A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
In what has been one of the most spirited and busy Emmy-campaign seasons in memory, maybe ever, the moment of truth, at least first truth, is nearing as the Television Academy opens the polls Monday — online only, folks — for the roughly 25,000-member group, the majority of whom are eligible to vote on nominations for the 71st annual Emmy Awards.
The money has been flowing freely, particularly from streamers like Netflix who have turned the pursuit of these golden statuettes into blood sport. The company has again won the prize for sending out the largest number of DVD screeners, several pounds worth, which is ironic for a streaming service that prides itself on the downloading experience and swore off the hard stuff years ago. But as Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos told me last year, he would only give up sending out screeners when everyone else gave up the practice so as not to be at a competitive disadvantage.
No one gave it up this time around, but a major see change is upon us as the TV Academy has dictated that 2019 is the last year for the practice, and physical screeners will no longer be sent. Those who don’t know the difference between uploading and downloading are simply out of luck starting next Emmy season (which for all intents and purposes starts Sunday when last year’s big winner Big Little Lies returns).
The move was made, the Academy says, because the sheer volume of discs and box sets was out of control, and many members even opt out, leaving tons of the stuff piled up in Academy offices. I can see what they mean: As a voting member, I currently have a leaning tower of Pisa made of Emmy screeners threatening to tip over at any moment, But I have to say there is value in being able to physically see these DVD boxes because it reminds me what I might want to really watch, or have completely forgotten about in the sheer tsunami of viewing options voters are bombarded with this time of year. And for me, there is still something about having a tangible item available for that reason.
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Screeners for Emmy season aren’t nearly as necessary as they are for Oscar season since all this stuff is available on TV anyway, especially if you are in the industry, which is what we must assume makes up the majority of TV Academy members. Nevertheless, without those physical screeners we have so grown accustomed to, I will probably not be as focused on what the networks, studios, and streamers are hocking next year. At least outside of what I do professionally as Deadline’s awards columnist, rather than as a long-time (and I mean long time) Emmy voter.
The Television Academy has been pushing its own Viewing Platform designed for several different devices from Roku to Apple TV to Androids, giving detailed directions to follow to access each depending on what options your TV has in the first place. Then there is the added element of Chromecasting, which is another set of instructions as to how to get a picture from your iPhone or iPad up on to your 85-inch screen. For me, and I guarantee you I am not alone, the thought of dealing with this or any of the other plastic cards sent by campaigns with their own set of instructions, passwords to remember, etc., is akin to putting together IKEA furniture.
At Deadline’s packed Emmy party Monday night I was talking to Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, former SNL writers and creators of Comedy Central’s new series The Other Two, and this subject came up. They mentioned that even for their show, their boss Lorne Michaels insists they burn off DVDs so he can watch it. No newfangled technology for an Emmy magnet like him, apparently. God help the older members who fondly recall the days when all you had to do was switch your TV on and off.
As if the landscape of Los Angeles, where the bulk of voters live, isn’t cluttered enough with For Your Consideration billboards, bus shelters, light pole banners, etc., etc., next year sans physical screeners this kind of reminder advertising (including sites like Deadline) will be even more crucial in getting contenders to stand out in the crowd.
Right now the most effective billboard campaign I have come across is one that I have a completely negative visceral reaction to, yet it has me talking about it over any other campaign gambit — and in this case writing about it — so I guess that is what Comedy Central was going for in its effort to bring this year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Green Book, smack into an attempt to get votes for The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.
The ad line says in big letters, DON’T GREEN BOOK THIS ONE, GUYS. If you are baffled as to just what that is supposed to mean, join the club. Immediately after it went up all over town last week, I got emails from those in and outside Universal — which released the film that won three Oscars overall — who had worked on the movie in some capacity, claiming it was a hit on the film. You might recall Green Book sparked controversy in different circles with some complaining it was not Oscar-worthy for various reasons. There was also wide belief that the film was the subject of a dirty-tricks campaign by rivals determined to see it go down.
I suggested that perhaps the Trevor Noah ad was a reference to that aspect — you know, “don’t pull any dirty tricks on my Emmy campaign like you did with Green Book” sort of thing. That was too generous as it turned out, and wasn’t the case as was explained in an interview Noah did with our sister site Variety after the billboards sprouted up.
