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Contenders aim for show-selection perfection

PR advice: Pick segs designed to charm or reorient voters

After failing to snag the actor Emmy for “The West Wing’s” second season, Martin Sheen vowed to “stack the deck” for a season-three win, according to publicist Richard Licata.

So, with his nom for “West Wing’s” third season in hand, Sheen sought advice from Licata, then a Rogers and Cowan PR man repping his show.

“I don’t know how you didn’t win the Emmy last year,” Licata, now exec VP of communications for Showtime, told Sheen. “That scene in the season finale where you go into the church and scream at God. … I don’t know how any actor in the business couldn’t vote for you.”

But Sheen said his producers didn’t submit that episode for Emmy consideration. He wasn’t sure which episode to enter this time around, either.

“A lot of times, actors — as dogged and as intrepid as they can be — leave it to their producers” to choose a single episode to represent their work, Licata says. “And these producers have their own agendas.”

How much difference does it really make which episode gets submitted? “Strategy goes up to the last minute,” Licata says. “It’s not left to chance at all.”

Awards pundit Tom O’Neil agrees. Actors come to him to talk strategy — he encourages them to choose episodes that demonstrate their emotional range. O’Neil says Sarah Jessica Parker had to wait until the last season of “Sex and the City” to pick up a trophy because she previously chose ultralight samplings of her performances.

Tony Shalhoub won an actor Emmy for USA Network’s “Monk” in 2003. Tapped again this year, he says he avoids insider advice and doesn’t worry about strategy. He invites USA to help him make up his mind. “I don’t want to get too embroiled in that. The work I do is of a higher priority, really.”

Shalhoub did, however, tell producers he favored the episode he’d pitched to writers –“Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine” — and they submitted it without batting an eye. In that episode, title character Monk takes medication that cures his obsessive compulsive disorder but prevents him from solving crimes and accessing his wife’s spirit. It gave Shalhoub a good chance to stretch.

“I assume the Emmy people look at more than just those submitted episodes,” Shalhoub says. “I pull this out of the air, but (I hope) they look at a good cross-section.”

While actors submit one episode, and supporting actors two, producers of tapped skeins send off six full-length episodes to a couple of hundred Academy of Television Arts & Sciences voters. Licata says it’s crucial to pick episodes designed to charm someone who’s never seen the series and reorient someone who knows it well.

Phil Rosenthal, exec producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” says he doesn’t want to leave any cast member out when choosing series submissions.

“We like to mix it up,” he explains. “We wouldn’t want to present all Ray and Debra fighting, or all Robert. … We want maybe one with heart, maybe one that’s just balls-out funny.”

This year, Rosenthal and team chose an episode in which Raymond’s parents (played by Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle) move into a retirement home and get kicked out; another was selected in which the Barone men make a secret trip to the horse track. The emotional series finale was also submitted.

“Who knows if they even get watched?” he adds.

There’s no surefire way to know how many Academy members do their homework. But voters are required to sign an affidavit stating that they’ve viewed submitted episodes.

And plenty of producers take the act of episode selection quite seriously. Joel Surnow, whose “24” is nominated for drama, says he and series co-creator Robert Cochran select the biggest episodes of the year, the “event” episodes. They don’t worry about actors’ feelings.

“We’ve had some complaints with some actors in the past who weren’t in those episodes,” Surnow says. “We’re just trying to win.”

Does Surnow believe the picks make the win? “I think it’s about as helpful as headshots for actresses,” Surnow says. “You still have to have the goods. People have to talk about the show and like the show.”

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