HEAT WAVE: Castle’s Best-Selling Strategy

We’re witnessing a creative peak in the TV industry. And I don’t mean just great plotlines and characters. In the days of TIVO and Hulu, TV executives have had to get creative to make up for lost advertising dollars.

Perhaps the most brilliant example of TV execs thinking outside the "box" to generate revenue is ABC’s "Castle." "Castle" stars Nathan Fillion (of cult and Hulu hit "Firefly") as a rich and incorrigible bestselling author who’s called in by an NYPD homicide detective (Stana Katic) to help solve a series of copycat murders based on his books. While helping with the case, Castle realizes Detective Beckett is the perfect muse for his next series of mysteries. He pulls some strings and arranges to shadow Beckett’s cases for what the producers likely hope will be seven or more seasons.

The brilliant part comes in when, on September 29th, a week after the release of the first season DVD set, the book Castle wrote during the first season was released in real life. Heat Wave, written by the quite fictitious Richard Castle, was an instant New York Times Best Seller. Currently ranked at #11 on the Times list, it has been high as #6 on both there and on Amazon. The show itself does a wonderful blend of mixing reality with fantasy as real-life novelists James Patterson, Stephen J. Cannell, and Michael Connelly have appeared on the show as Castle’s poker buddies. In the real world, all three have offered up quotes promoting Heat Wave. Patterson even compares the work to Castle’s earlier (and, yes, fictitious) series of Derek Storm novels. While all three authors clearly get the joke, you have to wonder if it seems slightly less funny to Patterson and Connelly when their own novels are ranked lower on the Times list than their imaginary pal Castle’s is.

The real beauty of the story of Heat Wave is that it’s about much more than merely making money. It’s about creating new ways, deeper ways, for fans to bond with the brand. Until now, audiences bonded with each other over the shared experience of watching a TV series. With Heat Wave, viewers can share experiences with characters in the show. When Detective Beckett makes a night of settling into a hot bath with the steamy book, viewers, if they’re so inclined, can create the same pruney experience for themselves. Specific page numbers are even called out on screen. Page 105, where the detective and writer in the book finally succumb to the growing "heat wave" between them, will likely be the first page many fans jump to.

And that brings us to another brilliant element of publishing Heat Wave as if written by Richard Castle. Since the characters in the book are stand-ins for Castle and Becket on the series, the book gives the series writers the opportunity to get the characters together (albeit by proxy) without "jumping the shark." At long last we have a show that not only brings back the delicious chemistry and rapid-fire banter we loved on "Moonlighting," the writers have found an ingenious way to satisfy the audience’s desire to see the two leads get together without breaking the romantic tension that makes the show work.

The people behind the show understand how to delight their audience. Whether it’s having their hero dress as his "Firefly" character for Halloween, or delivering a best-selling novel, they know it’s good business to give your fans gifts. And, it doesn’t hurt when it’s a gift they want so much they clamor to buy it for themselves.

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