'Holmes' spies MacFarlane special

Warner Bros. Pictures has agreed to step in and replace Microsoft as the sole sponsor of Fox’s Seth MacFarlane variety special, set to air Nov. 8.

The studio plans to use the time to promote its Christmas tentpole “Sherlock Holmes” via an extended trailer during “Family Guy Presents: Seth and Alex’s Almost Live Comedy Show.”

Special lost its original sponsorship last week after Microsoft got cold feet over the risque content in “Almost Live Comedy Show.”

Enter Warner Bros., which is looking to target the young male crowd with “Sherlock Holmes” (which stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law); that’s certainly the crowd it will get by running the movie’s trailer in the middle of what’s being branded as an entire night of MacFarlane programming.

In going with the “Sherlock Holmes” extended trailer, Fox will probably not have to shoot any new footage for the special with MacFarlane and “Almost Live Comedy Show” co-star Alex Borstein.

Fox declined to elaborate on whether “Sherlock Holmes” would be weaved into the MacFarlane special.

But in a promo that aired Saturday night during the network’s World Series coverage, the net said a sneak preview would run during “Almost Live Comedy Show.”

That likely means Warner Bros. opted for a separate spot to run either before or after the special.

As originally produced, Microsoft’s marketing messages were included in the body of the special -- but were segregated from “Almost Live Comedy Show’s” sketches and comedic bits.

Most of the special had nothing to do with Windows 7. But MacFarlane and Borstein would take a beat between the special’s acts to promote the new Microsoft operating system.

That means the Microsoft segments on “Almost Live Comedy Show” can be easily removed, with that time now devoted to a “Sherlock Holmes” trailer.

But the decision to go with a stand-alone trailer, as opposed to messages from another advertiser weaved into the body of the program, suddenly makes “Almost Live Comedy Show” a lot less ground-breaking in the world of integrated marketing.

Commercial-free episodes covered by a single sponsor aren’t unprecedented. But most generally rely on expanded ad spots (such as Bud Light’s recent deal to sponsor an episode of “Saturday Night Live”), not actual messages within the program.

Microsoft’s deal with Fox and MacFarlane to include Windows 7 pitches in the body of the MacFarlane special was touted as revolutionary -- and is also, as Fox noted early in the process, a throwback to the golden age of television.

But that was before Microsoft execs attended the special’s taping Oct. 16. For most of the spec, MacFarlane and Borstein made typical “Family Guy”-style jokes, including riffs on deaf people, the Holocaust, feminine hygiene and celebrity incest.

Such material was apparently a bit much for Microsoft.

Microsoft sent MacFarlane and Fox several notes expressing concern over the show’s content but ultimately decided just to drop out.

Fox said the special was never in danger, however, and the net immediately set out to find a replacement sponsor.

Fox revealed a bit more about the spesh during the Saturday-night promo: A pre-taped appearance by Adam West, for example, will be a part of the special; ditto a cameo by actress Marlee Matlin, whose deafness is played for laughs by Borstein.

Peter Oberth
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