Monday, April 19, 2010

And now for something completely different...

Going to interrupt my musings on TV for a bit. Sort of

Mad For This Kind of Action

I've always been an action figure fan. Where most people sort of manage pass the habit off by the end of their adolescence, my fascination with them lasted well into my senior year of high school. I had long since forgotten the series or games they were connected with, and used them mainly as proxies for other games that I was playing. But eventually my 'maturity' kicked in, and I left them behind.

I got out way too soon.

Action figures have never gone out of style. DC Comics, Japanese anime, fairly recent video games--- these have always been good sources for action figures. But despite the fact that television has mostly left behind the animated series market where most action figures came from, a lot of recent TV has formed the inspiration for new series.

The most prominent example of this have been series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, and the various entries in the Star Trek franchise. But over the past few years, other series that have been more on the fringe have been appearing, and according to websites like Entertainment Earth, selling out. The new version of Battlestar Galactica is perhaps not a huge surprise; sci-fi series particularly seem to sell well. Similarly, Lost and Heroes--- shows that straddle the border between sci-fi and fantasy --- seem to have a certain market, particularly with the new versions that have come out in the last few months. But what of Dexter, which now has a complete set of Bobblehead dolls for almost every cast member? Showtime's series about America's favorite serial killer doesn't fit the "heroic" model that traditionally goes with it.

But the news that maybe the most border shattering of all came just a couple of weeks ago, when Mattel announced that Barbie will be producing four dolls from the Emmy winning series Mad Men this July.

First of all, to any man reading the article: it's time we admit an inconvenient truth. Action figures are dolls for guys. We have all this equipment and guns and weapons for them, but they're accessories in the same way that the Dream House was. We're playing with dolls, here. Deal with it.

Second, this is uncharted territory for a series that has received as many awards as Mad Men. Have any other 'traditional' drama series ever tried this kind of marketing? The Sopranos never did. West Wing never did. ER, Six Feet Under, anything David E. Kelley created? No to all three.

Considering how desperate TV bosses are to squeeze as much revenue as they can out of their franchise show, this seems to me an idea whose time is well overdue? And if a show on AMC, a network which has been lurking in the shadows on basic cable, can inspire this kind of artistic frission between television and products, why can't the networks jump on this?

Consider the possibilities. Grey's Anatomy has enough popularity that I'm sure there enough women who want their own McDreamy doll. (I hear that there's a Patrick Dempsey figure inspired from the Disney film enchanted that's already been a big seller.) CSI and Law & Order have inspired computer games, and have had enough actors on their shows to keep manufacturing companies in business for years. (And that's without going into either of the two spinoffs each show has inspired.) The sitcom market is less inventive, but considering the success of The Office series of bobbleheads, this might be just the thing that helps comedies like Modern Family enter the mainstream. (It's cast is certainly large enough.)

This could also be useful for fringe shows that haven't quite found Nielsen Glory yet. AMC could market it's other critically acclaimed series, Breaking Bad. A high-school teacher action figure with his own (sold separately) meth lab could strike the right chord in certain markets. United States of Tara from Showtime could inspire a whole series of action figures based on all of the personalities that Toni Collette has to play. (Further inspiration for her expanding her repertoire.)

Some people might consider this "selling out" But there is something about this kind of product that appeals to the kid in me. I know that when the representatives of Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency come out in a few months time, I will be the first on my block to have some.
Even if I am still playing with dolls.

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