ROPING IN CRED
LOVE YA, mean it. When it comes to Hollywood cliches, there is one that actually contains some truth -- for the Primetime Emmy Awards, at any rate.
Any producer or network executive who utters the words “It’s an honor just to be nominated” usually knows that a major-category nomination can help change the fortunes of a struggling show, attract bigger viewership and even help craft a brand.
For a basic cable network that has just entered the realm of scripted programming, an Emmy can be just the validation it needs. No one knows that better than AMC, whose “Mad Men” racked up 16 nominations and surely was a key to its doubled viewership for the second season opener last week. But FX’s “The Shield” was among the first basic-cable series to enjoy the benefits of Emmy’s glow when Michael Chiklis won for lead actor in a drama series. “What the Emmy did was cement FX as a destination for scripted programming,” says Fox Executive Vice President of Programming Matt Cherniss, who joined the network in May after several years at FX. “That attracted more audience [and] it attracted potentially better talent to the pool.”
Ratings and advertising don’t rule pay-cable channels like HBO and Showtime, so Emmy attention serves a different purpose: It reminds subscribers why they pay for the service. “The recognition helps in terms of the public perception that there’s something going on here that’s worth paying the extra money for,” says Michael Lombardo, HBO’s president of programming.
Some cablers employ the Emmy campaigns in their overall marketing strategy. “We use the Emmy campaign season to help further identify Showtime as a quality original programmer,” says Richard Licata, Showtime’s executive vice president of entertainment public relations and longtime Emmy campaign strategist, “so that’s where I think the value is in a very competitive television landscape. It differentiates you.”
Cable networks might have been quicker to take advantage of the attendant marketing value of both nominations and wins, but broadcasters still acknowledge Emmy’s importance. “It’s a badge, so to speak,” Cherniss explains. “ ‘Arrested Development’s’ win, ‘The Office’s’ win -- those are things that really helped keep the shows on the air, helped to embolden the networks to stick with those programs. It can still be essential to the life span of a show.”
“Arrested Development” survived only two more seasons after it took home the best comedy Emmy in 2004, but Jason Katims knows all too well the effect Emmy attention can have for a struggling show. His critically praised, ratings-challenged series “Friday Night Lights” has earned several below-the-line Emmy noms, including a statuette for casting and a nomination for director Peter Berg last year (it’s gotten another casting nomination this year). Although the show has yet to crack a major category, Katims is grateful for the acknowledgment of the nominations. “There’s no question that adds prestige -- it helps a lot,” the producer says. “The hope is that it will get people to check out the show.”
Plus, with DVD sales becoming a bigger part of launching the second season of a show and even helping to build a show’s audience over the course of several seasons, earning a seal of approval from the TV academy can be a boon. An Emmy “is a real tool both domestically and internationally,” Showtime’s Licata says.
But above all, an Emmy nomination can give a broadcast or cable network bragging rights about the talent with which it’s in business. “When we have the opportunity to thank our creators and our writers and producers, we like to take advantage of that opportunity,” Fox’s Cherniss says.
Despite such a plethora of awards shows littering the streets of Los Angeles, little else has achieved the luster of that 4.75-pound golden girl. “An Emmy continues to be of enormous importance for people who work on a show,” Lombardo says. “If anything, the competitive landscape has gotten much more intense, and I think it’s taking on even greater importance.”
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We talked with three industry insiders who are enjoying first nominations -- for themselves or for the shows they created.
Todd A. Kessler, FX’s “Damages,” co-creator and executive producer
“Winning is about ego. We don’t think people will say, ‘Oh, it was one of the five [nominees], but not the top [show]. I won’t watch it.’ Hopefully, it all translates to affording us the opportunity to continue to push and see where the boundaries are in television.”
Matthew Weiner, AMC’s “Mad Men,” creator and executive producer
“The Emmys were created to honor excellence, and they’re also a promotional tool to celebrate TV, so I’m hoping that we can draw more attention to the show and get even more people to see it. Winning? I don’t even know what to tell you. I haven’t done the visualization yet of me standing up there with a trophy.”
Amy Poehler, “Saturday Night Live,” supporting actress in a comedy series
“Well, I think if I win, people are really going to start talking about ‘Saturday Night Live.’ I think it’ll probably be picked up for another season. It was a really strange year because of the strike, and it really made us all appreciate how lucky we are to work there. It’s a sugared flower on top of the icing on top of the cake for me.”
-- Christy Grosz