FX might be king of the "artful TV promo" game, but where do all the other big networks stand? These days, if you have a show you're positioning for Emmy contention, you need to throw down the marker early and get people excited with some stark memorable imagery.
AMC has what other networks would dream of: a slew of must-watch shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. But its promo game has long been terrible, mostly vague nonsense that apes the much-mocked "next time on Mad Men" teasers that contain no real information. But the advertising for the upcoming season of that show has been more on-point, with a consistent visual theme: the paisley, colorful Summer of Love infecting the show's black-and-white opening credits.
Sometimes AMC could get a little too into itself, especially with Breaking Bad. As excitement built to a fever pitch for its final episodes last summer, we got this insufferable teaser with Bryan Cranston intoning the Shelly poem "Ozymandias" over blank shots of the New Mexico desert. Sometimes it's good to have a little more detail.
HBO used to own the promo game, back in the days of Six Feet Under and Sex and the City (and dare we say Carnivale?), but it's been lacking for a while now. Its shows are the most cinematic on television and should have better promos. Instead, we mostly get effective if dull trailers, like this True Detective sneak peek. There's nothing wrong with it, but there's also nothing special.
The network is definitely better at the braggy year-end roundup, although they always cheat by including some of the big movies they premiered on TV that year as well. Boardwalk Empire will always seem more exciting when intercut with Batman.
It's always had a mixed bag of programming, but that's not the problem. It's just terrible at atmosphere. Homeland, perhaps the biggest critical hit the network's ever had, is a tense spy thriller about terrorism. Why on earth are we presented with this soapy, Spanish guitar-underscored business? Homeland should be advertised with Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin playing abrasive jazz trumpet as nuclear bombs go off in the background.
The network has always been a liiiitle better at being irreverent, though. This back-to-school promo for Shameless is much more visually arresting. So there's signs of life there.
The latest pretender to HBO's throne comes off as calculating with everything it does, but it can be very effective nonetheless. House of Cards is the cable prestige formula distilled into one show, and its promos reflect that, coming off as stately and mysterious as possible.
The network needs to up its teaser game for its other shows, though. This Orange is the New Black teaser is unacceptably lazy and a bit of a screeching headache. This show was arguably more acclaimed than House of Cards in its first season. It deserves a real ad budget.
They haven't struck on a big critical hit yet, but A&E actually does pretty well with its promos, despite middling programming. Its work pushing out Longmire was very reminiscent of FX's Justified ads, with a pretentious dash of the Mountain West, aping Breaking Bad's vast deserts.
The network's best work comes for its best show, Bates Motel, which perfectly nails how alternately creepy and whimsical its tone can be. This "Mr. Sandman" promo makes the (decently fun) show seem even better than it is.
Premium cable's redheaded step-brother is also ripping off FX's game with its cinematic teasers for The Knick, a period drama from Steven Soderbergh starring Clive Owen. It's just stark imagery, brief titles, and little detail. But it sticks in your head.
The best show Cinemax has on TV right now is action drama Strike Back, and while it's goofy fun, again, its best teasers make it look like must-watch TV. Look at this tense standoff:
Your dad's favorite network new to the scripted programming game, but to promote season two of its hit Vikings, it brought in the big guns. Lorde!
The network's been doing solid work for years, though. This teaser for reality show Swamp People has no business being as creepy and atmospheric as it is.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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