Notes On The Season – Emmys: Campaigning Tops All Other Years; Janet McTeer On Her Superpowers; Will Angela Lansbury Finally Get A Break?

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A column chronicling conversations and events on the Emmy season awards circuit.

If you are a member of the Television Academy, as I am, it seems like this Emmy campaign season is never going to end. But Phase One finally will start to phase out beginning Monday, when voting goes live for two weeks for this year’s 70th annual Primetime Emmy Award nominations. That means the campaigns that have been going full throttle since even before the Oscar season ended (the TV Academy lists the official FYC promotion period as January 1-June 9) will start to wind down as the roughly 21,000 voters cast their ballots for what they think is the best this television year (eligibility is June 1, 2017-May 31, 2018).

I got my first FYC event notice through the TV Academy on February 15 for the Errol Morris Documentary Wormwood, three weeks before the Oscars even aired. And the flow of screeners, streaming instructions, promo items (anyone need a Picasso paintbrush?) and FYC invites (facilitated but not presented by the TV Academy)  kept coming. They sometime numbered three a day, beginning in February with the likes of panels and receptions for The Assassination of Gianni Versace, The Orville, Ellen’s Game of Games, The Chi and so on. Those will continue through this weekend — at the very least – when Netflix ends its dizzying monthlong run of these events with Barbra Streisand in conversation with Jamie Foxx to push her latest variety special Barbra: The Music … The Mem’ries … The Magic!


Both Amazon, earlier in the season, and Netflix beginning in May, again created their own virtual TV museum of contenders, with the latter camped out on an elaborately laid out soundstage at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood. Amazon started its campaign by creating a phone number where voters could call and talk to a live person from Susie Myerson’s club — the place where the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel does her standup routine — and even receive (for the first 150 callers) limited edition 7″ records of music from the show. This was one of many stunts that campaigners and PR teams attempted to try to separate their show from the pack in a TV universe that seems to be widening every Emmy season. Certainly the leaning tower of DVD FYC boxes is overflowing and mostly has taken over one room in my house.



Netflix, as usual, keeps those boxes coming with every conceivable show included that is eligible on its service. I ran into Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos at last night’s AFI Life Achievement Award tribute to George Clooney, and he brought up the fact that he would love to be the first to exclusively offer streaming FYC screeners, rather than the hard copies, but he naturally is worried no one would follow suit and he’d be alone on that island. “We want nominations. We want to win,” he said, “so it might be too risky unless everyone agrees to do it. You have to compete.” Certainly it would cut down on costs as the TV Academy charges an arm and a leg to facilitate the mailing to the membership. The Motion Picture Academy always has avoided getting directly involved with screener mailings (except for foreign, docus and shorts nominees) but will be changing that policy this year and beginning to follow the TV Academy’s longtime policy in that regard, as well as even overseeing reception and party invitations, a move making Oscar pushers nervous.


Perhaps they have noticed that the Television Academy also makes a pretty penny doing all this, including renting out its official theater, generally for around $20,000 per event. Emmy campaigning has become very big business, perhaps even bigger than the Oscar season just due to the sheer girth of it all. Drive down any major thoroughfare in Los Angeles and try escaping the barrage of FYC billboards of every shape and size. “No ego will be left behind” seems to be the mantra for campaign consultants who have to appease their talent in such a highly visible period. Right now you can’t turn on a talk show without some Emmy contender conveniently bringing along a clip of their show, even if it aired months ago or is in reruns now. And nearly everyone seems to be participating on one panel or another, even famously reluctant stars such as David Letterman or Streisand, who is being lured out on Tony Awards night to appear on behalf of what could be her last concert special, if it is true she does not plan to tour anymore.

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Of course Deadline itself is in the thick of it, beginning with our mid-April daylong The Contenders Emmys event at the DGA (which charges studios and networks to participate in that as well as a screening series at Landmark), a big crowded Hollywood party earlier this week at the new Dream Hotel and video shows like The Actor’s Side and Behind the Lens, where I have been welcoming a stream of Emmy hopefuls for in-depth conversations. I say this every year, but it never seems to slow down, only getting bigger and broader, just like the TV landscape itself.


I guess I am always surprised at the draw for these Emmy season events. I moderated the Netflix Grace and Frankie panel last Saturday with stars Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston along with creators Marta Kauffman and Howard J. Morris. It was packed to the rafters. Of course with every single one of these FYC opportunities there is a reception with food, drink and mingling. I think I counted four bars at the Netflix bash. That was a fun one and even hit some new ground I think. Fonda actually started choking up at the thought of the show ending (it is just wrapping shooting its fifth season) when I asked how long they wanted it to run. “I just don’t want to imagine not driving to the studio every day, seeing Lily and everyone else and doing this show,” said the two-time Oscar winner who is now 80 (!) and doesn’t show any desire to slow down or see it end.


And as I reported last weekend, Tomlin made some news by spilling the up-to-then-secret that Dolly Parton would be joining the Netflix family with an anthology series based on her songs. Sarandos told me he had never seen anything like the pitch the country legend delivered when she brought her backup band into the Netflix screening room and put on a mini concert for the executives in order to “sell” the show. Look for Parton next Emmy season if Netflix has its way.

Whether all this pays off in cold, hard nominations for Netflix and everyone else remains to be seen, but as it has increased its campaigning each season, Netflix also has been upping the count of actual nominations, earning 91 last year to challenge perennial leader HBO’s 110. Netflix had 54 noms in 2016, and went to 91 last year. We’ll see soon enough what happens when Emmy nominations are announced on July 12. NBC will air the Emmys ceremony on Monday, September 17, with two Creative Arts ceremonies on September 8 and 9, with three separate Governors Balls attached to all three shows. The sheer volume is staggering — which is why I guess the industry feels campaigning is so necessary.



