A column chronicling events and conversations on the awards circuit.
Final voting for this year’s Emmy Awards — which start with Creative Emmy ceremonies on September 14 and 15, followed by Fox’s Primetime Emmy broadcast on September 22 — has been going in earnest since Thursday and will continue until 10 p.m. PT August 29. If you think campaign events and gimmicks have slowed down in the meantime since what appears to be all-time record spending in Phase 1, think again. Netflix, HBO, Amazon, FX and many others have ratcheted up the events intended to draw voting members, which now number around 24,000 including this columnist, to give them one last pitch to actually watch the endless amount of content nominated by the Television Academy this year. It is daunting to say the least.
To try to set themselves apart, a couple of networks — streamer and broadcast — came up with inventive pitches to members. Amazon Prime touted the “success” of Its “Maisel Day” on Thursday, the first day of voting/ To promote the second season of its Emmy-winning comedy champ The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amazon rolled back prices on more than 4,000 items at various locations to those of the time the series is set in 1959. That included 30-cent gas at some stations, though some media outlets reported certain stations had to be shut down due to overwhelming traffic. Amazon tamped those reports, saying stories about putting the “brakes” on the promotion were erroneous. It deemed the stunt a success.
“Just like Midge, everyone in L.A. loves a bargain, and we’re thrilled that customers all over the city got to enjoy ‘Maisel Day’ with us,” Mike Benson, Head of Marketing at Amazon Studios, said in statement. “We wanted to really celebrate the incredible 20 Emmy nominations for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in style, and we did just that – there were even fans who dressed up in ’50s fashions to match the prices. We love creating fun experiences for our customers that connect them to our series in new ways, and ‘Maisel Day’ was a great success.”
EMMY IN THE BAG FOR ‘FLEABAG’?
Whether this helps Amazon beat HBO’s Veep or its own Fleabag is simply a matter of conjecture at this point. Even though Maisel picked up eight Emmys including Best Comedy Series in its first season, a repeat is by no means a slam dunk. In fact, Fleabag could be a spoiler, if response at a packed Harmony Gold screening and Q&A I moderated a couple of weeks ago is any indication. Rarely have I seen the genuine and intense applause accorded creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge when introduced for the panel that also included co-stars Sian Clifford (an Emmy nominee herself) and Brett Gelman. It was eye-opening, to be sure. This British comedy series cuts like a knife, with dialogue worthy of Pinter, and it finally caught on with Emmy voters this year, scooping 11 nominations and none for its first season. If Waller-Bridge — who also created Drama Series nominee Killing Eve and is one of three credited writers on the newly titled 25th James Bond flick No Time to Die — is true to her word about this being the second and final season of this special series (only 12 episodes over two years), then voters might be inclined to honor it while they can. After all, how many Emmys can Maisel or Veep covet?
Another contender, with 17 nominations overall, is FX’s simply superb limited-series juggernaut Fosse/Verdon. The response at the Deadline-sponsored screening and conversation with stars Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell on Monday night was an indication that its sheer craft and inventiveness in telling the complex story of Broadway icons Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon might be enough to beat out competition with more serious themes like the Central Park Five story When They See Us and HBO’s ever-timely Chernobyl, which recently took the top TCA Award just as Emmy voting was beginning. Star Michelle Williams, however, won the top performance award there, and Monday night she told me she has not committed to any new job since Verdon inhabited her being, making it difficult for her to imagine any that will match this one. Watching her pitch-perfect performances — and Rockwell’s — you realize it just does not get better than this.
NBC HITS THE EMMY ELECTION TRAIL
But perhaps my favorite campaign moment of this Emmy season came via FedEx on Tuesday from NBCUniversal — a slickly mounted package of 16 campaign buttons, bringing this relentless season right down to heart of what it really is: an election. Although most of these buttons tout shows with nary a chance to win in respective major and minor categories, you gotta give NBCU credit for the old college try. “Vote for US” says one for Drama Series nominee This Is Us. “Your VOICE matters,” says another for perennial winner The Voice. “Take a Stance Vote World of Dance,” and “If There’s a Will & Grace There’s a Way,” read two more in the set that might,headed straight to eBay auctions. There’s even one for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon that directly merges with the real political campaigns being waged as it touts an episode “Beto Breaks the Internet.” At least they don’t try to hide the fact that the race for Emmys is indeed a “campaign,” and a shameless one at that (wait, where’s my button for Shameless?).
AMAZON JUMP-STARTS OSCAR CAMPAIGN SEASON
Interestingly as TV’s very long Emmy season winds down, the Oscar season is just beginning with a formal launch next week in Venice and Telluride. Can you believe it? At least this one promises to go faster than usual as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has shortened the season by two weeks, airing the Oscars on an earliest-ever date of February 9. This has consultants and campaigners in a mass panic already, trying to figure out how they can get their movies out to voters early enough to be seen. Although The Report premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was picked up for $14 million by Amazon Studios, the new true-life account of a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation became an early movie to throw a screening and reception aimed at Oscar and Golden Globe voters, as well as awards season pundits. Amazon took over what is known as the Ross House on Monday night for an event that included a Q&A with stars Annette Bening and Jon Hamm, as well as director-writer Scott Z. Burns (another credited writer on the new Bond film, BTW); producer Jennifer Fox, who was just announced today as also returning to produce the upcoming Governors Awards for the Academy; and real -life subject Daniel J. Jones (portrayed in the movie by Adam Driver, who was not in attendance). It is a powerful film with an uncanny performance by Bening as Sen. Dianne Feinstein that could garner her a supporting Oscar nomination. When she first appears onscreen, I thought it was documentary footage of Feinstein, not the actress herself. She’s also great in the upcoming Hope Gap, which will have its world premiere in Toronto.
Many voters were spotted in the room and at the dinner reception afterward. Newly sharpened Academy rules state any reception must be held in the same venue where the screening occurs (in other words, no more walking across to the Chateau Marmont for a big party). That makes the expansive “Ross House,” a real home for John Ross and his wife Nancy, a perfect venue for these soirees aimed directly at getting votes. He has a great 100-seat screening room that also doubles as a mixing soundstage with pristine and large picture and state-of-the-art sound. Ross told me the idea came about several years ago when some campaigners complained about the quality of available screening rooms. It has become a bit of a side business for Ross, a sound mixer who has worked on films including The Fighter, Trumbo and American Hustle, often in the comfort of his own home. The stunning L.A. views from the deck are pretty astounding there as well, and it is situated right in the center of where so many Academy members live. You can bet on more than a few trips into the hills for “Ross House” screenings this season.
IS EASTWOOD HITTING OSCAR TRAIL AGAIN?
Hamm stayed quite a bit after that Q&A to talk to guests about his busy film career. Not only does he have a supporting role in The Report working for the CIA, he just completed filming his role as an FBI agent in Clint Eastwood’s next film, The Ballad of Richard Jewell. Hamm told me he will be at the Toronto Film Festival next month, staying for a week because he not only has The Report going there (after a stop for the movie in Telluride) but also in Fox Searchlight’s October 4 release Lucy in the Sky, in which he and Natalie Portman play astronauts. He apparently will have a very busy fall with all three of these films because he mentioned to me he believes the Eastwood film — so far not officially dated by Warner Bros — will be released in December. Will this be another sneak attack on Oscar season from four-time winner Eastwood, a producer-director fond of quickly delivering his movies. Just last year he did that with The Mule, and in the past has had great success with such films as American Sniper and Million Dollar Baby in December. Warner Bros has an unusually strong slate of possible awards contenders already this year, but what’s one more when it comes from Eastwood? We shall see.