When Fox's Arrested Development won the Emmy last year for Outstanding Comedy Program, it took Steven Melnick, Twentieth Century Fox Television's senior VP, marketing, about one minute to call an executive at Fox Home Entertainment and tell him to “add the sticker.”
Just in case Arrested Development pulled off the upset win, Fox had printed the Emmy-touting stickers in advance. “If you can sticker a DVD with 'Winner of Five Emmy Awards,' that is meaningful at retail,” says Melnick.
As B&C reported in September, winning an Emmy does not mean a financial windfall by the usual barometers—ad sales, price for a renewed contract, or how much the show can demand for syndication—but the award can be invaluable in other ways, from sweetening DVD sales to staving off cancellation. And the Emmy can dramatically affect perceptions in Hollywood, inside networks and among viewers.
Arrested Development is clearly a beneficiary of the Emmy effect. In between the show's winning the award on Sept. 19 and the premiere of the second season on Nov. 7, the sticker-equipped first-season DVD hit stores on Oct. 19 and has sold a healthy 400,000 copies to date. Ratings remained underwhelming in the second season, and its prospects for renewal looked especially bleak in March when one of its champions at the network, Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman, left to become president of Paramount Pictures. But last month, Fox announced that Arrested Development will return in the fall on Monday nights.
“Arrested Development wouldn't be back next year if it wasn't for the Emmy,” says an executive from a competing TV network, who declined to be identified because no one in Hollywood wants to be seen handing out free PR to a rival. “I don't think there's a better 'save our show' campaign than winning an Emmy.”
Arrested Development's survival carried on a tradition of critically acclaimed, ratings-challenged young shows that appeared to have been rescued by a timely Emmy win. The list includes such eventual TV classics as Cheers and All in the Family. Indeed, a simple Emmy win has been known to buoy an entire network: Michael Chiklis' Best Actor win in 2002 for FX's The Shield and Tony Shalhoub's the following year for USA's Monk facilitated dramatic repositionings of those networks from rerun havens to destinations for quality original programming.
A network on an Emmy roll can find itself suddenly much more popular with high-end actors, directors, writers and producers eager to work with a network they previously would not have considered.
“Everyone wants to be honored. It's no different than high school. You want to be most dramatic, best looking, most popular. And if you are most popular, then other people want to dance with you,” says Glenn Gordon Caron, executive producer and creator of Medium and other shows, including six-time Emmy winner Moonlighting.
But as Fox's Melnick says, “beyond the traditional reasons” that the awards are coveted, “there can be clear financial benefits to success at the Emmys.”
While Emmy marketers say a show has to have the creative goods to even be considered for an award, getting the attention of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' (ATAS) nearly 12,000 members is crucial in a crowded marketplace. Many Emmy winners might not have even been noticed but for the campaigning. With ATAS sending out nomination ballots this week and posting them online, the campaigning right now is at its most frantic.
Getting the word out—from gilded mailers to high-profile Hollywood screenings to elaborate trade-magazine advertising campaigns—is increasingly beginning to resemble movie studios' all-out Academy Awards quest.
To many in Hollywood, the master of the Emmy campaign is Richard Licata, who started his marketing and publicity career at HBO when no one was watching premium cable. HBO figured out long before anyone else that ratcheting up Emmy nominations and wins was the easiest way for it to brand itself as the place to go for quality television.
In 2002, as head of the TV division of PR shop Rogers & Cowan, Licata stole a page from HBO's playbook and ran a groundbreaking Emmy campaign for FX's The Shield. That year, FX won basic cable's first major Emmy, suddenly making Chiklis a star.
The next year, Licata spearheaded USA's campaign for Monk, and its star, Shalhoub, was the surprise winner of both a Golden Globe and an Emmy. Today, Licata is running publicity and marketing for Showtime, which would love to steal some of HBO's gold.
“What do Emmys translate into? For me, it's brand- building,” Licata says. A crucial step in securing a nomination, he believes, is sending out bundles of sample programming in luscious packaging. Hollywood, after all, is not immune to surface appeal.
“I started this whole packaging thing, and it helps so much, you have no idea,” Licata says. “My whole office is lined with mailers. One pile is stuff I'm going to watch because it's pretty, and the other stuff I don't care about.”
SHOWTIME'S CAMPAIGN: $2 MILLION
This year, Showtime's mailer is an 18-inch by 6-inch cranberry-colored box. Inside is a bound booklet that promotes Showtime's offerings: series Fat Actress, Huff and The L Word; movies Our Fathers and Reefer Madness; and specials Dave Chappelle: For What It's Worth and Usher Live. Each page includes a pocket with a DVD of the show.
“I just wanted something very simple, elegant and user-friendly,” Licata says.
