Los Angeles Times publisher Eddy Hartenstein's latest split with his editors (and possibly some ad people) is over his advocacy of a front-page ad for tonight's NBC debut of "Southland" — but not just any A1 ad. Both Variety and TV Week report that today's real news in the Times will be wrapped in a partial mock front page with a fake story promoting the show. It will be clearly marked as an ad and be in a different type face, but the Times newsroom has been buzzing. [* See the ad. Less intrusive than I feared, but it's not a wrap: it's actually printed on the front page, so takes up column space usually devoted to news.]
The decision to put an advertisement on the front page with content that might be confused for a real story is sure to open a new round of criticism against the already-embattled newspaper. Yet as newspapers struggle to remain afloat, advertising methods that would have been forbidden a few years ago are now accepted as part of the new reality....
According to NBC, the L.A. Times came up with the idea of promoting "Southland" - which takes place in Los Angeles, after all - via a front-page ad.
"We thought it was an interesting, provocative, breakthrough idea," said NBC Entertainment marketing prexy Adam Stotsky. "Treating a fictional story in an editorial context for Angelenos inside the L.A. Times connected to our show."
What would pass for an acceptable design was negotiated, and I'm told by a trades source that NBC was surprised how far the Times was willing to go in selling its main news cover. At least some LAT sources thought yesterday that Hartenstein had caved to internal objections from editors, but it appears not. [* Thursday update: Ad was almost much worse.]
Meanwhile: The New York Times calls “Southland” a gritty police drama that will roam all over the L.A. area:
While the producers have built two sets to serve as police stations, much of the series is shot on location, at places ranging from the Nickerson Gardens housing project in Watts to Beverly Hills.
“I didn’t want to do a show about young people with stubble and sunglasses,” Ms. [Ann] Biderman said. “And the style of the show is not to resolve every crime every time.”
Added: In the L.A. Times, Calendar's Mary McNamara is unimpressed:
In theory, "Southland" could turn out to be a rich and textured cross between, say, "Hill Street Blues" and "Crash" with a little "Training Day" on the side, but the pilot, for all its horrific crimes and grimy street scenes, is strangely bland. Not to mention white. Why there's only one person of color in the main cast of cops and detectives is beyond strange, and that sets up, at least in the pilot, a regrettable color line between the good guys and the bad guys.