Con­tenders: Emmy Pre­view

Vet­eran awards con­sul­tants ad­vise on how to break through the clutter

Variety - - Contents - By DANIEL HOL­LOWAY

The ever-grow­ing num­ber of shows is hav­ing a pro­found im­pact on how series han­dle their awards cam­paigns.

PPEAK TV HAS YET TO PEAK. Ac­cord­ing to re­search from FX Net­works, 2017 saw a record-break­ing 487 orig­i­nal scripted series pre­miere across broad­cast, ca­ble and stream­ing ser­vices. That num­ber rep­re­sents a 7% in­crease from 2016, and a 125% in­crease from 2012. The dra­matic in­crease in the vol­ume of orig­i­nal pro­gram­ming has trans­formed the TV busi­ness — and is it­self a prod­uct of the pro­lif­er­a­tion of first ba­sic- ca­ble chan­nels, then sub­scrip­tion video plat­forms. One of the many side ef­fects of the re­cent pro­gram­ming boom is that it has be­come im­pos­si­ble for any­one to keep up — es­pe­cially Emmy vot­ers.

“What I fear is hap­pen­ing in this new golden age of TV, with its hun­dreds of choices, is the Emmy vot­ing body has be­come so over­whelmed with pro­gram­ming that they are un­wit­tingly keep­ing un­der-the-radar shows, per­for­mances and craft artists from get­ting any gold,” says awards mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant Richard Li­cata, CEO of Li­cata & Co. and a for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions exec at HBO, Fox, Show­time and NBC. “The white-noise curse has set in.”

In re­cent weeks, this “curse” has man­i­fested it­self in the mail­boxes of Acad­emy mem­bers, who have been in­un­dated with screen­ers. Some com­pa­nies, at­tempt­ing to stand out, have sent en­tire sea­sons in­stead of the tra­di­tional sam­ple episodes — mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for vot­ers to watch every­thing they re­ceive.

To com­bat the chal­lenges that come with cam­paign­ing in the peak TV era, Li­cata says, cam­paigns need to be­come year-round.

“In a crowded en­vi­ron­ment, a show needs to launch boldly and find a place in the cul­tural zeit­geist,” Li­cata says. “It’s not all about ads and screen­ings and May and June. The kind of show that serendip­i­tously aligned with the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate — or its tonic, the series your friends and fam­i­lies are chat­ting about at din­ner par­ties, on talk shows, crit­i­cal ac­claim that trig­gers jour­nal­is­tic con­ver­sa­tion, the one that be­gins rack­ing up tro­phies at the var­i­ous award soirees en route to the Em­mys. Those shows ex­po­nen­tially in­crease their chances of mak­ing it into the Emmy derby.”

Sched­ul­ing also has an im­pact, as Jonathan Tay­lor, co-principal of Robertson Tay­lor Part­ners, notes.

“Hulu put out the sec­ond sea­son of ‘The Hand­maid’s Tale’ and Ama­zon put out the fourth sea­son of “Bosch” just in the last few weeks, try­ing to keep those shows fresh in vot­ers’ minds when it comes time to nom­i­nate,” Tay­lor says.

“The Hand­maid’s Tale” pre­miered in April last year, then went on to win eight Em­mys, in­clud­ing drama series and drama ac­tress for El­iz­a­beth Moss. “game of Thrones,” mean­while, faces a po­ten­tial fight in its re­turn to Emmy con­tention af­ter air­ing out­side of last year’s el­i­gi­bil­ity win­dow. The most re­cent sea­son aired in July and August of last year, while its com­peti­tors “The Hand­maid’s Tale,” “this Is Us” and “The Amer­i­cans” will be much fresher in mem­bers’ minds go­ing into the vot­ing pe­riod.

The other key in­gre­di­ent to a suc­cess­ful cam­paign, Li­cata adds, is “ag­gres­sive, pas- sion­ate talent par­tic­i­pa­tion for ed­i­to­rial coverage.” He notes that recog­ni­tion from the Globes, through courtship of the Hol­ly­wood For­eign Press Assn., can be an en­try­way into the Emmy con­ver­sa­tion.

If the Globes are a mo­men­tum-builder, no show may have ben­e­fited more than “The Mar­velous Mrs. Maisel,” which won for com­edy series and star Rachel Bros­na­han for com­edy series ac­tress. “The Crown” star Claire Foy won for fe­male ac­tor in a drama series at the SAG Awards in De­cem­ber for the sec­ond year in a row, build­ing her case as an Emmy con­tender.

