It seems like it was a lifetime ago, but it was only last year that the busiest Emmy campaign season ever kept us out virtually every night of the week. That included seeing Bruce Springsteen and David Letterman onstage at the Netflix “FYSee” space, interacting with “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” exhibit during Amazon Prime Video’s takeover of the Hollywood Athletic Club and watching a live orchestra perform at the Greek Theatre, set to scenes from various National Geographic productions.
There had never quite been an Emmy For Your Consideration season like 2019, but this year promised to be even louder, even bigger — until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Without the razzle-dazzle of A-list talent, catered spreads of gourmet food and Instagram-worthy photo ops, last month’s Emmy nominations relied more than usual on the way things used to be done: based solely on the merits of what voters had seen. The lack of events also disrupted the usual habit of voters comparing notes and building buzz in person, which often can play a large role in determining front-runners.
But I’m not sure it made any difference. Even without its pricey pop-up, Netflix landed 160 Emmy nominations, the most of any network in history. And newcomer Disney Plus scored 19 nods, including 15 for “The Mandalorian,” with virtually no campaigning at all.
Now, with people still stuck at home for the foreseeable future — even if we finally start getting this coronavirus under control — and corporate bean counters looking at ways to slash costs, it’s worth asking: Does this mean perhaps a pullback from last year’s particularly aggressive brand of campaigning?
When I posed this question to several awards executives at some of the industry’s biggest outlets, the answer was pretty much the same — and to paraphrase: “Bite your tongue, Mike!” Once people can go out of the house again, the events will return. And they may be bigger than ever.
“I think that when we are able to get back to normal, people are going to be hungry for those experiences,” one exec tells me. “I don’t think that we’re going to be able to take our foot off the gas of these more fantastical elements of the campaign. Now, do we have to do them for as long as we’ve been doing? Probably not. Can we take what we’ve done during stay-at-home and have some sort of amalgamation or marrying of the two? Probably. We’ve learned a lot from the changes that we were forced into doing. But I don’t think that’s going to stop us from entertaining voters. I think voters want to be entertained.”
Next year, with a later Oscar season encroaching on Emmy campaign territory, expect perhaps even bigger events (presuming the world inches back to normalcy) as networks and studios take advantage of simultaneously targeting talent guild and TV Academy voters. “I do not envision significant cutbacks,” another exec says. “Awards are the new 365/24/7 effort. Here’s the worst-kept secret — talent really want awards. And as long as they do, there will be awards campaigns.”
Now that new streamers like Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, HBO Max and Quibi have gotten a taste of Emmy love — along with the just-launched Peacock and a revamped CBS All Access presumably getting more aggressive in the awards space — next year will be as competitive as ever.
One exec says the surprise nominations of shows like “The Mandalorian,” “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Unorthodox,” along with stars like Zendaya from “Euphoria,” are signs that the makeup of the Emmy voting body may already be evolving to become younger and more diverse. That opens the door to campaigning for more shows that once would have been seen as long shots.
“I’m excited for the changes, because it changes how you think about what you’re going to campaign,” the exec says. “For so long, the Academy has been sort of the staid old guard. We started to see that change a little bit last year with ‘Fleabag’ and ‘Schitt’s Creek’ getting in. Now we saw it completely change this year.”
The success of genre shows like “Mandalorian” and “Shadows” also has some campaigners wondering if there’s a Comic-Con/fan festival effect at play. If so, that also supports the argument that campaign events are valuable and likely to come back in a major way.
“Campaigns are here to stay, because awards appeal to everyone,” an exec says. “Just in the same way every show goes to Comic-Con, PaleyFest and any fest anywhere. It’s about the talent, and it’s about the fans.”