“There were a few instances of early Oscar voters who said post the awards, they hadn’t even watched the other movies, or they voted for ‘Green Book’ just because they were angry that people said they shouldn’t vote for ‘Green Book,’ ” Noah told the trade. “So it was an interesting moment where some people were using an Oscars vote as a protest vote or as a statement. And then people expressed a bit of regret after…The reason the billboard connects with people is because we tapped into a vein that clearly exists. What we tapped into here is the whole fight that people are having about what should have won, what could have won and what didn’t win.”
Yeah, right. That answer is completely nonsensical, and I am afraid most people who encounter the ad won’t have the slightest idea that convoluted reason is what it is supposed to mean. I made no secret of my admiration for Green Book, which not only won the top Oscar but also Best Picture prizes from the Golden Globes, National Board of Review and the Producers Guild. It was my No. 1 choice on my own 10-best list, and based on my admittedly nonscientific polling of Oscar voters was easily a winner for them. I predicted it. Taking on something like this is underestimating the love for that film among potential voters for your own show, Trevor Noah. In my book it only finds Green Book once again, and surprisingly this time, the victim of more negative campaigning in the middle of an Emmy race it has nothing to do with. “Can you believe we are still dealing with this?” one Universal publicist told me over the weekend.
At last night’s AFI Life Achievement Award dinner for Denzel Washington, I got a chance to talk with Mahershala Ali, who won his second Supporting Actor Oscar for the movie, and I asked him about the billboard. He didn’t really know what it was supposed to mean either, but said the whole experience of the Green Book campaign was a uniquely interesting one for him in many ways, but that the Oscar means every bit as much as the one he won for Moonlight two years earlier. He deserved it, indeed, and don’t be surprised if he becomes that rare actor to pick up an Oscar and Emmy in the same year, the latter for his mesmerizing work in HBO’s True Detective.
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In addition to voting about to commence for the Emmys, the big awards news this weekend centers on Sunday’s Tony Awards, which my colleague Greg Evans has been covering in detail for the past few weeks. It is not an entirely predictable year in terms of the way things will go when envelopes are opened, but I will throw my 2 cents in regarding a few of the categories since I have had a Broadway blitz a couple of times this season, particularly among the musicals — although I saw Elaine May in the now-closed The Waverly Gallery and she is a lock for Leading Actress in a Play.
Nominations leader Hadestown with 14 nods would seem to be the frontrunner for Best Musical, and it is indeed a brilliant show that certainly is in line with the way Tony voters have been going in recent years with more ambitious shows than the usual popular Broadway fare (The Band’s Visit, which won 10 Tonys last year, has already closed). I have to confess though I would be even more pleased to see a deliriously funny return to classic musical comedy with a contemporary twist emerge as the underdog champ, and that would be The Prom. The Temptations jukebox musical, Ain’t Too Proud and the musical version of Tootsie both have their moments, but actually the one show most observers give no chance to in this category, Beetlejuice, I thought was a real hoot and I actually wouldn’t be upset if it pulled off a shocker — but don’t count on it.
In the musical revival category, my choice would be the more traditional but really fun reboot of Kiss Me Kate with the splendid Kelli O’Hara, but it doesn’t have a prayer against the hipper reinvention of Oklahoma!, which has a great cast and a nice country twang to that immortal Rodgers and Hammerstein score, but also has a disastrous take on the famed Agnes DeMille ballet that opens the second act (and stops the show but not in a good way), as well as pretentiously putting the audience in the dark for a couple of poor Judd’s scenes. The blood-soaked finale was a downer too, but you do have to give it props for trying something different. Serving chili to the entire audience at intermission probably sealed the deal for Tony voters.
Finally, though neither shockingly or inexplicably were nominated in the Best Play category (probably because the iconic film versions were front of mind for the Tony nominating committee), To Kill a Mockingbird and Network represent the most intriguing matchup of the night. It pits Jeff Daniels playing Atticus Finch in the former and Bryan Cranston playing Howard Beale in the latter who are also reliving a former Emmy rivalry when Daniels starred in The Newsroom and Cranston was playing Walter White in Breaking Bad.
In 2013, Daniels topped previous three-time winner Cranston to take the Best Actor in a Drama Series crown away from him, but in 2014 Cranston returned in his final season and stole it back from Daniels. What will happen Sunday? My guess is Cranston does it again and wins his second Tony. Both Howard Beale and Atticus Finch are iconic movie roles, and Peter Finch and Gregory Peck, respectively, won Best Actor Oscars for them. So maybe we just flip a coin on this one instead?
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