With so many big dogs in the annual Emmy hunt, what’s a kudos underdog to do?
Several networks not usually associated with Emmy-bait series are entering or re-entering this year’s drama race in a major way. From Lifetime’s “UnReal” to Hulu’s “The Path,” these series tussle to stand out from the pack of the usual heavyweights that dominate the category.
Jason Katims has been at this game for a while, working on a string of critically acclaimed series including “My So-Called Life,” “Relativity,” “Parenthood” and “Friday Night Lights.”
But when it comes to garnering awards attention for a cachet drama like, “The Path,” he jokes, “If I knew the answer to that, I’d have more Emmys.”
Obviously, TV creatives can only put their best work forward and hope for the best — while also making it so unique and special people have to pay attention.
“To be honest, having Aaron Paul, Hugh Dancy, Michelle Monaghan and Kathleen Turner helps,” Katims says of the crisis-of-faith series centering on a religious cult. “The excitement around this cast may cause people to check it out, and if given a chance, they will like it.”
It’s also an important show for Hulu as it vies with digital players Netflix and Amazon to create high-end original programming.
“We get a lot of love and energy because (Hulu is) using the show to say this is who we are as a network,” says “The Path” creator-producer Jessica Goldberg. “Their ad campaign was beautiful and evocative. The subject matter is incendiary, so that has been useful in getting attention too.”
Campaigns have been the time-honored way to get a series front and center to the voters. Kerry Ehrin, a colleague of Katims’ on “Parenthood” and “Friday Night Lights,” now partners with Carlton Cuse for “Psycho” prequel “Bates Motel.” Having recently completed its fourth season on A&E, the series has a cult following, but has struggled to gain Emmy attention — beyond a lead actress nomination for Vera Farmiga in season one.
“There’s no denying publicity helps, and there’s huge marketing going on to grab attention,” Ehrin says. “But then you also have to factor in the fanbase. ‘Orphan Black’ did a big fan based push for Tatiana Maslany to get recognized (and she was nominated last year). I think fervent fans help a lot.”
|“You have to do more to get attention, and you have to be strategic. There’s not only 400 shows out there, there are at least 50 great shows.”|
Sometimes, a respected drama can pop into the headlines by winning a high-profile award prior to the Emmys. USA’s critically acclaimed series “Mr. Robot” has picked up a slew of notable awards including the Golden Globe for drama series and a 2016 Peabody Award. Lifetime’s “UnReal” also copped a Peabody.
While Lifetime has snagged a few Emmys in the past for shows like “Project Runway” and nominations for TV movies, the network hasn’t been known for scripted series that capture the attention of Emmy voters.
“We are so excited about the (Peabody) award because it stamps the show as worthy,” says Liz Gateley, Lifetime exec VP and head of programming. “This is the renaissance of dramatic television and you have incredibly talented people out there producing a lot of great dramas.”
Gateley says she’s proud of her PR team, which got a jump on the competition by sending out an Emmy mailer in January.
“You have to do more to get attention, and you have to be strategic,” she says. “There’s not only 400 shows out there, there are at least 50 great shows. And nobody has adequate bandwidth to watch it all or even consume it all.”
And getting a budget to promote is always a challenge. Having cable shows premiering around this time of year allows studios and networks to leverage their marketing campaigns leading up to the Emmys.
New seasons of “UnReal” and “Mr. Robot” are due shortly. Last year’s winners “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” bowed new episodes in the spring and Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” returns every summer.
“If your show is coming out during that loading period, whether it’s a tune in or for your consideration spot, it’s an efficiency,” Gateley says.
“UnReal” creator-producer Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who once worked on “The Bachelor,” wrote “Sequin Raze” about the vicious behind- the-scenes drama of a reality show. Her dark indie short was sold to Lifetime and blossomed into a critical darling for the network.
“We are proud of what we are doing, and getting the Peabody and the Critics’ Choice award is uplifting for a show like ours,” Shapiro says. “It took a giant leap to take my baby to Lifetime, but it was worth it. Just trying to make a good show is challenging and scary, but the awards are great because they allow us to keep doing the work.”
The trickiest part of any Emmy hungry show is not only garnering a bit of attention, but standing out from an increasingly crowded field of worthy shows.
“‘The Path’ is capturing attention because it’s arresting, surprising and fresh with an incredible cast. When that happens, you are hopeful about getting recognition from the awards,” Katims says. “It’s not why you do it, but it’s exciting to have anything that will bring new viewers to your show.”
As Cuse notes, “You don’t want people to find your show four years later. There is no ‘Was a Great Drama But We Missed It’ Emmy category.”