To Support the Launch of one of the most ambitious mini-series in the history of television
Geronimo created this event in Rockefeller Center in New York City. The show featured more special effects than most major movies. Created by Hallmark Entertainment, the producers of Lonesome Dove and Gulliver’s Travels, the new mini-series took the classic story of King Arthur’s Camelot and told it from the perspective of the wizard, Merlin. Titled Merlin, the show had an all-star cast that included Sam Neill, Isabella Rosselini, Martin Short and Helena Bonham-Carter.
In order to generate awareness and build an audience, NBC wanted to create a press and publicity event for the show. It would take place at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City the week prior to sweeps week and the objective was to generate incremental print press and word of mouth “buzz.”
Geronimo created a concept that, in effect, turned Rockefeller Plaza into a three day medieval Renaissance Fair during the days leading up to the mini-series premiere. Decorations from movie and men in armor strolled around interacting with pedestrians, and prominently featured and guarded 24/7 was the famous Sword in the Stone. One main sponsor, Kodak, and four secondary sponsors helped fund the event. Named the World of Merlin, each sponsor had a tent that tied into the overall theme. Chrysler had a computer on which you could magically create your own car. Kodak had a green screen picture booth in which consumers could have their picture appear in Merlin’s crystal ball. Prudential sponsored the main stage on which appeared costumed magicians, sword fighters, singers, jugglers and rope-walkers. Lucent Technologies promoted their Merlin phone system with a green screen video in which visitors could appear in a scene from Merlin and walk away with a copy of their screen test. Wizards of the Coast taught visitors how to play the strategy card game Magic using scenarios from Merlin. Hallmark Entertainment sponsored the Merlin Museum displaying costumes and props from the show, along with a trailer showing scenes from the show.
On opening night of the event, all the stars of the show, the director and the producer appeared for a gala opening that was hosted by Al Roker of the TODAY show. After introducing the stars, Al called two children onto the stage to pull Excalibur from the stone into which it had been locked all day. The act of pulling the sword from the stone cued a unique event never before seen in Manhattan. As helicopters hovered overhead, and news crews filmed, the ice skating rink filled with smoke and music from Merlin filled the Plaza from a massive sound system. Then the first fireworks ever shot in midtown Manhattan filled the sky dropping from wires suspended overhead, shooting up from the smoke filled ice skating rink, and shooting off the set backs on 30 Rock Center all timed to the music. As this was happening, a giant Merlin began to stand up from out of the smoke-filled ice rink. In just 100 seconds, a 100 foot tall, highly realistic duplicate of the lead character from the mini-series stood up in the rink holding Excalibur and a glowing crystal ball. As the music died, the crowd of more than 25,000 spectators heard the low rumbling laugh of the Mountain King (James Earl Jones) float over the plaza.
For the next three days, the giant Merlin stood watch over the World of Merlin as more than 250,00 visitors participated in the event. The results were clearly stated in trade publication headlines the following Monday as the audience numbers came in: MERLIN MYSTIFIES 52 MILLION! Due in a large part to the unprecedented publicity generated through the event, Merlin achieved the largest audience for a mini-series in opening sweeps history.