Fictional author “writes” real book: Richard Castle releases “Heat Wave.” Wait, What? | Cultural CritiqueBanner, Cultural Critique — By Bethany Larson on November 9, 2009 at 12:37 am
Meet Richard Castle. He’s a New York Times best-selling author. And he’s not real.
You see, Richard Castle is actually a fictional television character on ABC’s “Castle,” a show about a best-selling murder mystery novelist (Castle, played by Nathan Fillion) with writer’s block. In Season 1, he shadows NYPD detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) to gain inspiration, and ultimately decides to base his new character, Nikki Heat, on her. For the duration of the first season, Castle writes his novel, sleazily titled Heat Wave.
Seeing an interesting marketing opportunity, ABC, in conjunction with Hyperion Books (both owned by the Walt Disney Company), hired a ghostwriter to pen Heat Wave, then published and distributed the book with Richard Castle listed as the author.
The novel was digitally “leaked” one chapter at a time on ABC’s Castle website, which encourages the viewer to download the full chapter for free, before the official release on September 29th. This came eight days after the Season 2 premiere, an episode about Heat Wave’s upcoming release.
Making the book available for purchase at the same time the book within the show would be released blurs the line between television narrative reality and true reality. This suggests that Richard Castle and the entire “Castle” universe are, indeed, real.
To further this idea, there have been Heat Wave book signings with Richard Castle (read: Nathan Fillion) present, despite the fact that Castle is a figment of creator Andrew W. Marlowe’s imagination and it would be preposterous for Castle to actually be present.
And to further, further this idea, Marlowe has stated that specific passages and page numbers from the novel will be referenced in Season 2, making this tangible book and intangible television show incestuously self-reflexive. The pay-off of this is for the true fans who read the novel and tune in each week, because to them it will seem that a big, clever game full of insider information.
As out-of-the-box as ABC’s tactic may be, it seems to be working. Heat Wave debuted on the New York Times Best-seller List at #26, peaked at #6 in week four, and fell to #17 this week. The tactic hasn’t hurt the ratings either, as the show’s viewing audience is steadily increasing each week.
However, ABC isn’t the only network using this type of color-outside-of-the-lines marketing technique to advertise their shows.
In October, FOX announced that the cast of “Glee” will be touring next August before the September premiere of Season 2.
Although this doesn’t seem out of character for FOX since “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance” tour their casts, it is different because “Glee” isn’t a reality competition–it’s a scripted show with actors portraying fictional characters.
In many ways, it seems natural for the “Glee” cast to go on tour–what’s a better way to gain viewers than if they know, first hand, that the cast is truly talented?
But, having a talented group of actors who can sing well go on tour and sing seems more honest (despite the free downloads) than having an actor who plays a writer, but isn’t a writer, go on tour to sign books he didn’t write.
It is, indeed, a strange marketing technique, but one that is proving to be profitable for Disney and fun for die-hard Castle fans. If this marketing technique continues to work, it’s seems safe to bet that there will be many more scripted TV-as-reality campaigns.
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