And expensive. Observers estimate that Showtime is spending as much as $2 million this year on Emmy marketing. A&E spent a fair chunk as well, since the network sent out both DVDs and VHS tapes promoting 10 programs. (Showtime and HBO each went to DVD-only mailers for the first time this year).
“We've always been really competitive,” says Michael Feeney, VP of communications, A&E Television Networks. “The Emmys have a big impact for us. They're a huge indication to the advertising and creative community of the quality we're trying to maintain.”
But the Emmy-campaigning champ remains HBO. Marketers estimate that the network spends at least $3 million annually on its Emmy effort: $1.5 million in trade advertising alone and another $1 million to $2 million on mailers.
The investment certainly paid off last year, when HBO—powered by The Sopranos and Sex and the City—took home 32 Emmy awards. The parade of HBO stars that dominated the night amounted to an hours-long infomercial on ABC. It was exposure the premium cable channel could not have bought at any price. (The broadcast moves to CBS this year, airing Sept. 18.)
“IT'S HUGE AND IMPOSING”
“We believe the programs win the awards, not the campaigns,” says an HBO spokesman.
That doesn't mean the network leaves anything to chance. HBO has redefined what it means to win an Emmy, and it has been the engine driving the marketing game. The network's Emmy mailers for this season—chock full of DVDs for such HBO fare as Deadwood, The Wire, Entourage, Unscripted, Empire Falls and Da Ali G Show—went out two weeks ago. Academy members describe them as enormous gold boxes that look like a mini entertainment center.
“You end up with 30 or 40 episodes of programming with this thing,” says one Academy member. “It's huge and imposing.”
FX is taking a more understated approach this year. The network has three shows in Emmy contention: The Shield, which featured a much-talked-about performance by film actress Glenn Close in season four; Denis Leary's Rescue Me, and Ryan Murphy's plastic-surgery soap Nip/Tuck. But with a tight budget and several new shows launching around Emmy time, FX is not trumpeting its programming as loudly as in past seasons, just sending out DVDs of episodes for each show, with no fancy packaging.
“I think all campaigns are fairly traditional anyhow,” says John Solberg, head of public relations for FX. “There's no way to reinvent the process. The primary thing you need for an Emmy campaign is a great show and great performances. The focal point of Emmy campaigns are advertising in the trades, in addition to sending out episodes to Academy members that you think are the best episodes.”
That less-than-anxious attitude might be atypical for a network on cable, where the campaigning can be fiercest, but it is more or less the rule at larger studios and big broadcast networks.
Paramount Network Television, for instance, is keeping its campaign relatively low-key, sending out less than luxurious mailers. But that does not mean that the company is uninterested in winning. “My goal at Paramount is to get exceptional work recognized,” says President David Stapf, who works closely on the company's Emmy effort with John Wentworth, executive VP of communications. “If an Emmy brings new viewers or eyeballs to those shows, then it's worth it, and it's of benefit. For me, it's always about, How does an Emmy or a nomination translate into awareness and new viewers?”
Part of the answer to that question for this year's programming will become clear after July 14, when Emmy nominations are announced in Hollywood's pre-dawn hours. Campaigning is particularly intense right now because the selection of nominations is determined by the entire voting body of the Academy. This is a policy that draws criticism because of the possibility that the nominations can be skewed toward companies with larger blocs of voters: More people work for NBC than say, FX, A&E or Court TV. On the other hand, many cable networks are owned by much larger media companies, so perhaps Fox employees vote for shows on the Fox-owned FX and NBC Universal employees vote for programs on Bravo or USA.
“No doubt there is some of that, but there is precious little we can do about it,” says ATAS President Todd Leavitt. “We qualify people through their credentials, and then their vote is their business.”
SELECT THE RIGHT EPISODES
While the voting for nominations could be a little lopsided, that possibility ends once the nominees are announced. Then the voting process moves on to Academy volunteers—a total of about 6,000—with each member usually voting in only one or two categories after having been screened for potential conflicts of interest. They watch screener DVDs and tapes at home and swear in affidavits that they watched every submission before voting. Once the nominations have been announced, the focus of the campaigning is redirected to selecting the right episodes of a show for the panel to see (up to six for Outstanding Comedy or Outstanding Drama, fewer for other categories). Choosing which episodes voters see can spell the difference between a win and a loss.
“Emmy is the only award that guarantees that people's work will be seen by every voter once they are nominated,” says Tom O'Neil, who runs GoldDerby.com, a Web site that covers entertainment-industry awards. “I don't believe you can really affect voting at all by campaigning once the nominations are out. Those judges vote on the tapes submitted.
“Still, in show business, you can't be shy,” O'Neil adds. “If you want something, you've got to ask for it.”
Additional reporting by Anne Becker