When it comes to the film awards season, the march to Oscar is often littered with a bottleneck of prestige movie releases at the end of the year. Contenders with high hopes clamor for the attention of Academy voters in October, November and December, just before ballots go out, while few risk earlier releases, lest they be forgotten when the year-end awards movie glut hits.
Well, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: Television networks appear to be increasingly applying similar logic to series aiming for Emmy recognition by the TV Academy.
Take FX’s “The Americans,” for example. Widely considered “one of the best shows you’re not watching,” it’s an excellent drama that consistently came up short with Emmy voters — until last year, when FX gave it a premiere date that brought it closer to the balloting window and, presumably, helped keep it top of mind for voters.
The first three seasons of the show premiered in January and February, but season four bowed in mid-March on the way to picking up nominations for outstanding drama series, lead actor (Matthew Rhys) and lead actress (Keri Russell), to go along with perennial guest actress favorite Margo Martindale. The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. followed suit with Golden Globes love for Rhys and Russell, so perhaps the Screen Actors Guild will join the party this time around. FX has once again gone with a March premiere date.
Netflix, meanwhile, clearly set May premieres for three shows this year with Emmys in mind. Season five of “House of Cards” will bow on May 30 after February and early March premieres for previous seasons, while “Master of None” will drop on May 12 (the first season debuted in the fall of 2015). “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” meanwhile, has shifted from March to April to, now, May 19.
None of those series have struggled for Emmy recognition, but launching them in the thick of balloting makes it clear the streamer is gunning for even more attention. Additionally, “Bloodline” will be back with an as-yet undisclosed May premiere date.
(Amazon is doing something similar with season three of “Catastrophe,” but that may have as much to do with when it airs in the U.K. as anything else.)
Some series are even going back to proven territory after stumbling in their second seasons. FX’s “Fargo” got a ton of nominations for season two, but didn’t win anything major, while ABC’s “American Crime” plummeted in nominations from season one to season two. Perhaps the two networks think moving to earlier release dates was the culprit (October for “Fargo,” January for “American Crime”). Either way, both shows have moved back to the spring frame for their third seasons.
Joining the fun are April/May premieres for a slew of new shows, limited series and TV motion pictures, including Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Starz’s “American Gods” and “The White Princess,” Amazon’s “I Love Dick,” Showtime’s “Guerrilla,” National Geographic’s “Genius,” Netflix’s “Dear White People” and NBC’s “Great News.”
In the past, there didn’t appear to be much strategizing for Emmys based on premiere dates. After all, heavy hitters like AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” won for seasons that launched in the summer. But now that we’re in a period of peak TV, it’s notable that HBO’s reigning Emmy series champs “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” were April premieres. Indeed, “Veep” will be back in its usual frame this year, dropping one April 16, though “The Leftovers” will inherit the “Game of Thrones” slot.
And that could provide an interesting test for whether premiering closer to the voting window really makes a difference. The Damon Lindelof/Tom Perotta drama — which concludes with its third season this year — has not been an Emmy player in the past, but perhaps it will be fresher in voters’ memories this time around. On the other hand, “The Night Of” will be another test. Will the HBO limited series, which bowed last summer, still be lingering? Or is it in danger of being squeezed out in a number of categories by the ballooning category?