How ABC Decided That A Sitcom Pilot Based On An Insurance Commercial Was A Good Idea

Today's WSJ delves deeper into the decisionmaking process that led ABC to greenlight a sitcom pilot based on Geico's Easily Offended Cavemen characters, a daring move that pays homage to the runaway successes of advertising-to-TV pioneers like the California Raisins and That Talking Demon-Baby Who Gave Us A Solid Year Of Sweat-Drenched Nightmares. Disappointingly, the explanation of the project's genesis is heavy on jargon like "brand extension," "messaging clutter," and "media fragmentation," and light on more honest anecdotes involving comedy-starved network executives, smoldering crackpipes, and desperate three-day development binges that end with an exhausted VP pointing at the insurance commercial playing on a nearby television and saying, "Fuck it, let's just do a show about that":

The initiative for the cavemen pilot came from Joe Lawson, the writer behind the cavemen commercials and a Martin Agency employee, who decided in late fall to pursue a TV show. With Geico's approval, the ad firm hired entertainment services agency Management 360 to shop the idea to networks.
Although reaction was mixed — NBC, for instance, says it passed — the concept allowed ABC a chance to address a set of persistent challenges. While achieving enormous success with the dramas "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives," the network has for years failed to launch a successful sitcom. In "Cavemen," executives saw a funny idea with a built-in marketing hook.

A spokeswoman for the ABC Television Studio, which will produce the pilot, said no executive would speak about the project because "it's way too premature to comment." She cautioned that there is no guarantee "Cavemen" will result in a prime-time show. ABC has ordered 15 other comedy pilots for the 2007-2008 television season and will likely give the green light to fewer than five for full-fledged series production.

The spokeslady's reluctance to crow about the secret weapon on the network's cluttered development slate is, of course, completely calculated modesty: behind the scenes, ABC's out-of-the-box-thinking execs are exchanging triumphant high-fives celebrating the Nielsen ass-kicking that their planned Neanderthal Night, featuring four consecutive episodes of their surefire Cavemen juggernaut, will soon inflict upon myopic CBS's unsuspecting Monday evening lineup of unimaginative sitcom hits.