May used to be a no-fly zone for series premieres, as the traditional TV season was ending — and no one wanted to risk launching a show just as audiences were heading outdoors for summer break.
But there’s no such thing as a TV off-season, and the streaming services have started capitalizing on the broadcast networks’ traditional “Gone Fishing” sign. What’s more, they’ve started stacking premieres at the end of May, in order to slide just under the Emmy May 31 eligibility wire.
On May 30, Netflix squeaked in the first six episodes of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” Season 4, and the day before that, the first half of “Arrested Development” Season 5. Amazon, meanwhile, got the Natalie Dormer drama “Picnic at Hanging Rock” up on May 25.
Also getting up at the last minute: The Netflix specials “Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life,” “Tig Notaro: Happy to Be Here.”
Of course, it’s not just the streaming services: Premium networks also looked to squeeze in a few TV movies and limited series in May — and perhaps take advantage of doubling their launch marketing campaign with their For Your Consideration efforts. That includes Showtime’s “Patrick Melrose” and HBO’s “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Tale.”
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“The whole Emmy process is being upended, with the emergence and success of streaming services — like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, CBS All Access and others — that aren’t constrained by the physical world issues of fitting programming into specific broadcast timeslots, as had been the norm,” said awards consultant and PR vet Jonathan Taylor of Robertson Taylor Partners. “Networks formerly had to resolve a puzzle of quality shows that could air the required number of episodes before the end-of-May cutoff. Now, whole series can and are dumped in spring, without worry about what shows to take off to make room on the programming grid for these contenders.”
But does it work? Another awards consultant noted that by May, TV Academy members are already overwhelmed with programming to watch in preparation for June voting.
“I don’t know what good that does for a new show,” she said. “I think the only time that it’s good is if it’s a show that people are already aware of, that’s on its third season. I think there’s so much out there, as a TV Academy member how do you possibly start watching a new show in May when you’ve got to vote in June? And you’ve got hundreds of other shows you’re trying to keep track of. There’s so much!”
With hundreds of shows to wade through, networks and studios are finding it tough to convince voters to watch their wares. Perhaps premiering closer to June voting gives these programs a leg up as they’re top of mind. Taylor notes that the Emmy race may continue to look more like Oscar campaigns, where front runners are released as late as possible for attention.
“Just as the quality films get bunched up at the end of the year so they’re fresh in the mind of Oscar voters when time comes to make their choices, now there’s a virtual avalanche of series, documentary and TV movie releases way later in the Emmy season than ever before,” he said. “And we Emmy voters have the same challenge that Oscar voters have: those who take the voting process seriously have to wonder how to watch all the DVDs that arrive in the mail, or watch on the TV Academy’s FYC platform, or each network’s individual FYC site. It’s overwhelming, and we don’t even have the film community’s convenient year-end holiday season to set aside for viewing.
“I wonder if some of this change in strategy might be attributed to the number of Oscar consultants who are now consulting on Emmys; they bring their proven tactics with them,” Taylor added.
Of course, the Emmys are just one reason so many shows now debut in late spring. As a network scheduling executive noted, there’s also the benefit of premiering after the broadcast networks mostly close up shop for the summer.
“As people start the broadcast networks still carry some weight and as those shows start ending, people start their binging time,” he said. “Either when they’re traveling or the kids come home from college. This is the time of year now I catch up on everything from the year. I’m thinking they’re following that trend. Summer time is a time when people watch less traditional television in the same way. I would see an opportunity there.”
And if that also happens to give extra attention to a show just as Emmy campaigning kicks into high gear, it may be a successful strategy.