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6 Marvelously Misguided Promotions

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I know, I know ... it's not easy launching a new product, or getting new customers to drop by your establishment for the first time, or advertising a movie. But if there's one lesson I've learned from these misguided promotions, it's that not all publicity is necessarily good publicity.

6. The CashTomato riot

Take, for example, the near-riot caused in NYC's Union Square when an upstart YouTube competitor called Cash Tomato started handing out tomatoes wrapped in dollar bills:

(By the way, I would've embedded Cashtomato.com's "top-rated" version of this video, but it wasn't loading ... does that qualify as ironic?)

5. Sam Adams Kids Night

My friend Phil spotted this in a Denver, CO bar. I guess it's possible they were just trying to save money by advertising two promotions on the same sign ...

4. Sony's Dead Goat Fiasco

The Daily Mail headline reads thusly: "Horror at Sony's depraved promotion stunt with decapitated goat."

"The corpse of the decapitated animal was the centrepiece of a party to celebrate the launch of the God Of War II game for the company's PlayStation 2 console. At the event, guests competed to see who could eat the most offal "“ procured elsewhere and intended to resemble the goat's intestines "“ from its stomach. They also threw knives at targets and pulled live snakes from a pit with their bare hands. Topless girls added to the louche atmosphere by dipping grapes into guests' mouths, while a male model portraying Kratos, the game's warrior hero, handed out garlands. The firm refused to say how the goat died. It is unusual for animals in modern Greece to be killed by having their throats cut, let alone by being decapitated."

Sounds like a helluva party. Here's a picture (with the goat's bloody stump tastefully pixelated):
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3. Thomas Edison Seance Night

Growing up in South Florida, I was often reminded that inventor Thomas Edison spent his waning years in the sleepy seaside community of Fort Myers -- though something those civic boosters never mentioned was that Edison was an avid spiritualist who many times tried to communicate with the dead. This oddity wasn't lost on baseball executive Mike Veeck, who exploited it as a truly weird promotion for Fort Myers' baseball team, the Miracle. He describes the result:

"My first year in Fort Myers, Fla., we tried to call up the ghost of Thomas Edison. I got the idea when I was driving around one day and saw a sign for a spiritual advisor. We negotiated with her and she agreed to do it. The night of the game she had a sky blue gown on and we took her to home plate and she started to channel. As you might imagine, the ballpark crowd was very tough on this lady. It became like a chain-gang spiritual. She would say in a guttural voice, 'I can't reach you.' And some guy would yell, 'Tom's over here, lady!' As people left the stadium I heard someone say something that I loved. 'That was the stupidest thing I ever saw, but boy, was it funny.'"

Not exactly a disaster, but definitely weird.

2. Harvard's Roman Orgy Dance Party

Dubbed the "Decadenza," it was a reference to Rome's wild orgies. The party's slogan was "Freshman girls free" (as in free admission, though this was left intentionally vague), and they were called "vestal virgins" for the evening. (This reminds me, in spirit at least, of a seriously misguided frat party at USC a few years ago: the theme was "run for the border," and decorations included razor wire and makeshift fences, and people came dressed as border guards. Nice.) Needless to say, there was much flap about the promotion, decried as sleazy and shameless in the Harvard Crimson and elsewhere. I mean really, how much work do you have to do to get college kids to come and drink at a party?

1. Mission: Impossible III

You've probably all heard about this, but it deserves a hallowed place in the pantheon of misguided promotions nonetheless. Just before the movie came out, 4,500 randomly selected LA Times newspaper boxes were fitted with devices that would play the Mission: Impossible theme song when the box's door was opened (which according to Paramount Pictures was "designed to turn the 'everyday news rack experience' into an 'extraordinary mission.'")
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Perhaps inevitably, some people found the newspaper boxes a little too extraordinary; see those guys in the picture above? They aren't movie fans ... they're the LA County bomb squad. Apparently, some of the 4,500 digital musical devices jarred loose from the inside of the door and fell onto the stack of newspapers. A little plastic box with red wires protruding ... not suspicious at all! Above is the last photo ever taken of the newspaper box in question -- it was blown up by the bomb squad minutes later. Mission accomplished.

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Pop Culture
The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox
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entertainment
20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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