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How Weird Did Emmys FYC Campaigns Get in 2016? The Answer Is Really Weird

Thousands and thousands of dollars were spent on "for your consideration" campaigns this year. Here's a look at the unconventional techniques used to sell award-hungry TV. 

Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Hulu

There are 19,000 members of the Television Academy who vote on the Primetime Emmy Awards. Here are just a few of the Los Angeles locations where, over the last few months, they might have found their votes courted by networks and studios:

  • The Silver Lake Dog Park
  • A fashion show at the Grove
  • A popular 3rd Street lunch spot
  • A pop-up screening room hosted in an Airstream trailer
  • Election Day polling places
  • A cemetery

In fact, since the beginning of Emmy campaign season (an ill-defined period of time) it’s been a circus of events and stunts meant to get voters’ attention. (In fact, there was a literal carnival, courtesy of Fox, for “Grease: Live.”) Looking at the calendar of an Academy member, there was hardly a single night in May and June that didn’t include at least one “For Your Consideration” event, and sometimes multiple ones clashed for attention.

READ MORE: 2016 Emmy Predictions

With hundreds of shows competing this year for recognition, there’s a consensus within the industry that the madness has graduated to a new level. “It’s been going on for years, but it has reached a staggering crescendo this year,” Emmys awards strategist Rich Licata told IndieWire. “The perceived value is that in a sea of television programming that’s eligible for Emmys, this is yet another opportunity to put an episode and the talent associated with it in front of potential voters.”

The odds are good that if there’s a show you like which had even the slightest chance of an Emmy nomination, a For Your Consideration event was held for it over the last month.

A traditional FYC event features a relatively predictable structure: A theater screening of an episode or two, followed by a panel featuring key cast and creators and then a reception with plenty of food and booze. Licata, who currently offers consulting services to Emmys campaigns, said that a typical event can cost in the range of $25,000-$50,000.

TruTV used a similar structure for a brunch-time event celebrating “Billy on the Street,” the Billy Eichner comedy game show that was nominated for Outstanding Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program last year. After the panel, IndieWire spoke with Eichner, who said he was grateful for the opportunity to present the show for consideration in the Outstanding Variety Sketch Series category: “I think it’s as good as other shows in the conversation for these things, but we’ve never been in a major category until this year. I’m just happy they were doing it.”

Matthew Belloni and Billy Eichner.

Billy Eichner

Mike Windle/Getty Images for truTV

These events can be effective. Anecdotally, in speaking to Academy members about events they enjoyed, one show that came up surprisingly often was Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle,” which did a traditional FYC event — screening/panel/reception. But the pilot (an IndieWire favorite since its original premiere) and panel were extremely well-received. Licata was there, and said that “I could see it really exciting the audience.”

For Eichner, putting together a presentation like this presents an opportunity to showcase the fact that the Billy who runs around New York shouting at pedestrians is more performance than viewers might assume. “I like doing those types of things,” he said, “because it makes it clear to people that this is a character. I’m using my own name, I’m not wearing crazy prosthetic makeup, but it is that same idea. It’s fiction — the character is a creation.”

These events all aim to create a message around these shows, something that crafts an awareness of their uniqueness. To sell voters on its hacker drama “Mr. Robot” — a dark but powerful horse in this year’s Emmys race — USA brought Academy members to Neuehouse, a fancy private club in Hollywood. But instead of screening a full episode, the network instead put together a hybrid of a screening and a panel. Clips shown included a recap reel which revealed every major twist of Season 1, as well as a “special message” for Academy members from Mr. Robot himself, thanking them for their new “totally secure” online voting system.

The "Mr. Robot" cast and crew at Neuehouse.

The “Mr. Robot” cast at Neuehouse.

Indiewire

But the highlight came during the panel portion, when stars Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday and Carly Chaikin performed a live reading of a key scene from the first season — with live accompaniment by the show’s composer, Mac Quayle.

If there’s one trend, it’s that the more outlier categories might attract the more unconventional approaches. To pay tribute to the wardrobe of “The Mindy Project,” Hulu set up a full-on open air fashion show at popular Los Angeles mall The Grove, where a diverse range of models walked the runway in outfits inspired by designer Salvador Perez. It was a celebration of color and cut that Mindy Kaling told IndieWire was “something fabulous that Mindy Lahiri would want to go to — everything about this is [her].”

Mindy Kaling, Salvator Perez and models at "The Mindy Project" FYC event.

Mindy Kaling, Salvator Perez and models at “The Mindy Project” FYC event.

