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SXSW 2019

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Photo by Chris Raphael/Amazon via EPK
The end is nigh.
IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD

Amazon is flexing its marketing muscle for Neil Gaiman’s “Good Omens”

Austin, Texas
Ashley Rodriguez
By Ashley Rodriguez

Reporter

Neil Gaiman never imagined adapting Good Omens for TV in this way—without co-author and friend Terry Pratchett. The fantasy novelists long dreamed that when their beloved 1990 book became a TV series, they would include a scene in a sushi restaurant in which they were seated together in the background. The book, at heart, is a buddy comedy, after all. And they liked the idea of eating sushi on set all day, Gaiman said, at the South by Southwest film and interactive festival on March 9.

When it came time to shoot the scene in the sushi restaurant, Gaiman couldn’t bring himself to appear in it. Not without Pratchett. The English author passed away in 2015, before the series was picked up. It was his dying wish that Gaiman find a way to make the novel—a dark comedy about the apocalypse—into a TV series, after the two were told repeatedly by showrunners they admired that the story was too odd and complex to adapt for the small screen. In the end, BBC Studios agreed to make the show with funding from Amazon Studios. The mini-series debuts on Amazon Prime Video on May 31, and later on the BBC. Gaiman wrote and served as the sole showrunner for the series—a first for him—to make sure it lived up to Pratchett’s vision.

At SXSW this past week, ads for the series plastered shuttles around Austin, Texas. A choir of nuns and performers playing angels, demons, adorable hellhounds, rowdy witch hunters, and the riders of the apocalypse from the show canvased the downtown area. A garden of eden packed with Instagram-worthy sets inspired by the series was assembled in a 19,000-square-foot lot on Driskill Street, which became a delightful retreat from the chaos of the nearby Austin Convention Center and a star-studded hotspot at night. A party hosted at the garden by Entertainment Weekly featured a fire-breather and a remarkably spot-on Queen cover band. Good Omens-branded umbrellas were handed out at the pop-up experience, and used by festival-goers in rain and shine. And Gaiman took the stage twice during the festival, including during a panel with Good Omens cast members Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Jon Hamm, and director Douglas Mackinnon, where clips of the series were shown.

Quartz/Ashley Rodriguez

One might wonder why Amazon Prime, which had little to no presence at SXSW last year, would put the full weight of its marketing machine behind a six-episode series with no chance of a second season. (“The lovely thing about Good Omens is it has a beginning, a middle, and an end,” Gaiman said at the festival.) There are other upcoming shows, like the superhero drama The Boys based on the graphic novels by Garth Ennis, which hits Amazon this summer, that the streaming service could’ve promoted instead. But the push for Good Omens shows how the streaming-video company is courting top-tier talent, like Gaiman and the show’s stars, for whom the project was more than just a job.

Good Omens was a labor of love for Gaiman. Amazon’s robust marketing campaign shows that it is behind the TV creator, and willing to deploy its vast resources to get the show in front of the widest audience possible. After starting work with Amazon on Good Omens, the cult-fantasy author, whose impressive catalog of works have been the basis for other productions including American Gods, Lucifer, Coraline, and Stardust, signed an exclusive deal to create series for Amazon Prime Video. The campaign for Good Omens demonstrates the marketing prowess that, under the leadership of Amazon Studios boss Jennifer Salke, could help bring more top talent like Gaiman and the cast to the streaming service and away from rivals like Netflix and HBO.

The series also lends itself to the SXSW crowd, even if it doesn’t have the name recognition of other franchises promoted at the festival like HBO’s Game of Thrones. Good Omens looks gorgeous from the clips Quartz screened. It makes sense that Amazon would want to get the word out. The series is also an oddball road movie with serious star power in Sheen, Tennant, Hamm, Francis McDormand, and Nick Offerman, and a creator with a cult following, which makes it fitting for a cultural event like SXSW. Amazon promoted the series with pop-up experiences at other big cultural events this year, like New York Comic Con, as well. “

The SXSW campaign had people—many of whom had never heard of the book or adaptation—talking about the series all over town, as well as on social media, where festival-goers shared pictures and videos from the experience. (“No, I don’t know what it is, but they have puppies and Jon Hamm, so I’m going,” a woman was overheard saying on Rainey Street about the experience.) The activation arguably snatched the marketing crown from rival HBO, which goes all out for SXSW, but created an experience for Game of Thrones this year that somewhat missed the mark.

Based on the clips we’ve seen for Good Omens, we’re beyond excited to watch the series in full.

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