A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
Emmy voting closes in three days. The reason I know that is because as a Television Academy member you are constantly reminded to vote, and that is the notice I got today, as opposed to yesterday, when it was four days. I wonder if they just send this no matter what, or if they really know I am a straggler and have not yet cast my ballot.
It’s not that I won’t — it’s just that I, like many others, keep procrastinating because, based on experience, it is quite daunting just to get through the damn thing. As a member of the writers branch I have five categories of hundreds of submissions to peruse, and then there are about 20 program categories to also go through in choosing those you think are worthy. The numbers are mind-boggling with some reportedly 732 programs — 165 drama series alone.
I am glad I am not allowed to vote in the acting branch since there were more than 2300 submissions by hopeful thesps this year. The writing ballot is bad enough. The smartest shows in that regard circle around one episode to submit, like in the Best Comedy Series writing category, where HBO’s Barry did just that, as opposed to something like Bob’s Burgers, which submitted a whopper of 11 scripts to consider — not that I plan to. Sorry, Bob. Nevertheless at some point between today and the deadline of Monday at 10 PM PT, I will put myself through this annual exercise in combing through the Emmy ballot because that is clearly what the Academy is urging me and the 24,000 other eligible members to do. Tomorrow I look forward to my reminder that there are only two days to go.
As we have repeatedly noted in this column, the level of advertising, billboards, screeners, parties, FYC events, etc., for Emmy campaigning is out of control, definitely higher than Oscar season even (or so it seems). But that is because there is sooooooo much content, and only those with money behind their campaigns are likely to break through and get noticed enough to make voters watch. Of course, if you are Netflix and willing to spend endlessly to become the sole leader in Emmy nominations, that is no problem. If you are Veep or Game of Thrones, we already know who you are, so also no problemo. But how does a new show break out, especially in an awards contest like the Emmys that tends to go back to the same well year after year? How many Emmys does John Oliver really need to tell us why he is so upset with the world?
But I can tell you it is possible, as least for a cinephile like me, to stand up and take notice when a smart Emmy campaign comes along. Among the best at this in really coming up with creative ideas is Amazon Prime Video, which ran a terrifically innovative campaign for the then-new series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel last year and picked up eight Emmys for its efforts including one for Best Comedy Series, the first streamer ever to crack that category with a win.
Mrs. Maisel is back again in contention of course this year, but the Amazon campaign that really caught my attention this time around was for their first-season drama series Homecoming. which took its inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock and the poster designs for Hitch’s films by the late, great Saul Bass. How effective it will be I suppose depends on how much you know or love Hitchcock movies, and the way they were advertised, but you have to give Amazon honchos credit for trying something so eye-catching and different by incorporating their Emmy-hopeful series into past designs used to lure moviegoers to the likes of Hitchcock classics. Thus we have co-star Bobby Cannavale hurling at us instead of Cary Grant in a famous Bass design for the North By Northwest poster, or Julia Roberts’ face instead of Tippi Hedren’s in a direct takeoff of key art from The Birds. And then there is the show’s Stephan James caught up in the iconic whirlwind Bass design for Vertigo, and so on.
They are dazzling and perhaps being attached, even in a subtle way, to some of these immortal films will rub off on Homecoming, which is sort of the point as Amazon Prime Video director of awards Debra Birnbaum explains it for me.
“For Homecoming we wanted to do a refresh of our ad campaign to remind voters about a critically acclaimed show. Along with the strong performances, what really made Homecoming stand out was the incredible production values. Thanks to director Sam Esmail and his team, the series has a very specific, cinematic look and style – the soul of a classic, Hitchcockian thriller in a half-hour drama. So that’s how we came up with the idea of the retro posters, to pay homage to those films in the way Esmail did so brilliantly. We chose those iconic posters to signal to voters what sets the show apart from the competition.”
We will soon see if Amazon is successful in this regard, but it gets an ‘A’ for awesome from me. By the way, Hitchcock himself was actually nominated for four Emmys in the 1950s for his series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He never won one, or an Oscar for that matter (shameful), but I will bet you he would be very pleased by the unexpected homage this Emmy season.
ALTERNATE ‘HOUSE OF CARDS’ ENDINGS?
One of those shows hoping to join Homecoming as a nominee in the Drama Series category is a frequent presence in that race over its six-season life, House of Cards. At Deadline’s recent Emmy contenders party, I chatted with Michael Kelly, co-star for all six seasons, and although his character Chief of Staff Doug Stamper did not exactly meet a happy fate in the series finale, he told me some members of the show’s core team over the years had different ideas as to how the show would end. That job ultimately landed in the hands of the most recent showrunner Frank Pugliese and company, who held the reins by the time the series finally finished and provided the dramatic fireworks we saw. Robin Wright recently told me for this week’s episode of The Actor’s Side that they were just thankful they even got the chance to have an ending (one she also directed) considering the Kevin Spacey nightmare exit and all the creative retooling that caused.
