Paul Brownfield is an AwardsLine contributor
Decorum holds that during For Your Consideration season, it’s important for campaigners to make sure TV Academy members know how special a series’ last season has been, while flattering its show creator by spending generously to help win a statuette—whether it’s the first or the fifth.
In an effort to position Mad Men toward an all-time record fifth drama win, the Emmy campaigners behind Matthew Weiner’s AMC series decided that voters needed something more than the high-end mailer they were already receiving. So they invited TV Academy members to a screening of the show’s season finale on June 10, the day the episode was set to air. Overnight, there were more RSVPs than seats, according to Murray Weissman, the veteran campaigner whose PR firm, Weissman/Markovitz, is consulting for AMC.
The 5 p.m. screening, at the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre, was followed by a Q&A and reception with Weiner and some of the cast.
“We’re big believers of doing special events for academy members,” Weissman says. “To see a television show on a large screen is a treat.”
The road to an Emmy nomination was less clear for another highly-regarded AMC drama, Breaking Bad. True, the series had been nominated in the category three years in a row, 2008-10. But after sitting out last year’s Emmys because of its broadcast schedule (Season 4 aired in summer 2011, an eon ago), Breaking Bad was heading into the pre-nom phase with powerhouse HBO shows Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, in addition to newcomers like Showtime’s gripping terrorist-themed Homeland, Starz’s political drama Boss, and PBS’ drawing-room soap Downton Abbey, which won in the miniseries category last year. Add to the potential nominees network shows like The Good Wife on CBS and NBC’s freshman musical extravaganza Smash, and there was a real campaign traffic jam.
That’s why Weissman lobbied for AMC to break with tradition and send out all 13 episodes of Breaking Bad’s season—as opposed to a representative sampling of two episodes or even six—so that the voters could see the show’s entire season arc.
Related: EMMYS: The Drama Race
Weissman believes in the “whole enchilada” of FYC campaigning—billboards, print and online ads, special events, online screening rooms—but says, “What’s the most important thing of all? It’s that Emmy mailer.”
The gambit worked, with Breaking Bad picking up 13 nominations, including one for best drama. Sending out the complete season also cost more money (nearly $20,000 in TV Academy fees alone, never mind the cost of packaging, mailing, and disc duplication). AMC and studio partner Lionsgate did the same for Mad Men, sending out the last six episodes in a separate mailer after they’d all aired.
AMC—which secured 34 nominations, up from 29 a year ago—declined to put an executive on the phone to discuss the network’s Emmy campaigning, as did Lionsgate. A spokesman at 20th Century Fox Television, the studio behind Homeland and ABC’s Modern Family, did not respond to several interview requests. Among those smelling Emmy recognition, it seems, it is one thing to spend big trying to get nominations and quite another to discuss how you do it.
Such is the attitude at HBO, the perennial leader in Emmy gets. This year, HBO once again got the most nominations of any network, 81, and its mailer, coincidentally or not, looked a lot like AMC’s—a boxed set of merch (Starz, which also sent out a fancy boxed set of DVDs, was nearly shut out of an Emmy nomination, something of a surprise given that Kelsey Grammer, star of the network’s Boss, got a 2011 Golden Globe for playing a gritty Chicago mayor).
Both AMC and Starz added glossy booklets in their mailers, a perk that won’t be allowed next year under new guidelines dictating that screeners “will not be accepted with any additional marketing materials or elaborate packaging,” according to the new specs—a rule Oscar campaigners know all too well.
The campaign against waste will also shrink the size of the mailers, heading off, say, the vintage metal lunchbox in which the Food Network packed its DVDs this year or the wedding-invitation-like sleeves in which others packaged their screeners.
Of course, the TV Academy has no say over how much studios spend on billboards, print and online advertising, and live events, which can cost anywhere from $100,000 to more than $1 million.
“I had this moment when I was meeting someone for lunch, driving down Sunset. Every other billboard was an Emmy-related billboard,” says Richard Licata, NBC’s senior vice president of communications.
