Flash Gordon makes a Splash

For 60 years, Flash Gordon has risked life and limb in perilous comic book, movie and TV adventures....
June 1, 1996

For 60 years, Flash Gordon has risked life and limb in perilous comic book, movie and TV adventures.

This September, Flash answers the call once again, as Hearst Entertainment launches a new, weekly syndicated animated action-adventure series that will bring his exploits to another generation.

Flash Gordon has a domestic clearance of over 80 percent, and will premiere internationally in April 1997. The series launch will be supported by a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign and a toy line from Playmates.

As a relatively new animation studio trying to establish itself in a competitive environment, Hearst choose Flash Gordon for both practical and creative reasons. Aside from Flash’s built-in awareness factor, the property is owned by King Features, Hearst’s sister company. By already owning the character, Hearst will be able to retain all revenue generated from the property, allowing it to grow its animation business more swiftly, according to Steve Herman, vice president of marketing for Hearst Entertainment.

Creatively, the company believed that Flash Gordon stands unique among action-adventure her’es because he is essentially not a superhero. In this series, Flash is a teenager, with all of the strengths and weaknesses that come with being a teen. In a way, Flash must be more like McGyver than Superman. By humanizing Flash, the program can retain all of the vital elements of the action-adventure genre, but feature far less of the gratuitous violence that parents and politicians complain about in regards to similar-style children’s programming.

The licensing and merchandising of Flash Gordon is vital for making it a successful property. Licensing began almost simultaneously with the development of the TV show. ‘Flash Gordon was developed first as great animated entertainment, but we had to remain aware that because it was being produced at a deficit, that deficit would have to be filled with ancillary income,’ says Herman.

In conjunction with the September launch, Playmates, the master toy licensee, will bring to market a full line of merchandise including action figures, play sets and a board game. Playmates came on early in the project and was constantly apprised of the show’s development. While it did not have a say in the content of the series, it often offered suggestions on the look of certain aspects of the show that it thought could add play value to the toy line.

Herman’s licensing and merchandising strategy centers on a steady seasonal roll-out of product, rather than a saturation of the marketplace when the show debuts. ‘The fact that I have just a few licenses [currently] is my choice. We’re trying to control the launch and go with products that are heavily supported by advertising and heavily central to the show toys, trading cards and comic books.’

Early licensing activity includes rack toys, trading cards (Upper Deck) and home videos (Live). Publishing and comic book licenses are currently under negotiation. Herman hopes to have promotional partners in fast food and packaged goods by spring.

Next April, Flash debuts in Europe in a unique programming stunt. Hearst has coordinated the simultaneous broadcast of Flash in all of Western Europe, the simultaneous launch of the toy line in each of those countries, as well as local and Pan-European promotions and merchandising. ‘That to my knowledge is the first time that an American-based company has pulled that off,’ says Herman.

He admits that synchronizing this launch wasn’t easy and more often than not, very frustrating. Because each station in each country had its own local interests at stake, it took a lot of convincing to get them to agree that the ‘event’ created by a Pan-European Flash Gordon launch would maximize exposure and advertising dollars and subsequently, in the long run, revenue.

The series will also debut in Latin America next April in a similar, though less comprehensive, launch. Herman hopes to sell Flash to Asian countries on a market-by-market basis.

Herman is confident that Flash Gordon will capture a new generation of young fans. ‘Flash Gordon has always proved to be exciting and action-filled without violence since its inception 60 years ago. I think the market is ready for something new to break through. Flash Gordon is well positioned to be a property that breaks out of the group of new properties because of the quality of the animation and the quality of the promotional partners we have.’

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