By William J. Kelly -
CHICAGO - Last week, CNN kicked off its national promotional campaign for “Chicagoland,” the unscripted reality TV series starring Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin and executive producer Robert Redford created the series.
Regarding the series, Redford gushed with praise for the former White House Chief of Staff who has had- until now – a reputation for viciousness.
Nicknamed the “Godfather,” Emanuel is known for his temper and vindictive displays. He once sent a dead fish to a pollster who was late in delivering poll results. At a post-election dinner in 1996, Emanuel reportedly plunged a stake into a table and rattled off the names of his enemies shouting, “Dead! Dead! Dead!”
But that’s not quite the portrait Redford paints when describing his portrayal of Emanuel and his role in the series:
“The vibrant culture and opportunities inherent in this 21st century, world-class city run alongside profound daily challenges. Much of it falls on the shoulders of its tough, visionary mayor [Rahm Emanuel], his team and people doing heroic work in neighborhoods throughout the city,” Redford said in a CNN press statement.
For an unpopular Chicago mayor like Emanuel, this series could have all the makings of a national political rebrand.
And it apparently has a million-dollar ad campaign featuring Emanuel to boot.
According to a Chicago Transit Authority spokesperson, 195 king-sized billboards bearing Emanuel’s image are running on CTA buses through March 22nd at a cost of approximately $100,000. The spokesperson said CNN was purchasing bus and rail ads in other markets but could not provide further details.
In addition to the CTA bus ads, giant billboards (photo right) of Emanuel also appear on buildings and on digital signage throughout Chicagoland. CNN’s press office did not respond to a request for comment about the total size of the national ad buy for Emanuel’s “Chicagoland” series. However, even a 10 or 20 city promotional buy would cost – by these estimates – upwards of several million dollars.
The timing of the series’ release also deserves question. Emanuel is up for re-election in Chicago in February 2015 and his Chicago approval numbers are in the tank.
According to the most recent Crain’s/Ipsos Poll taken last fall:
Just 2 percent of Chicagoans surveyed said they strongly approve of the mayor’s job performance, with 12 percent somewhat approving and 5 percent leaning that way. At the opposite end, 13 percent strongly disapprove, 9 percent somewhat disapprove and 13 percent lean toward disapproval.
In Chicago, that gives Mr. Emanuel a net minus 16 rating, down from the plus 4 he had in September, when 37 percent approved and 33 percent disapproved.
Chicago election attorney James Nally says Illinois law does not prevent or inhibit this promotion of Emanuel. “There is no equal time rule in Illinois. Equal time is federal.”
And Emanuel is not a federal candidate – not yet at least.
That Levin and Benjamin are also agency clients of Rahm Emanuel’s brother Ari, the co-CEO of WMA has also raised eyebrows. Due to these conflicts-of-interests, WME did not represent the “Chicagoland” directors in their negotiations with CNN. It is not known whether WME still took its agency fee from the CNN contract since the directors are under contract.
The eight-part documentary series airs every Thursday beginning March 6, 2014, with repeats on Saturdays and Sunday nights.
For Emanuel, the CNN prelude to his re-election effort and accompanying ad campaign could not have come at more politically opportune time.
William J. Kelly is a television producer and conservative columnist. He currently hosts “Power Player” on Tribune’s 24-hour news channel CLTV.