In television, the sign of success is often a spinoff. So it should come as little surprise that the natural result of Peak TV is Peak Emmys.
With more than 400 scripted series on the air and well over 100 programmers across broadcast, cable and streaming, there’s a mad dash of contenders vying for just seven drama and comedy series slots. And that’s not even counting the acting, reality, movie and limited series races.
The awards show may not be until September, but now that the Oscars have been handed out, Emmy campaigning has kicked into high gear, with publicists vying for key roundtables, ad buys and screening series.
Industry sources point to the overcrowding of the content market as the main driver of the early start to the television awards season. Hulu is entering the race for the first time, with series like “11.22.63” and “The Path,” as are emerging networks like WGN with “Underground” and “Outsiders” (no matter that Tribune Media recently put the net up for sale). USA has a serious contender with Golden Globe winner “Mr. Robot,” while Amazon wants to prove it isn’t a one-hit wonder with “Transparent.” And of course, all the usual suspects like FX, AMC and HBO want to make a big impact with heavyweights like “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” “Better Call Saul,” “Game of Thrones,” and (for HBO) the upcoming TV movies “Confirmation” and “All the Way.”
Lifetime kicked off the early push back in January, sending out the season’s first For Your Consideration mailer for drama “UnREAL.” The strategy was clear: beat the inevitable tsunami of mailers. “There’s a lot of competition. You need to do anything possible to carve out a name for yourself,” says an insider. “Yes, the early bird gets the worm.”
The question of when to start campaigning just adds more fuel to the Emmy fire. “Do you want to go early, before the fray?” asks another insider. “Or do you want to be in the mind of people when they’re voting in June?” The window for Emmy nomination voting covers the two-week period from June 13 to June 27.
One insider compared the mania to the current presidential campaign, which began months ahead of election day. “It started way too early, and the frenzy has only gotten worse,” she says.
Another key driver in ratcheting up the competition is the increase of entries from the streaming services. Netflix will be sending out mailers with 46 series. They can’t boast about their ratings, since they don’t release those numbers — but they can brag about their trophies, and in turn use that to drive subscriptions. “Instead of going for viewership claims, they’re going for prestige claims,” says one maven. “For them, it’s about how their shows are received critically and how many awards they win.” Last year, Netflix racked up 34 nominations — an increase from 2014, but still a far cry from HBO’s 126. This year, along with Emmy favorites “Orange Is the New Black” and “House of Cards,” there’s the critically beloved comedy “Master of None,” which is sure to garner kudos love.
Of course, not every series included in a mailer is a serious contender: Submissions are often a talent-relations expectation. No one wants to get that call from an agent, manager or publicist asking why their client’s show didn’t make the rounds. Yet with limited dollars, “you have to be strategic,” says an insider. “You can’t put everything out there.”
A modest Emmy campaign can cost $1 million; the big campaigners easily spend 10 times that. It may sound excessive, but awards consultants say, ultimately, that the money doesn’t go that far. “The days of buying a few ads are over. You have to do something huge and disruptive,” says one. “If the studios and networks pooled their money, they could feed a small country or find a cure for a disease.”
Further complicating matters is the ongoing construction of the TV Academy’s North Hollywood headquarters, which normally houses those For Your Consideration panels and screenings. Construction is set to be completed in June, but insiders are skeptical it will be ready in time. Plus, it’s already booked solid for key dates in the voting window. “If you’re an Academy member, you can have an event every single night from April to the middle of June and never have to buy dinner,” says one source. Last year, the construction forced networks and studios to find alternate third-party venues, sending them to the Pacific Design Center auditorium, studio screening rooms and movie theaters. But the PDC is no longer an option — it, too, is now under construction. “In terms of getting events scheduled and mounted, there’s a whole other level of complexity this year,” adds the source.
Ultimately of course, all the campaigning comes down to those who cast the ballots. If viewers struggle to watch the glut of series, one can only imagine what challenges the voters will face.