Nevertheless, Kelly said that series creator Beau Willimon once told him he had the single greatest ending ever for a series, and particularly this series, and it was apparently one that would blow everyone away. Alas, we’ll never know. Kelly also confided that Spacey himself told him an idea he had for the end of the show, but Kelly wasn’t offering anything further on that to me.
Obviously, whatever it may have been, it likely wasn’t what the actual ending for Frank Underwood turned out to be, or for that matter, for Spacey himself.
CHUCK LORRE ON ‘KOMINSKY’S’ METHOD OF GETTING BIG STARS
At a recent Netflix FYSee panel for his Golden Globe-winning Netflix comedy series The Kominsky Method, creator/executive producer Chuck Lorre told me one of the joys of doing this show has been working with iconic screen legends like Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin. I asked also about the impressive list of guest stars they have been getting — including reuniting Kathleen Turner with her Romancing the Stone/ War of the Roses co-star Douglas for an episode of Season 2 coming in the fall (Douglas in fact told me he loved that and wants to do more with her).
But the one “get” that really floored Lorre was Ann-Margret, who guested in Season 1 in a couple of memorable episodes where she proves she is still every bit the alluring presence she was in films from Bye Bye Birdie to Carnal Knowledge. However, it was another movie Lorre couldn’t get out of his mind when she called him about doing Kominsky.
“So she gets on the phone and says ‘Chuuuuuk, this is Ann-Margret,” he recalled, and it was quite a moment for him. ” All I could think of was this was Ann-Margret, the Ann-Margret who starred with Elvis in Viva Las Vegas, and now she’s on the phone. I could only think Viva Las Vegas!” Ah, the perks of being Chuck Lorre.
GET READY FOR TELLURIDE
It is hard to believe, as we are still weeks away from just getting the Emmy nominations, that Oscar season will be upon us as well. In just more than two months, around Labor Day weekend, the fall trifecta of Venice/Telluride/Toronto begins. In fact this week, as Emmy voting was going full force, organizers of the Telluride Film Festival including directors Julie Huntsinger and Tom Luddy were in Hollywood kicking off the season a little early with their annual soiree at the rooftop of the London Hotel.
Numerous awards consultants and others with dreams of spending Labor Day amidst the Colorado Rockies in their heads were hobnobbing in the packed crowd that was ready for the new season, even though it seemed the Oscars just ended (it was actually 3 1/2 months ago). Telluride is notoriously secretive about their lineup, and in fact doesn’t release it until the charter plane full of filmmakers takes off the day before the fest’s official start. However, you can indeed play a guessing game in terms of which faces you see in this crowd and make a smart bet of what movies might be going. I have a strong hunch on a few, and all I can say is I can’t wait to cover this crown jewel of film festivals again (for a 10th straight year for Deadline) based on some of those films, but also because it is just simply a great time for cineastes.
It will be especially welcome this year to end the summer with some meaty Oscar prospects since they have been few and far between so far in 2019. One of those is the currently playing The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and one of its Plan B producers, two-time Oscar winner Jeremy Kleiner, was in the Telluride kickoff crowd.
But what can you say about an industry that seems more into movies about dolls than people. The next six days brings three major studio releases — all sequels, all revolving around dolls — including the return of Chucky for a seventh time in Child’s Play, the return of Annabelle in Annabelle Comes Home, and of course Toy Story 4, a sublime movie but still nevertheless about dolls. This is why I always look forward to Telluride, a festival that, as you could tell by the turnout Wednesday night at The London, has increasingly grown in importance to Oscar season and where distributors get a real boost for their chances in that regard. And not a doll movie in sight.
What was interesting is I ran into several filmmakers who once had a film at Telluride but don’t this year, instead just wanting to go back to soak in a movie lover’s paradise. I doubt you find that same feeling about many other festivals.
AWARDS FOR AWARD CONSULTANTS
Finally, congratulations to two of the hardest-working awards consultants in the business, whether Oscar season or Emmy season, on their own recent awards this month. At the Global Women’s Rights Awards on June 3, Netflix’s Lisa Taback and the whole team behind the Oscar-winning documentary short Period. End of Sentence were honored by the group that stands for rights of women and girls around the world. On June 4, Lea Yardum, who for 20 years has served as the publicist for the American Cinema Editors, received their prestigious Heritage Award at a ceremony in Universal City. No doubt we will be seeing both a lot more on the Oscar and Emmy trails, but these honors are well deserved.