It all looks so glitzy and effortless: Show up Emmy night,
wait for the category, then smile and rush the stage when the winner is announced.
The toughest part is deciding between Armani and Donna
Karan for the tux.
But in reality, the walk to the podium this past Sunday
night began months before, perhaps even as a cable project was green-lighted. Some
cable-network executives said they integrate their strategies for pursuing Emmy Awards
into each consumer marketing and publicity campaign, with the hopes that enough
impressions will be made to lead voters to recall their title.
This is vital, because potential voters don't get a
paper listing potential nominees: They must summon up the names and write them down on
their own, programmers noted.
Look at USA Network, one of the early planners: Virtually
from the day that the channel decided to remake Moby Dick, in partnership with
Hallmark Entertainment and producer Robert Halmi Jr., it used every resource at its
command to reposition itself as a maker of classics worthy of the attention of viewers and
"Our programming is different than it was five years
ago. There's more original content there," said Joan Swift, vice president,
corporate communications for USA Networks Inc., who noted that USA lucked out with its
selection of Patrick Stewart as the miniseries' star -- the actor stumped tirelessly
for his favored project.
"He was great at doing interviews, especially in L.A.
[Los Angeles], to keep the visibility high here," she added.
At Emmy-voting time, the network reaffirmed the
"classic" image, packaging its tapes to voters in keepsake sleeves. USA
didn't want the film tapes to look like disposable dubs, but rather, it wanted them
to appear to be the quality worthy of inclusion in a home-video library (after viewing, of
Swift credited the totality of the campaign for great
viewership (Moby Dick got an 8.2 Nielsen Media Research rating) and the five Emmy
nominations that the miniseries earned (the winners were announced after press time),
including one for Stewart.
Award campaigning puts many programmers in a quandary. Some
are blessed with depth in potential nominees, and they must perform triage on them.
For example, programmers have to decide if it would be
wasteful to spend more funds on shows that were blessed with great release-date publicity,
which may carry over to nomination time.
LOBBYING ON A SHOESTRING
Other networks don't have that many nominees, but --
liked cash-starved politicians -- they bemoan that a lack of funds prevents them from
campaigning as heavily as they would like.
The bugaboo is tape-dub and distribution costs. Cable
remains at a disadvantage to broadcast because no cable network enjoys the depth of
penetration that the "Big Four" broadcast networks do.
Cable protested this disadvantage to no avail in its first
few years of eligibility in the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which oversees
the Emmy Awards. But the board was adamant in saying that members don't want to be
buried in tapes.
It was a tough stance, especially since the cable operator
that serves key residential pockets for Emmy voters -- such as Beverly Hills, Santa Monica
and West Los Angeles -- is Century Communications Corp. At that time, Century had not
rebuilt, and its ancient system was channel-locked at 35 slots, meaning that many networks
had zero exposure.
Under continued pressure from cable networks, ATAS relented
about five years ago, but with stringent rules. Networks, including broadcasters, are not
allowed direct access to the approximately 8,800 Emmy voters: They must submit tapes to
ATAS' mailing house, and the tapes are subsequently vetted by authorities. "Keep
it simple" is the rule.
"We aren't even allowed a cover letter,"
said Lynn McReynolds, vice president of communications for Discovery Networks U.S.
Discovery's marketing burden isn't as big as that
of other networks, as programming from Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel can only
compete in nonfiction races and a few trade categories. Still, coming up with an
eye-catching campaign can be pricey.
"If you want to do something catchy, it can be
relatively expensive ... I haven't gotten the bills back yet" for this
year's campaign, McReynolds said ruefully.
DISADVANTAGE OF CABLE NETS
At Showtime, executives force themselves to take a step
back and handicap their chances in each category before allocating their marketing
"You try to be as honest as you can with yourself,
based on reviews and your own honest analysis ... to focus on areas of real
opportunities," said Mark Zakarin, Showtime's executive vice president of
original programming. "You hope that ultimately, good work will speak for
He believes that the Hollywood community is "catching
up to the fact that some of the best work of TV is on Showtime," as evidenced by the
network's 17 nominations, up from nine last year. The pay service's 12 Angry
Men and More Tales of the City collected 11 nominations between them.
Despite Showtime's quality product, Zakarin still
wishes that he had three times the budget to promote his Emmy hopefuls. Cable has done
pretty well converting nominations into wins in the past few years, but broadcasters still
have the muscle to get the cover of TV Guide and entertainment magazines, and that
kind of exposure gives them an edge in program awareness.
The potential bill kept Turner Network Television from
touting one of its miniseries this year, officials said.
TNT risked the wrath of influential director John Milius
when it decided not to do a mass tape mailing of his Rough Riders, which starred
Tom Berenger as Theodore Roosevelt. Although the series got good notices, a dub would have
required two tapes, plus the increased shipping costs to send it to the entire membership.
Instead, the network sent the program to selected technical-category voting members.
"We figured that the general membership got a chance
to see it on-air," said Scot Safon, senior vice president of marketing for TNT.
