What's an Emmy Worth?
The benefits of winning a golden statue has its limits
By Deborah Starr Seibel -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/26/2004 8:00:00 PM
Glory but Little Ratings Luster
At the 2004 Prime Time Creative Arts Emmy Awards, actor Dan Castellaneta, master of many voices on The Simpsons, trotted up to the podium on a wave of applause. He had just won an Emmy for outstanding voiceover performance. With E!'s cameras rolling, Castellaneta put on the voice of crotchety Homer Simpson and got right to the heart of the matter: the reason that the almost 5-pound gold statuette would be so very meaningful to him. "Now that I've won my third Emmy, I think I can make a list of demands to the producers."
Sorry, Homer. It doesn't quite work that way. While the golden lady may add luster to a résumé, it does not immediately translate into added clout or money for winners. For that, you need people skilled in the art of negotiation who can leverage an Emmy win into something more bankable. At the William Morris Agency, three powerhouse agents representing actors, writers and directors found that Emmy, like Oscar, can shift career strategies and alter the way they approach negotiations. But it doesn't necessarily mean more money, and the benefits usually don't come overnight. "It's not all of a sudden going to raise their price," says Steve Glick, a 23-year veteran of the agency, who handles directors.
"You campaign for opportunities," says Erwin More, co-head of the talent department at William Morris, which racked up 52 nominations and eight wins. After 28 years, More still gets a rush from seeing clients such as Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond), Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: SVU) and Kiefer Sutherland (24) working the rope line on the red carpet. For More, Emmy nights (both the Creative Arts Emmy Awards and the main telecast that follows) cap two months of work starting in July with the nominations. Having a client's name associated with Emmy is a powerful weapon, and, says More, "you use that ammunition as best you can."
But the golden girl is just one bullet. "My experience is that it's never any one single thing that creates momentum in somebody's career," says More. "It's usually the convergence of a lot of different things." More points to Law & Order: SVU's Hargitay as the perfect example of an actor whose career picked up traction from the Emmy nod. (Hargitay ultimately lost to The West Wing's Allison Janney.) "Earlier this year, she received her first Screen Actors Guild nomination, followed by the Emmy nomination. You can start to feel a rhythm and a wave that starts to build," he says. As the awareness level in the entertainment community rises, so too does awareness from the outside, bringing even more players to the party. "It creates the opportunity for things like magazine covers," he adds.
But it doesn't necessarily make them more money. According to More, most television actors are committed to six- or 61/2-year deals. Unless there's a renegotiation already on the horizon, an Emmy won't accelerate the calendar. Would More try to demand a renegotiation on the heels of an Emmy win? "No," he says. "Listen, everyone loves a winner, and it is definitely a bonus. But it is absolutely about where the client is in his or her career and what you're looking to accomplish next." Nor can an actor assume that the network will offer a raise or a bonus because of an Emmy, says More. "Certainly, if you're coming to the end of a long-term contract and the show is going to continue and there are multiple Emmy [wins] behind you, all that is going to be incredibly meaningful to the negotiation and to the long-term success of the show."
For writers and producers, the Emmy has actually lost some of its luster. "When there were big overall deals to be had, we were definitely able to take advantage of [an Emmy win]," says Lanny Noveck, a 23-year William Morris veteran. "It used to be that, if you worked on a quality show and picked up a couple of awards along the way, you were guaranteed to get a multi-year, multimillion-dollar deal. There are only a handful of those deals now."
What the Emmy does do, says Noveck, "is attach a sense of quality to that individual. Writers who tend to always be in the background get pushed to the foreground, for once." And once there, the Emmy gives them a much better chance to stick around. "The Kelleys, the Bochcos, the Milches, it certainly gives them cachet and the opportunity to put a show on—and perhaps keep it on, even if they've had a rough beginning. You're going to give them more leeway because they have the quality, the ability and the track records behind them to succeed."
Directors, on the other hand, seem to get both more money and opportunity off an Emmy win. The money comes from getting pilot assignments, according to Glick, who ran the director's division for 11 years. "It would do something dramatic, financially, for a sitcom director," he says. "That's the one area where a director can get more pilots off of it, then [if the show is picked up] they can stay with the show. That's extremely lucrative."
On the drama side, the Emmy-winning director would stand out from the crowd and stand a better chance of directing pilots "and then be able to stay with that show as a producing director," says Glick. Who's the ultimate buyer for his client? For TV directors, the Holy Grail is HBO, "the most difficult marketplace to get into," he says.
But an Emmy winner may be able to bypass television altogether. Glick points to John Patterson, who directed 13 episodes of The Sopranos, including two season finales. He was nominated last year for the finale, "Whitecaps," the episode in which Carmella throws Tony Soprano out of the house. Patterson didn't win. "And I should have," he says, "because it was extraordinary stuff." Patterson lost out to Christopher Misiano of The West Wing. But the loss almost didn't matter, because the nomination brought Patterson to the attention of the feature-film community. Patterson, who has been directing since 1978, suddenly became the flavor of the month.
"I'm the same person I was 10 years ago, but I got scripts thrown at me. I mean, literally dozens and dozens of scripts. Everybody wanted me, wanted to be associated with me." Still staggered by all the newfound attention, Patterson is in the process of deciding how to best capitalize on it. "It's amazing," he says. "You go all the way from [people] not taking you seriously to calling you a genius."
The Emmy can also force the creative community to rediscover genius. That's what happened to the late, great John Frankenheimer, nominated for an Emmy in 1997 for TNT movie George Wallace. "He had not really done a film in some time," says Glick, "and he was a legend. But after his Emmy win, people said, 'John is a brilliant filmmaker. Look at what he did on cable. We have to recognize his genius again.'"
Agents such as Glick, More and Noveck are on the front lines of making that recognition stick, power-dialing their clients the moment Emmy nominations are announced. "I call my clients and I scream very loudly," says More.
Then the real selling begins. "I definitely pick up the phone to a lot of different buyers who might have been closed to hearing that person's name in the past," says Glick. After actor/director Charles Dutton won an Emmy for directing HBO miniseries The Corner, Glick had what he needed to ask for an even bigger directing assignment: "It ended up getting him a feature at Paramount [Against the Ropes] with Meg Ryan."
But one cautionary note: There can be a real danger to winning an Emmy. "One of my clients actually stuck himself in the face with the point of the statue," says More, laughing. "Those points are really sharp, and blood was shed." Does he want to name that client? "No."
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