Li­cata also stresses the need to stand out while stay­ing cost ef­fi­cient.

“Most cam­paigns are ei­ther ham­strung fi­nan­cially or cre­atively,” he says. “There’s an ur­gent need to think of in­no­va­tive ideas that will cap­ture voter at­ten­tion beyond the tra­di­tional mail­ers, ads and screen­ings. Some­thing that makes your eyes widen with cu­rios­ity and sends you to your TV.”

As an ex­am­ple, he points to Hulu’s de­ploy­ment in public last year of large groups of women dressed as hand­maids from “The Hand­maid’s Tale.” “those red, op­pres­sive smocks from got pulses go­ing,” he says.

But there are sta­ples of the awards cir­cuit that are not nearly as ef­fec­tive in the Peak TV era as some seem to think.

“It re­ally feels like a yearly play­ing of the ‘Sorcerer’s Ap­pren­tice’ with boxed sets

“IN A CROWDED EN­VI­RON­MENT, A SHOW NEEDS TO LAUNCH BOLDLY AND FIND A PLACE IN THE CUL­TURAL ZEIT­GEIST.”

— Richard Li­cata

first seem­ing re­ally awe­some un­til they over­take your home or of­fice,” Tay­lor says of the wealth of phys­i­cal screen­ers that awards vot­ers are bom­barded with.

Net­flix in­fa­mously sent four boxes of screen­ers last year that to­gether weighed more than 40 pounds.

“It’s too much, but few want to forego the im­pact of a well- de­signed set,” Tay­lor adds.

And in an era of easy ac­cess to stream­ing video, screen­ing events may also yield di­min­ish­ing re­turns.

“They’re great for a night out to see your fa­vorite stars and eat, drink and network,” Li­cata says. “But here’s the bestkept fact — there are 20,000-plus vot­ing mem­bers of the TV Acad­emy. If you host a screen­ing or panel in 600-seat theater like the Wolf The­atre or the DGA where every mem­ber is in­vited to bring a guest, chances are that guest is not a voter.”

Li­cata es­ti­mates that a best- case sce­nario for a screen­ing is 450 ac­tual vot­ers — less than 3% of the Emmy vot­er­ship. And a typ­i­cal screen­ing costs $30,000-$50,000.

This year, the Acad­emy has sched­uled com­pet­ing events on the same night, mean­ing that the pool for po­ten­tial at­ten­dees will shrink for each re­spec­tive event.

“Screen­ing zealots will ar­gue that every vote counts, and they’re right,” he says.“but if you have a show that doesn’t have an Emmy prayer, the only ra­tio­nale to spend that kind of money is to keep the talent happy.”

This year, Net­flix and Ama­zon — two of the most deep-pock­eted com­peti­tors in the awards field — have at­tempted to solve mul­ti­ple chal­lenges by set­ting up their own ded­i­cated spa­ces for FYC events.

“They have so many shows that they’re push­ing, they can cater to each show that they have, give each one a plat­form, and at the same time cut through the clutter in a cre­ative way,” says Michele Robertson of Michele Robertson Com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Li­cata notes that a solid cam­paign, fac­tor­ing in a mailer, TV Acad­emy fees, ad­ver­tis­ing and talent-par­tic­i­pa­tion costs can run $750,000-$1.5 mil­lion. That spend is the cost of do­ing busi­ness in an era of more shows than a per­son could be ex­pected to watch.

“They have evolved sig­nif­i­cantly to ac­com­mo­date an ever-ex­pand­ing TV uni­verse,” Li­cata says of Emmy cam­paigns. “In the past 18 years we’ve mor­phed from VHS to DVD to on­line screen­ing avail­abil­ity for vot­ers. We’ve gone from mod­est FYC ad­ver­tis­ing in the print trades to an ocean of dig­i­tal ads ap­pear­ing on var­i­ous en­ter­tain­ment web­sites, in ad­di­tion to bill­boards, buses, car washes, re­strooms, gas sta­tions, mo­bile de­vices and a ca­coph­ony of pricey FYC screen­ings booked solid every night from April through June bal­lot­ing.”

Top of Mind Sea­son two of “The Hand­maid’s Tale” de­buted in late April, push­ing out new episodes all the way up to the close of the Emmy el­i­gi­bil­ity win­dow.

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