It was a hard choice, but a necessary one for a network
with a wider breadth of programming than ever. For the first time, TNT also trumpeted live
concerts and an original drama series.
Safon calls his strategy "reminder positioning."
Ad campaigns, such as a supplement that was shrink-wrapped with Emmy magazine,
allow the network to reaffirm what it is all about.
Executives agreed that this is vital. If a network does not
have a reputation for quality work, anecdotal evidence indicates, there is a lesser chance
that potential voters will even bother to open its mailers.
Some networks went so far as to allude that the success
that Home Box Office continues to have -- it was second only to NBC in nominations this
year -- is due as much to its past successes as to its slate of originals this year. That
said, they also stressed that HBO's nominations were all deserved.
HBO & THE EMMY
HBO does look for the kind of edge that will immediately
identify a project with the pay service's imprimatur. But it's not to build Emmy
stature, executives insisted: It's to lure subscribers.
"The Emmy is a better measure of the [judgment of] the
TV industry as a whole [than the CableACE Awards were]," said John Matoian, president
of HBO Pictures and HBO NYC.
Emmys are just the "frosting on an already delicious
cake," but the real focus of marketing is attracting new subscribers and reminding
current ones what they are getting for their pay dollars, Matoian added.
HBO has come under fire from broadcasters for its success
in the movie and miniseries categories. Cable has a two-tiered revenue stream that makes
it an unfair competitor, broadcasters have carped. Ever vigilant, the broadcasters
broached the issue this year before the nominations were even cast.
The broadcasters, and USA, attempted to thin the miniseries
field a bit by arguing that HBO's $65 million, 12-part From the Earth to the Moon
did not fit that category. With different directors for each of the episodes, it was more
rightly a series, they argued.
ATAS stood by HBO, but it will be interesting to see if the
networks argue with the umpire again next year, or step up to the plate with more
potential nominees of their own.
Matoian indicated different factors that swing the Emmy
competition in the premium service's favor.
As a CBS executive, Matoian filled an annual slate of 65
movies, versus eight or nine for HBO. And as a broadcaster, the projects were subject to
alteration by different constituencies: advertisers, standards and practices and even
affiliate boards weak-kneed that a project "won't play in the Bible belt,"
he noted. But a pay service has the luxury of serving one master -- subscribers.
Despite HBO's powerhouse history with awards,
marketing strategies don't always play out the way that they are handicapped.
Executives were surprised that Oz, a well-reviewed drama in a prison setting, was
ignored by the voters.
Chris Albrecht, HBO's president of original
programming and president of HBO Independent Productions, turned aside the suggestion that
the program was too difficult for some voters to admit that they like it, even though one
scene this season depicted one inmate defecating in the face of another.
"Saving Private Ryan is difficult, too ... it
could be that the voters just thought that everything else was better than [Oz],"
Conversely, the comedy Mr. Show gained a nod for
writing in an always stiffly contested category -- variety, music or comedy special --
even though HBO didn't send out tapes of the quirky show, Albrecht said.
Category selection can become a factor in the Emmy race.
Comedy Central entered its parody series, The Daily Show, in the
informational-series category, rather than placing it in the dogfights for best comedy or
variety series. The informational category is voted on by a smaller group, so executives
reasoned that the move might give The Daily Show an edge, statistically speaking.
It didn't work, and the network won't repeat the
strategy, said Maryanne Minscer, its manager of corporate communications, awards. Next
year, the show will go back into the variety category, because executives believe that the
name recognition of new host Jon Stewart will be the icebreaker that the show needs to
compete against the likes of Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show
with Jay Leno.
Great publicity doesn't necessarily guarantee an
automatic nomination, executives said: Some shows -- even those with good ratings -- need
reinforcement, even from networks on small, tight budgets.
One case in point is South Park. The foul-mouthed
school kids have been on nearly every magazine cover besides Bovine Herd Management,
but Comedy Central divvied up part of its meager Emmy promotional budget to send out tapes
of the series, which got nominated -- but didn't win -- in the animation category.
People are certainly aware of it, but given Comedy
Central's penetration levels, awareness doesn't necessarily translate into
viewership, stressed Tony Fox, the network's vice president of communications. Also,
there's a possibility that veterans of traditional animation didn't accept South
"We're hoping [that traditional animators] will
see it as true to the form and give it credit as a brilliant social satire," Fox
The impact of the loss of the CableACEs will not be fully
felt until next year, after cable networks spend a full year with the Emmys as their top
focus. Certainly, marketers will divert a portion of the dollars that they would have
dumped into cable trade ads and CableACE entry fees into their Emmy bids, but it's
also possible that they will tackle other awards programs, such as The Golden Globes.
Another possibility is widening the net among the Emmy
categories. Discovery and Comedy Central, for instance, have remained rather focused on a
few categories, and both networks will seek out experts to advise them on whether they
have a shot at technical categories, such as set direction or costume design.
After all, an Emmy is an Emmy, whether you get to wear the
tux and collect it or not.