LOS ANGELES – When taped remarks from Roy Horn were played for a recent gathering in New York, the Las Vegas magician recovering from a near fatal tiger mauling was met with respectful silence.

Silence, too, greeted what followed in the NBC sales presentation to Madison Avenue: Clips of “Father of the Pride,” an animated comedy based on Horn and partner Siegfried Fischbacher’s act, failed to draw laughs.

In a New York minute, bad buzz had started humming for one of NBC’s highest-profile fall series.

“”King of the Pride’ is DOA,” was the headline the following day (May 18) in an online newsletter distributed by industry analyst Jack Myers.

“The animated series was in far worse shape” than Horn, Myers wrote, “and the reaction of NBC’s advertising clients was so negative that it’s unlikely the program will last on NBC’s schedule.”

In assessing advertiser response to new series, USA Today reported last week that “Joey,” NBC’s “Friends” spinoff, could strike gold but that several unidentified media buyers had doubts about “Father of the Pride.”

The comedy represents a high-stakes gamble as part of the prime-time animation genre that, aside from a few Fox shows like “The Simpsons,” has largely flopped. It’s also costly, at up to a reported $2.5 million per episode.

NBC isn’t conceding any weakness in the series or its chances of success, according to Jeff Zucker, president of the NBC Universal Television Group.

But he acknowledged a marketing misstep at the annual “upfront” presentation, which allows media-buying firms and advertisers to peek at new series before placing preseason orders for ad time.

“I think we did a very poor job of putting the clips together at the upfront, and I think that didn’t work and that was our fault,” he told The Associated Press. “But the fact is that anyone who has seen the show as a whole … the reaction is fantastic.”

After screening four completed episodes, he said, the network ordered the final “back nine” scripts of a full 22-episode order.

“With all due respect, none of those (post-upfront) comments matter. What matters is when they see the show as a whole,” Zucker said.

He said that after last year’s New York presentation, buyers decreed NBC’s “Las Vegas” was a loser. The series starring James Caan as a casino boss proved to be the 2003-04 season’s highest-rated new drama.

The network also may have erred in including Horn as part of the program. Although the entertainer is making a remarkable recovery, his condition (including paralysis in one hand) clearly dampened the New York audience’s mood.

The pedigree for “Father of the Pride” is impeccable: DreamWorks is the studio behind “Shrek 2,” the animated film setting box-office records as it more than repeats the success of the original.

The TV comedy is an edgy, satirical take on Siegfried and Roy, their Las Vegas stage act and the notion that their show animals lead routine domestic lives with a touch of Vegas kitsch.

The “stars” are easygoing Larry the white lion, voiced by John Goodman; his sensible mate Kate (Cheryl Hines of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), their two offspring and Kate’s overbearing dad (Carl Reiner).

Siegfried and Roy are voiced by Julian Holloway and Dave Herman.


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