You normally don’t associate British star Janet McTeer with the Marvel Universe, but here she is this Emmy season starring as the title character’s mother in Jessica Jones, the Marvel-produced superhero series for Netflix (is there anything it doesn’t have a hand in this season?). She’s a Tony, Olivier and Drama Desk winner for A Doll’s House, Golden Globe winner and two-time Oscar nominee for Tumbleweeds and Albert Nobbs and past Emmy nominee for Into The Storm, among many other accolades, But McTeer has not had a career that steered into fanboy or, in this case, fangirl stuff. When I hopped on the phone with her recently, I first said I never would associate her with this kind of material. “I’m not sure anybody would really; that’s what appealed to me,” she laughed. “It’s great fun doing stuff you’ve never done before. I mean you know when you’ve been around as long as I have there’s lots of stuff one has done, so to do something you haven’t done is just really good fun.”

When she first was approached to play Alisa Jones, though, she was dubious. But then she actually sat down and watched it and loved the idea that their superpowers were really kind of super problems, and found it very dark and firmly planted in the real world. She also loved the fact that the main characters were women and that the show was written for the most part and produced and directed this year largely by women, including series creator Melissa Rosenberg.


I spoke to Melissa and [producer] Raelle Tucker and felt the idea of playing a grown-up woman written by grownups was a really good thing to do and felt that had this part of the mother been written by men it probably wouldn’t have been,” McTeer told me. “I’ve never seen a woman play this kind of super-strong, powerful kind of bad guy, in a way, and that appealed to me with the idea of using my softer maternal side, as well as my obvious strength,” she added about the role in which she co-starred in this second season of the show opposite series star Krysten Ritter. “It was something I could get my teeth into and have some interesting time with.”

Of course with a set like this, dominated by women in a genre normally dominated by men, I felt it was necessary to point out how timely it all became with the emergence later of the #MeToo movement. “Yes, I think it is amazingly prescient and incredible,” McTeer said. “:If you are women and you have grown up in this industry then, you know, that’s what you see around you. It’s become something that people want to write about. … It gives you dramatic license to heighten whatever emotion or reaction you have to it, which is slightly more dramatic and it doesn’t come from anything less truthful, and of course it has become so much of the moment in a way that’s really hopefully great and will empower lots of young people.”

WARNING — SPOILER ALERT AHEAD: McTeer had a good experience on a set that was so dominated by women, which she said is rare and actually made her want to work harder. Unfortunately, this will be the only season in which she appears as a regular in the series because they killed her off at season’s end. “I really had a good time, but in terms of my character, I’m not sad because I’m not totally sure where else I could have gone with her,” she said. This kind of run fits in with the past television work for McTeer, where she pops in for a few episodes rather than playing the same part over several seasons. “No. Never. I’ve never done that,” she said. “The thought of that breaks me out in hives. Although it depends, since you always know when you go up for a job as to how many seasons.”

She already has moved on to another Emmy-contending Netflix show, Ozark, and will be part of the show’s second season, similar to how she joined Jessica Jones after it had already gotten its feet wet. She wrapped her role about a month ago and had a great time, saying Jason Bateman is fantastic and that she loves Laura Linney as a person as well. Now she has moved on to another series called Sorry for Your Loss, with Elizabeth Olsen and a number of young actors for Facebook Watch. She plays the mother of Olsen’s character, who loses her husband at a very young age. McTeer really seems to be adapting to the streaming age with all these TV projects. “I know. I’m so old I grew up when there were only two channels,” she laughed.

Ru Paul Drag Race exhibit

As for awards and Emmy talk? She doesn’t want to put the cart before the horse. “I greatly doubt it,” McTeer told me. “It would be lovely, of course. I mean, if you get nominated for something, of course it’s absolutely glorious. It’s glorious for yourself and for the show. It’s a little cherry on the pie for everybody who’s worked so incredibly hard, and we work a lot harder than most people realize.”



Jumping ahead of ourselves and speaking of potential nominations, could the 19th (!) time finally be the charm for Emmy-cursed Angela Lansbury? I am certain she is not counting on it after having been a bridesmaid 18 times, 12 of those nominations coming for her 1984-96 CBS series, Murder, She Wrote. But she easily got the best notices in the cast of the BBC, PBS and Masterpiece adaptation of Little Women and played Aunt March to the hilt. Her category would be Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, and I think she has just as much a shot there as anyone this year. Don’t cry for Lansbury, though; she has won five Tonys (even while losing two Emmys for hosting the Tonys) and six Golden Globes, in addition to three Academy Award nominations and an Honorary Oscar in the course of a career stretching three-quarters of a century, and at 92 she is still going strong.

I was happy when the Motion Picture Academy gave her that special Oscar three years ago. I had always thought she was robbed in 1962 for Supporting Actress in The Manchurian Candidate. She did win a Globe for it but should have gotten the Oscar. A 16-year-old Patty Duke won that year for The Miracle Worker. I am hoping the Television Academy finally comes to its senses this year. Isn’t it about time, folks? Even Susan Lucci finally got a Daytime Emmy on her 19th nomination. Should Lansbury be nominated again, and lose again, this year she would overtake Lucci’s infamous Emmy losing streak. Wouldn’t it make for a great moment if she actually won?

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