NBC’s 13 Ways to Hype Sister Company’s Kinky 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

Editor’s Note: Extremely Graphic Content Below.

NBC really wants you to see the kink-fest “Fifty Shades of Grey.” In the week around the release of the film’s BDSM trailer, the network mentioned the movie 13 times for a total of 19 minutes, 12 seconds.

Naturally, NBC’s sister company Focus Features is producing “Fifty Shades.” The network mentioned that just twice.

NBC wasn’t the only media outlet in love with corporate sleaze. Online media outlets rejoiced, “The wait is over!” and praised the “hyper-sexualized glory.” 

The “Fifty Shades of Grey” preview became 2014’s "most viewed trailer" after boasting more than 36 million YouTube views since its July 24 release. Based on the series by E.L. James, the film stars Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey, a BDSM-practicing billionaire. Dakota Johnson costars as Anastasia Steele, a college graduate who serves as his lover. The bondage flick hits theaters just in time for Valentine’s Day: February 13. 

When The Hollywood Reporter acknowledged “Fifty Shades of Grey” as 2014’s "most viewed trailer,"media rushed to report the news. CBS recognized the teaser “steaming up plenty of computer screens” as did other outlets including ElleHarper’s BazaarMarie ClaireCosmopolitanMovie Pilot and Entertainment Tonight. Continues after the trailer.

But the real media love began a bit earlier. To celebrate the trailer’s July 24 debut on NBC’s “Today,” Host Savannah Guthrie interviewed Dornan and Johnson. “No pressure right?” she asked the stars. “Everyone’s read the book.”

Guthrie appeared a big fan of Dornan, telling him how fans “were tweeting me, asking me if I would ask you to do the interview shirtless.” “I'm not going to ask you to do that,” she clarified. “But I just wanted you to know they wanted me to ask you to do that.”

She concluded, “Everyone is really looking forward to the film.”

For the next day’s report, Anchor Natalie Morales took over. Morales, who read the books, similarly interviewed Dornan and Johnson – as well as E.L. James – repeatedly stressing (surprise!) sex. “I gotta ask about the sex,” she told James and later pressed the actors, “people are expecting some steamy sex scenes.”

But Morales acknowledged one essential detail – NBC’s special interest in the film (emphasis added) “You are going to have to wait, Ladies. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ from our sister company Focus Features comes out next February.”

Until then, NBC reports ignored the connection – in stark contrast to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which recommends that journalists:

  • “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.”
  • “Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.”
  •  “Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.”

In all, the “Fifty Shades” hype earned five minutes and 53 seconds from the network the morning of July 25. (Compare that to the two minutes and forty-six seconds spent on the “top story” of the Middle East truce and “ceasefire talk after school attack” where 15 were killed, including children.)

And that segment didn’t end until after Tamron Hall shared viewers’ “awkward stories” while reading the book. One woman, she relayed, said her parents, aged 67 and 76, listened to it together on CD. “Go, parents,” Hall inserted. Another woman’s 10-year-old son asked, “Mom, why are you reading? You don't read.” The mother replied, “Oh, I do now.” Hall again interjected, “Go, Momma.”

Such informational morning news for Americans!

That evening, NBC’s “Nightly News” Host Brian Williams introduced “the steamy book now a steamy film” before noting how, “Our own Savannah Guthrie volunteered for this one.” Guthrie again praised the trailer as “the hottest thing on the internet today”– but this time also acknowledged that it was “released by a division of NBC Universal.”

After the weekend, NBC “Today” Hosts Katie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb hovered over an inflatable “pillow tie” to nap on July 28 and joked, “Is that from "Fifty shades of grey" or something? It’s weird.” During their show on July 24, the hosts also aired a “sanitized” version of the “steamy” trailer.

For ABC’s part, “World News” Host Diane Sawyer claimed about the trailer on July 24, “We know what nearly 2 million of you were doing today: watching this.”

Online Media Embrace ’Fifty Shades,’ As Well

Even online, the nets went berserk. ABC’s Michael Rothman gushed over the “very sexy” trailer. Not to be outdone, NBC’s Gael Fashingbauer Cooper hyped, “Here's what we trust: that "Fifty Shades of Grey" will be a big success.”

Other online outlets, such as Yahoo!’s Kerrie Mitchell acknowledged the “solid tease” while CNN’s Breeanna Hare called it “a racy hint of what's to come.” The Huffington Post’s Jessica Goodmanwarned about the teaser “too hot for television audiences.”

