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Emmy Contenders Need to Find Ways to Build Oscar-Style Buzz (Column)

Why should the film folks have all the fun? In features, the Oscar race is the stuff of constant conversation as contenders are continually placed on the field — first at various film festivals, then at a litany of awards shows before the Academy Awards picks the ultimate season-ending victors. 

In TV, the Emmy march isn’t nearly as robust, and there are plenty of reasons for that. For the longest time, TV festivals weren’t necessary to expose audiences to the few new or lesser-seen shows, and Emmy campaigns were pointless when the same programs kept winning year after year. 

That’s all changed, but Emmy season hasn’t caught up to the new order of things just yet. There’s very little pomp and circumstance in the months leading up to the Emmys, and that’s why audiences may feel less invested in the races — and ratings aren’t close what they are for the Oscars.

Yet there’s plenty of drama to be had at this year’s Emmys: Will “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” beat out “Veep” for top comedy? Can “RuPaul’s Drag Race” continue to sashay roughshod over the unscripted competition race? How dominant will “Game of Thrones” be?

Although Emmy campaigning has become a big-budget affair, rivaling — if not surpassing — the Oscar race in terms of expenditures, there isn’t yet a clear path for shows to take a “road to the Emmys.” But that’s beginning to change. 

Emmy season arguably begins in January with the Golden Globes and the various guild kudos (the SAG Awards being the most notable), and thanks to their position in the calendar year, those awards are often the first to get the chance to recognize new shows (think “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”).

But after that, the excitement dries up. Awards strategist Rich Licata suggests borrowing a page out of the big-screen handbook: “TV needs to start claiming a portion of sacred movie real estate” and aggressively hone in on traditionally film-focused festivals in winter and early spring, he says.

Those fests’ TV output has been lackluster so far. Sundance and SXSW can’t quite figure out what to do with the small screen, while Cannes is a snob to the form (save for auteurs who claim they’re making “13-hour movies” rather than series). Such festivals would be wise to embrace TV and capitalize on early Emmy campaigns.

But if taking over film events isn’t the answer, the ever-growing calendar of TV festivals in June could easily expand their scope when it comes to being a part of the Emmy race. The month is already bursting at the seams with the ATX Television Festival in Austin; Banff World Media Festival in Banff, Canada; Monte-Carlo TV Festival in Monaco; and SeriesFest in Denver. 

“I do think we’re starting to see more of a ‘road to the Emmys’ type of campaign strategy, with Banff being a part of that,” Banff World Media Festival executive director Jenn Kuzmyk tells me. The event, now in its 40th year, can tout the legacy of its Rockie Awards as “a stamp of approval from the industry,” she says. “And it’s something that’s seen by the people behind the shows as something to build on.” This year’s honorees include “Bodyguard” creator Jed Mercurio and “Barry” star Bill Hader, both of whom are in the hunt for Emmys.  

There’s also room for more kudos. Critics’ Choice Awards tried and failed to launch a June beachhead for its TV awards, opting ultimately to fold them into its January film event. The TV Critics Assn. Awards remains a summer staple for critical acclaim.

The biggest bet on Emmy season comes from MTV, however, with its revamped Movie & TV Awards. Live events VP Vanessa Whitewolf says that adding TV to what was just the MTV Movie Awards — and moving the show to June, at the height of Emmy voting — was “probably one of the best decisions we ever made.”

“We’re smack in the middle of the Emmy pre-nomination window and that was something we did by design because we saw the opportunity for those who were on the Emmy campaign trail,” she says. 

This year, MTV Movie & TV Awards nominees include underdogs like “Schitt’s Creek” and “Sex Education,” which helps add those shows to the awards conversation. 

That’s a start. But there’s room for more, especially later in Emmy season as Academy voters are choosing TV’s best. In the age of Peak TV, the road to the Emmys deserves to be a superhighway. 

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