Vote of the Week: What's the best way to promote theme parks on TV shows?

May 23, 2014, 11:20 AM · Being part of major media corporations, the Disney and Universal theme parks enjoy abundant resources to promote their attractions. Both Disney and Universal frequently use their sister television networks — ABC for Disney and NBC for Universal — to draw public attention to their resorts. But in recent years, Disney and Universal have taken slightly different approaches in promoting their parks on TV.

The Today Show's Al Roker in Diagon Alley

Last week, Universal used NBC's morning talk show, "Today," to promote the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter, coming next month to Universal Studios Florida. The week of the new land's big media event, NBC is sending its "Tonight Show" to Universal Orlando to tape a week's worth of shows, which surely will feature abundant references to the new Harry Potter-themed attractions, as well as other offerings at the resort.

Over on Disney's ABC, the network just sent the family from its sitcom "The Middle" on a Disney World vacation, broadcasting episodes filmed at the parks and promoting many of their features, including even the new MagicBands. That's just the latest in a long tradition of ABC filming prime-time TV shows at Disney theme parks, from sending "Modern Family" to Disneyland a couple seasons ago all the way back to the sending the old "TGIF" Friday-night sitcom lineup to Walt Disney World in the early 1990s.

Using TV shows to promote theme parks is nothing new, of course. While Universal's been using talk shows to promote its parks, the tradition of using television to hype theme parks dates back to Walt Disney himself, and the "Disneyland" TV show he hosted on ABC to drum up interest in the Anaheim park before it opened. While Disney's been using fictional sitcoms to promote its parks in recent years, the company actually didn't start that trend. The first "theme park episode" for a sitcom might be the old "Cincinnati Kids" episode of "The Brady Bunch" from 1973.

Which approach do you prefer? Personally, I find the use of talk shows and other non-fiction programs to promote parks a little more straight-forward. It's a plug, and those are media designed for people to plug things. Working a theme park plug into a sitcom too often feels more unnatural, like one of those scenes in The Truman Show where a character suddenly breaks the fourth wall to pitch some product.

But there's huge appeal in seeing characters you know from a sitcom you follow actually standing in the same place you've visited, doing the same things you've done. These days, living in the Los Angeles area where so many TV shows and movies are filmed, I still get a kick when I see a show that features my kids' school buildings or a street near our home. So of course I love seeing my favorite parks on TV, too.

It's Vote of the Week time.

In the comments, please tell us about some of your favorite (or least favorite) theme park cameo appearance on TV or in movies. And, as always, thank you for reading for being part of the Theme Park Insider community!

Replies (8)

May 23, 2014 at 2:07 PM · I love them both. The thing about talk shows is they are overdone. ABC's daytime morning and talk shows went to Disneyland/Disney World so many times, it is almost obligatory. I did enjoy it when Regis & Kathie Lee and later Kelly Ripa traveled to Orlando or Anaheim. It was terrific. Of course, who can forget the ultimate Vacation movie at Wally World (Six Flags Magic Mountain). This was iconic.

Disney specials weren't what they used to be. There is no more Disney hour on Sunday.

My memory isn't so good with the sitcoms. I recalled The Roseanne Show went to Disney World. It wasn't that great.

Try this link.

May 23, 2014 at 3:48 PM · Boy Meets World Disney World episode
May 23, 2014 at 10:33 PM · Every show on ABC had a Disney episode... except Desperate Housewives.
May 24, 2014 at 10:33 AM · I'm a huge fan of The Brady Bunch Kings Island episode. It has become a theme park classic in its own right, and the footage they shot there is really the best document we have of what the park looked like at that time. It's hard to know now what other TV show will conjure that type of nostalgia 30 years down the road, but I know it won't be a morning talk show. For example, I love watching the old episodes of "The Wonderful World of Disney" where Walt basically promotes upcoming attractions at his park. I have a hard time believing that the vapid musings of "Good Morning America" will be of any interest down the road.
May 24, 2014 at 10:44 AM · I remembered way back when "Diff'rent Strokes" did a promo for Universal Studios. Season 6: 1983-84 episodes 16 & 17 "Hooray for Hollywood"

May 24, 2014 at 1:59 PM · Regular factual shows would be nice. They wouldn't have to be very long. Maybe a ride a show.
May 26, 2014 at 8:09 AM · Let us not forget the Disney Christmas Parade. It is a GIANT Disney Park ad!
May 26, 2014 at 9:25 PM · I love Disney themed episodes of ABC shows. Never saw The Middle before, but tuned in because they were going to Disney.

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