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For Television, Golden Globes Voters Value ‘Kingmaker’ Role

We find ourselves in an era of peak television, when for every show you keep up with, there are 10 more just slipping through the cracks. Ease of delivery systems and the lure of creative freedom in a long-form space has led to an impenetrable glut. So what does it take for a series to break through and stand out in the fray during awards season?

Industry groups like the Television Academy and the Screen Actors Guild often default to what’s familiar in the on-going content crush. Standbys like “Downton Abbey,” “Modern Family,” “House of Cards” and “Homeland” have stuck around, allowing for precious few breakouts like “True Detective” and “Mr. Robot” along the way.

Members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., meanwhile — which puts on the annual Golden Globe Awards — pride themselves on being “kingmakers,” as one awards consultant put it. They consistently celebrate new series, vacillating between inspired picks and head-scratchers (like major wins for Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle” last year).

Regardless, connecting with that group of 88 journalists can sometimes be a first step toward broader recognition in the awards space. But how?

A three-person television committee oversees things like category placement and press conference booking, so they serve as natural gatekeepers. Some even say they outright thin the herd of content for the overall membership, though others refute this.

Certainly a time-tested method is wining and dining. The HFPA has been saddled with a reputation for being easily wooed at least since Pia Zadora’s infamous new-star-of-the-year honor in 1982. For “Outlander” last year, Starz arranged to bring HFPA members out to the Scotland location for a visit. The show received nominations for best drama series, best actress (Caitriona Balfe) and best supporting actor (Tobias Menzies).

There is also the tendency for studios and networks to present gifts to the membership in order to get their attention, which remains an eyebrow-raising tradition for some. “The studios are victims,” another consultant told me, rather melodramatically. “They say, ‘We don’t want to do that,’ but if you don’t do that, you’re not going to get noticed. No one will pay attention to you.”

Unfortunately, much of the alchemy relies on how a show is marketed and publicized initially at launch. Unlike the film world, there isn’t a pendulum that swings back at the end of the year, a circuit packed with countless critics groups and others awarding television series, maybe breathing life into something that has been forgotten.

The age of bingeing, meanwhile, has been a blessing and a curse. What’s lost is the water cooler effect, as viewers get around to catching up at different paces. Not to mention diverging calendars, the TV Academy covering one spread, other groups covering another.

Next week’s nominations will reveal what connected for HFPA members this year. “This Is Us,” which has already taken on some Oscar-savvy consultants from the film world, might become NBC’s first drama to score a nomination since “Heroes” 10 years ago. HBO’s “Westworld,” meanwhile, is the hip new series of the fall, so that could glide into a number of categories.

But the networks of the world are well-established enough that the group may just seek to further elevate the status of companies like Amazon and Netflix. Series such as “Goliath” and “The Crown” are in a position to benefit.

However, it would be great to see the love spread to something relatively unsung, like FX’s “You’re the Worst” or Lifetime’s “UnREAL” (though the second season of that show wasn’t nearly as well-received as the first). And somehow neither ABC’s “Blackish,” despite being one of the most vital sitcoms on television today, nor “Fresh Off the Boat,” with its more-timely-than-ever perspective on the immigrant experience, have been celebrated by the HFPA yet.

If anything has been proven to work for Globes voters, though, it’s that sense of freshness, providing them the opportunity to anoint and lean out ahead of the curve — for better or worse.

Nominations for the 74th annual Golden Globe Awards will be announced Monday, Dec. 12.

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