By: Tara DeGeorges at 07:50 pm
If you were in New York City this past Saturday, you might have spotted a unique marketing stunt HBO pulled off to promote the second season premiere of its period drama Boardwalk Empire. The network teamed up with the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority to treat subway passengers to a ride on a vintage subway train, formerly in operation on NYC’s Interborough Rapid Transit System from 1917 – 1960′s. The train was the ideal vehicle for promoting Empire, a series that like New York’s transit system, is equal parts grit and nostalgic glamor.
After spotting an announcement on Facebook, I quickly added the Boardwalk Empire nostalgia train to my Saturday to-do list. In fact, I caught the first ride of the day. Rather than enjoying the momentary time travel as the train zipped from one express stop to another, I ran around like a loon snapping iPhone photos of everything in the car: period appropriate advertisements, Boardwalk Empire signage, rattan seats and working ceiling fans.
Having worked in the TV industry for eight years, I thought I was immune to television marketing. Sure, I could ride the Boardwalk Empire nostalgia train but I would do it because a) I love creaky old things b) I had a childhood fascination with Lionel trains and c) I needed to get downtown. There was no way that this expensive, well-executed marketing stunt would work on me. In fact, I had already watched the greater part of Boardwalk‘s first season and couldn’t develop a loyalty to the series. While the show looked beautiful, I found the plot sluggish and the dialogue oddly contemporary. Also, the sound of Paz de la Huerta‘s voice gave me the sensation of an ice cream headache and smashing my funny bone all at once.
But something funny happened on that train. Maybe it was the musty tunnel smell that filled the open air car or the flickering, exposed light bulbs overhead that bewitched me. Somewhere between West 96th street and Times Square, I started thinking that maybe I didn’t give Boardwalk Empire enough of a chance. Maybe the show was actually brilliant, and I wasn’t mature enough of a viewer to really appreciate it. Or like 30 Rock, the show wasn’t strong early on, but with some revamping, was now a revelation. I mean, how could I not like a show that starred Steve Buscemi and the megachic fashion of the ’20s?
By the time I deboarded the train at Times Square, HBO had converted me. I was putty in their crafty marketing hands. Not only would I go home later in the day and DVR the season two premiere of Empire, but I promptly uploaded a photo of the train ride to Facebook and as evidenced here, wrote about the stunt.
HBO will be running the Boardwalk Empire train on New York City’s 2/3 express subway line during weekends in September. Not able to hitch a ride on the nostalgia train? Check out the Boardwalk Empire season two trailer and see for yourself if the show is worthy of your Sunday TV lineup. Boardwalk Empire Season 2 premieres Sunday, September 25 at 9PM EST.