Stressing the anticipation, International Business Times’ Rebecka Schummann announced how, “The day ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ fans have been waiting for has finally arrived” while Parade’s Ashleigh Schmitz similarly rejoiced over the “steamy trailer,” exclaiming, “The wait is over!” USA Today also chimed in, “It's what the Internet's been waiting for. “

Entertainment media also chomped at the bit. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton promised that the trailer “will make you beg for more!” as well as, “make you want to handcuff yourself to your computer, and throw away the key!” For People, Tim Nudd covered the “titillating first trailer” that doesn’t “skimp on the steamy.” E!’s Zach Johnson used the same tone.

MTV’s Shaunna Murphy advertised how the “‘trailer reveals 15 steamy secrets” while Rolling Stone’s Jon Blistein distinguished, “its scintillating, hyper-sexualized glory” and Deadline’s Nancy Tartaglione noted the “hot, hot trailer.”

Entertainment Weekly’s Samantha Highfill attempted to “dissect every inch of this trailer like we’re the dominant and it’s the submissive.”  The Wire, along with Buzzfeeddid the same.

Getting more in depth, Forbes’ Scott Mendelson attacked “Fifty Shades” critics, whining, “No one feels the need to explain why men like Transformers, but we all have to wring our hands over why women enjoy Sex and the City, Twilight, or Fifty Shades of Grey.” 

“The one unconditionally positive aspect of this film,” he explained, “is that it is a female-targeted motion picture that is based on a novel written by a woman, adapted by a female screenwriter (Kelly Marcel) and directed by a female director (Sam Taylor-Johnson)” and hoped the film, “makes a boatload of money next February.”

The Daily Beast’s Alex Chancey celebrated how the, “E.L. James’ novel Fifty Shades of Grey made sexy sexy again.” He continued, “Not only did it put a 21st-century spin on the bodice-rippers your mom used to read in secret, but it made it OK to read them in public.”

Vogue’s Patricia Garcia went so far as to surmise, “Since the film premieres on Valentine’s Day, many couples will be making their way to the theaters together” and gushed that, in the trailer, “we see a hint of the infamous Red Room of Pain, meaning there's hope the film won’t shy away from the mom porn.”

After describing the “bares all” trailer, Mashable’s Neha Prakash also noted, “the moment we've all been waiting for” or “a glimpse at Grey's ‘red room of pain’” – or the BDSM torture chamber. A room “so popular,” MTV’s Shaunna Murphy recognized, that hotels now offer versions of it. “To say that the Red Room has become an iconic staple for ‘Fifty’ fans is an understatement.”

As well as for the media, it appears.

Although not all in the media expressed satisfaction. Some pointed out the trailer wasn’t naughty enough – like TMZ or The Hollywood Gossip.

After all, the book contains some pretty graphic (although ridiculously corny) quotes. Here’s a taste of what all the media hype is about, courtesy of The Daily Beast:

  • “Suddenly, he sits up and tugs my panties off and throws them on the floor. Pulling off his boxer briefs, his erection springs free. Holy cow! … He kneels up and pulls a condom onto his considerable length. Oh no … Will it? How?”
  • “Show me how you pleasure yourself … Keep still … We’re going to have to work on keeping you still, baby … Let’s see if we can make you come like this … You’re so deliciously wet. God, I want you … I’m going to fuck you now, Miss Steele … Hard ... Come for me, Ana.”
  • “I pull him deeper into my mouth so I can feel him at the back of my throat and then to the front again. My tongue swirls around the end. He’s my very own Christian Grey-flavored popsicle. I suck harder and harder … Hmm … My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.”
  • “He throws his right leg over both mine and plants his left forearm on the small of my back, holding me down so I cannot move … He places his hand on my naked behind, softly fondling me, stroking around and around with his flat palm. And then his hand is no longer there … and he hits me—hard.”
  • “At the touch of leather, I quiver and gasp. He walks around me again, trailing the crop around the middle of my body. On his second circuit, he suddenly flicks the crop, and it hits me underneath my behind … against my sex … The shock runs through me, and it’s the sweetest, strangest, hedonistic feeling … My body convulses at the sweet, stinging bite. My nipples harden and elongate from the assault, and I moan loudly, pulling on my leather cuffs.”

As one entertainment reporter joked on TMZ’s show July 24, “You know, ladies, There’s actually a movie out like this alright. It's called porn, and there’s lots of it online.”

But hey, why focus on issues like the economy when there’s garbage like this to cover?

— Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie Yoder on Twitter.

Katie Yoder's picture