Licata, a veteran HBO and Showtime FYC noise-maker, made the creation of a new iPad app the centerpiece of his campaign for NBC, enabling voters to access episodes and clip packages (highlighting, for instance, Tina Fey’s performance on 30 Rock) with the touch of a finger.
If the consensus for a number of years has been that streaming is a must, no one is certain how much of the TV Academy has migrated their viewing habits to devices. Screening rooms are still de rigueur, but Licata figured his app would appeal to upscale voters who’ve become more integrated with their iPads, and he says that some 5,000 members downloaded the app.
Weissman, for one, is more a proponent of the disc than the app. “It’s right there, like a hardcover book,” he says of DVDs.
But with so many cable networks in the original programming business and so many shows vying for a nomination (151 in all, 87 dramas, and 64 comedies), can voters be expected to seriously consider them all?
“Look at all the networks that are legitimate players in the awards business,” noted John Solberg, senior vice president of communications at FX, whose miniseries American Horror Story tied Mad Men for most nominations with 17.
In addition to American Horror Story, FX focused its campaigning on the dramas Sons of Anarchy and Justified, to no avail, and the sitcom Louie, which earned star and creator Louis C.K. three nominations (for directing, writing, and acting), but not one for best comedy. Still, Solberg says, “People generally feel the TV Academy got it right this year.”
The special FYC issue of Emmy magazine, which came out in June, clocked in at nearly 300 pages. Some of the most eye-catching ads were for series that had no reasonable chance in their categories. “Emmy goes Army,” read the tagline for Lifetime’s Army Wives FYC ad, which featured the wives posed seductively in camouflage body stockings. USA had a centerfold ad spread for its shows, including Suits and Necessary Roughness, and a noticeable amount of billboards, but received no nominations.
“I think the Emmys is only a third of this whole thing,” says John Leverence, senior vice president of awards at the TV Academy, referring to the billboard and print ad glut. He pointed out the triangulating marketing forces at play—May sweeps, the debut of summer series, and the politicking for an Emmy nomination.
With a relatively small FYC footprint, PBS’ Downton Abbey scored 16 Emmy nominations. The campaign focus for Downton Abbey was unique in that the series moved from the miniseries category to drama. So while studio partners Carnival Films and PBSd, the commercial arm of PBS, took out FYC ads, the push was more on editorial—getting stories out there explaining why Downton Abbey was competing in the best drama category.
After the nominating ballots went out in June, Showtime offered a free three-day window dubbed “Best in Sho,” featuring marathon runs of its series, including Homeland (nine nominations) and Nurse Jackie (five nominations). History went hard after Emmy love for its first-ever scripted miniseries, Hatfields & McCoys. Starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, Hatfields racked up 16 nominations. “We decided to go all out. We really said, ‘Let’s make this our big push for Emmys,’ ” says Dirk Hoogstra, senior vice president of programming and development at History. That included the gamut—billboards, online ads, and print ads in the trades.
IFC, in the midst of rebranding itself as the indie alternative to Comedy Central, saw its sketch series Portlandia get two nominations in the variety series category. The network’s campaign mimicked the ad hoc sensibility of the show, which stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein doing a host of characters endemic to Portland.
Portlandia’s screening room on IFC.com had a video from Portland’s actual mayor, Sam Adams, urging voters to recognize the show, and the DVD mailer featured a map of Portland, with the tagline, “Just North of Hollywood. Worth a Trip. Worth an Emmy.”
“I know that other people spend well north of a million,” says Blake Callaway, IFC’s head of marketing. By comparison, he says, “we were just so significantly south of that number, we basically walked around with tin cups trying to figure out how to get this done.”
One executive at a pay-cable network notes the high demand this year for creative talent to sit in on Emmy roundtables, between the TV Academy events, the trade-publication-sponsored events, and online videos for the Los Angeles Times. “As an observer of the industry, it’s hard to know who’s pushing who,” the executive says.