The race for the 2005 Emmy Awards has begun. Peer committees have narrowed the possible field of nominees for this year's honors, and ballots to select the final nominees are set to go out this week to the full membership of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
The process of drumming up support for an award is long and expensive. Networks spend tens of thousands of dollars to design and execute presentation packages meant to stand out from all of the other dazzling mailers sent to thousands of voters.
And that's not to mention “for your consideration” ads in the Hollywood and TV-trade papers.
The cost is high. Yet network executives readily admit that, unlike the Oscars for film achievement, winning an Emmy doesn't measurably boost box-office returns. Plus, ratings data shows that viewers are already migrating to cable networks, even though broadcast programs continue to win the majority of Emmys for episodic television.
An Emmy can generate publicity for a show, though, and raise its quality profile enough to attract more stars to the cast. It can even enhance a network's overall brand.
Many basic network executives credit FX's breakthrough into the “Big 6” series categories for boosting hopes that there is room on the award stage for programmers besides heavy-hitting Home Box Office.
Michael Chiklis's win two years ago as best actor in a drama series for FX's The Shield was a first for basic cable and “it definitely inspired us,” said E! Networks senior vice president of programming Salaam Coleman Smith.
An Emmy is supremely important in that it represents a network's “coming of age,” she added. Coleman Smith has high hopes for E!'s True Hollywood Story on the late John Ritter; The Soup, the irreverent talk-show clip show; and reality shows Usher Uncut, Dr. 90210 and Love is in the Heir.
Style is promoting Diary of an Affair and the kooky Craft Corner Deathmatch.
But despite The Shield's initial success, its victory also showed how capricious the award can be.
The show hasn't been recognized since that first win and subsequent wins that year at the Golden Globe Awards, FX spokesman John Solberg said. But the show did increase its total viewership.
“The Emmy is a stamp of the approval of quality,” said Solberg, who added that it has made it easier for FX to attract talented people to the network, such as film star Glenn Close, now part of The Shield's cast.
FX is focusing its Emmy campaign again on The Shield, along with Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me.
“Do audiences notice [the Emmys] as much as we do? I don't know,” added Turner Network Television senior vice president for original programming Michael Wright. “But it's important to the people who make TV.”
“Every award is a huge honor, though hard to quantify,” he said. “Most networks gladly use it as a marketing tool to further the brand. We aspire to a level of quality — it's part of the brand.”
TNT sent voters material on The Wool Cap, featuring William H. Macy (a previous Emmy winner for another TNT movie, Door to Door); as well as the thriller The Grid, which Wright hopes Academy members will acknowledge for “elevating the genre.”
Hopes are also high for TNT's Salem's Lot, which Wright believes is the best adaptation of a Stephen King novel for the screen, and for the Noah Wylie starrer The Librarian. Wright said producer Dean Devlin made the latter look like “a $50 million feature, but on a TV budget.”
Tim Brooks, executive vice president for research at Lifetime and a member of the voting panel, marveled over the sophistication of the nomination kits.
“Sometimes I wonder if they put out packages this elegant when the show was actually launched,” he said. “These things cost them a lot of money.”
But the awards themselves don't do much to boost the bottom line, Brooks said.
“If anything, they are given to hit shows, or shows that are critical darlings that nobody watches,” he said.
That being said, his network is still campaigning for awards, throwing its support behind two made-for-TV movies: Plain Truth starring Mariska Hargitay and Dawn Anna with Debra Winger; and behind Terror at Home: Domestic Violence in America. The latter was the second-highest rated documentary in Lifetime's history and the network hopes it can nab a nomination in the nonfiction programming category.
There is no provable link between awards success and a show's performance, agreed Comedy Central executive vice president and general manager Michele Ganeless.
“There's no empirical proof … no magic formula” to prove that an Emmy award improves viewership, she said. If the Emmys bring anything, though, it's awareness.
She credits this attention for the continued success of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, whose ratings continue to grow even in season nine.
However, she noted that the show also received extra exposure in the last year, due to interest in the presidential election.
The Daily Show, Reno 911!, South Park and some specials are being promoted for Emmy nominations by the comedy network.
In the end, the award game is all about attention. “If someone notices a nomination for Monk on USA and says, 'I want to check that out,' it all helps,” Comedy Central's Ganeless said.
This year's Emmy nominations will be announced July 14.