor of Televisionary, a website devoted to television news, criticism, and interviews. Jace resides in Los Angeles. He is a contributor to several entertainment Web sites and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.