Indiewire

And more importantly, it was followed by a half-hour panel discussion of exactly how Perez and Kaling work together to design and create the show’s signature looks. The show’s wardrobe is often inspired by runway fashion, but redesigned by Perez to fit Kaling perfectly. “The fashion show is just the opening number for Mindy and I to talk about what we do,” Perez said.

Other oddities on this year’s journey through the nomination madness: On California’s primary election day, Hulu took over the Silver Lake Dog Park to celebrate “Triumph’s Election Special 2016,” while Netflix actually sent “campaigners” for Frank Underwood to polling places in the Los Angeles area. For a week in June, the well-liked lunch spot Joan’s on Third added two items to their menu — a chili dog and ice cream sandwich — to promote “Grease: Live.” For patrons, the promotion wasn’t immediately obvious, until you noticed the sign posted near the entrance, and the fact that the waiters and waitresses were wearing leather or Pink Ladies jackets.

"Grease: Live" represents at Joan's on Third.

“Grease: Live” represents at Joan’s on Third.

Indiewire

A lot of these events required some travel around Los Angeles, but the action at one point came directly to the offices of IndieWire’s parent company PMC. For a few hours one morning, Amazon Studios parked a customized Airstream trailer around the corner — serving up fancy coffee and scones, the Airstream also included multiple tablets loaded with episodes of FYC shows including “Transparent,” “Man in the High Castle” and “Catastrophe.” And PMC was only one of the stops for the Airstream, which also made visits to studios and agencies.

Two of IndieWire's finest enjoy the Amazon Studios Airstream.

Two of IndieWire’s finest enjoy the Amazon Studios Airstream.

Indiewire

Digital studio New Form Digital not only took out outdoor advertising for “Oscar’s Hotel for Fantastical Creatures,” submitted for consideration in the newly established Short Form Series categories, but hit the streets on a whole other level: They sent a street team wearing bellhop uniforms (the signature costume of its lead) to Avenue of the Stars, a Century City boulevard right by the 20th Century Fox lot and talent agencies, handing out cookies to the lunch crowd.

But the real innovation was online: According to a representative for New Form Digital, the company also tried out a Snapchat strategy aimed at potential voters… sort of. As Snapchat is primarily the domain of the young, special Snapchat filters were geotargeted for CAA with the message “tell your boss to vote!” The same was done at private high schools in the Los Angeles area, where the children of voters might be in attendance. “Tell your mom or dad!”

oscar_s_hotel_emmy_snapchat_480

When Hulu hosted its own FYC event for “The Path,” it chose to do so in one of Los Angeles’s more unconventional screening venues — a cemetery. The Cinespia screening series has been hosting outdoor movie screenings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery since 2002, and has featured major industry events before. But according to Cinespia founder John Wyatt, it was the 2013 “Breaking Bad” finale screening, attended by cast, crew and 4,000 loyal fans, that started the “landslide” of premiering TV there as well.

“The Path” was Cinespia’s first real FYC venture, and it was unusual for a number of reasons. One, instead of screening the show’s pilot, Hulu instead used the event as an opportunity to premiere the Season 1 finale. And even more importantly, it wasn’t just limited to Academy members — it was open to the public, specifically pre-existing fans of the show. Indiewire TV critic Ben Travers, who moderated the panel Q&A, noted that the crowd reacted strongly to the end of the episode.

“There were over a thousand people there who were caught up on nine episodes of ‘The Path’,” Wyatt said. “It’s so completely out of the box to do these public-facing big eventized screenings — having that public component changed it from a normal For Your Consideration event.”

"The Path" at Cinespia in the Hollywood Forever Cemetary.

“The Path” at Cinespia in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Joe Scarnici

And that, for Wyatt, is the appeal: “If you’re going to a lot of these screenings, anything different feels really good.”

Would Cinespia ever do an event that was closed to the public? Wyatt wasn’t sure. “That, to me, might be a little different from what we usually do — I really like the public-facing aspect. It’s like great movies or great art — it’s just being shared. I don’t know how interesting [a private event] would be for us.”

It raises the question of who these events are really for, especially when discussing contenders that aren’t tracking high in the predictions. Licata noted that many shows are getting in the game not because they actually stand a chance at winning, but because participating in the FYC madness ensures that they’re a part of the conversation.

“People have approached me because they were well aware that their show was not going to get nominated, but they wanted some kind of acknowledgement,” he said. “My battle cry has always been that we’re pursuing the gold but if you don’t get the gold, it’s a great time to build your brand.”

After all, awards are great. But it’s all in service to the ultimate prize for any TV show — standing out.

The 2016 Emmy nominations will be announced July 14. 

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