It’s Emmy season! Ballots for the initial round of voting are due June 21st. Every single show is theoretically eligible for nomination. Even ‘Hank.‘ Nobody has a chance to watch everything during the season. So how are Television Academy members supposed to make up their minds? That’s where the Emmy promotional campaigns come in. In pursuit of little more than bragging rights, networks and studios will go all out to secure nominations for their shows. There are full page glossy advertisements in industry publications. But the heart of the Emmy marketing campaign is screeners — DVDs of selected episodes of virtually every television series. The networks pull out all the stops, with artistic packaging that makes even the most mediocre shows look awesome. The screeners are a snapshot into the minds of the networks. A show that it gets its own screener package is considered to be a contender. One that is only available as a download on the official Academy website does not stand a prayer. Sorry ‘Amish Grace.’ The screeners also reveal which episodes networks and studios think are the season’s best, and which networks know how to mount an awards campaign. Check out our guide to Emmy schwag.
Package Design: Book style box containing separate volumes for series and movies. Supplemental screener for ‘The Pacific.‘ Even more screeners of more recent HBO movies were sent out in a second package.
Screeners: Two pages of blurbs from positive reviews of each series followed by DVDs featuring multiple episodes of each series.
Overall Impression: This package exudes class. Watching these screeners will be a meaningful, intellectually rewarding way to spend your time, like reading Proust.
Other Observations: HBO has high hopes for the Seinfeld-flavored ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm.‘ There are six episodes on its screener, but only two or three of every other show. Not coincidentally, Curb is the only slam dunk nomination for HBO this year. The network no longer has the buzz that it did in the ‘Sopranos‘/’Sex & The City‘ era. Comcast HBO Subscribers: watch all of ‘The Pacific’ here.
Package Design: Bland flat booklet. Inside are two page spreads about each of Showtime’s original series. The best tagline: ‘Dexter‘: All the Mad Men You’ll Ever Need. Oh, snap.
Screeners: Four DVDs, each featuring two episodes of three different series. Showtime’s package also includes a code with a link to a site that has the full season of each of the shows. This means that Showtime has essentially given all of the TV Academy members a free year of Showtime.
Overall Impression: Showtime went with substance over style. The packaging is dull, but the links to the full seasons of all of their series allows people to actually make informed votes. Some of the episodes had yet to air at the time the package was sent out, so the network is willing to let their shows get spoiled in pursuit of awards. There is a definite hierarchy of shows. Serious Best Drama Series contender ‘Dexter’ is the first show in the booklet. The obscure ‘Lock N Load‘ closes it out.
Other Observations: By encouraging people to watch additional episodes online, Showtime is catering to the younger, internet savvy Academy members. That makes sense. How many 80 year old retirees will enjoy ‘Weeds‘ anyway?
Package Design: Two shiny gold booklets held together by an AMC “consider this” rubber band. One booklet is all copy. The cover reads “story matters here.” The other contains DVDs. Ultra glossy presentation, with 16 pages of critics quotes and gorgeous photos of’ ‘Mad Men.’ There are even costume sketches and a close-up photo of Don Draper’s contract with Sterling Cooper, as AMC angles for costume design and production design awards. ‘Breaking Bad‘ gets another 16 pages. The lackluster remake of ‘The Prisoner‘ gets 12.
Screeners: Six episodes each of ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Breaking Bad.’ Interestingly, ‘Breaking Bad’ has the first six episodes of the current season, while Mad Men’s is a best of season three. ‘The Prisoner’ gets three episodes.
Overall Impression: Your day is over, premium cable. AMC is the new home of classy smart television that you and all your other media industry friends watch. Pay no attention to ‘The Prisoner.’
Other Observations: The photos of the cast of ‘Mad Men’ are so beautiful that they could be framed. Now that Bryan Cranston’s gotten two Emmys, isn’t it time for pretty, pretty Jon Hamm to get his?
Package Design: Bare bones packet containing three DVDs.
Overall Impression: Even though it has some good programming, FX cannot be bothered to mount a real Emmy campaign. Sorry, ‘Justified.’
Other Observations: If they are only sending out a single episode, networks almost always send out episodes written by the series creator. But SoA’s episode, Balm, was written by Dave Erickson & Stevie Long, not creator Kurt Sutter. In the random trivia department, Fred ‘The Wonder Years‘ Savage directed the ‘It’s Always Sunny’ episode.
Package Design: A stack of DVDs against a rainbow of backgrounds that unfurl to form the NBC peacock. This is arguably the most creative thing NBC has done all season.
Screeners: Separate DVDs for every single Universal studios show, including duds like ‘Trauma‘ and ‘Mercy.‘ Comedies get two episodes, dramas just one. It’s NBC’s entire line-up, plus, incongruously, the Universal produced ‘House,’ which airs on Fox.
Overall Impression: More colorful! We are not including any blurbs with the DVDs because we are as mortified by last season as you are! Suck it Conan! We sent out an episode of ‘Jay Leno’s Tonight Show,’ but not yours, even though your final week had a great shot at winning an Emmy.
Other Observations: Universal seems to have used a helpful color coding system to denote quality. All of its likely Emmy contender shows (‘30 Rock,‘ ‘The Office,’ ‘Parks and Recreation,’ ‘Community,‘ and ‘House‘) are up front in green. The quality long shots (‘Friday Night Lights,’ ‘Parenthood‘) are in blue. Skip the rest.
Package Design: A long, white rectangular hardcover booklet. Each TNT show gets two pages. Shows are listed in alphabetical order. This means that the strongest Best Drama Series Emmy contender, ‘Men of a Certain Age,’ is buried in the middle of the booklet.
Screeners: Two DVDs which feature single episodes of all TNT’s dramas. There are a couple more episodes of each available on the Emmys website.
Overall Impression: TNT knows drama. It does not know how to put together an interesting Emmy campaign.
Subtle Messages: There are none. This is dull, dull, dull.
Package Design: A DVD cover asks “When was the last time a show made you sing?” It opens to reveal head shots of all of ‘Glee’s main characters, most of whom appear to be singing. Except for Quinn, Emma, Teri, and Puck, who are apparently too cool to be photographed with their mouths open. The back has a photo of a slushie with the tagline “now comes in super loser size.”
Screeners: A DVD of the episodes “Pilot”,”Wheels” and “The Power of Madonna.”
Overall Impression: Somebody put some thought into this package. Fox did a good job of picking strong episodes. The pilot seems like a sure bet to be nominated for Best Comedy Series and Writing.
Other Observations: Surprisingly, the cast is listed in alphabetical order, with no special mention of Jane Lynch and no recognition for Best Guest Star Contender Mike O’Malley. Watch the latest episodes of ‘Glee’ here.
Network/Studio/Show: ‘Family Guy’
Package Design: A DVD cover featuring Peter dressed like Precious. The tagline “Family Guy: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire. Vote for us or you’re racist.” Inside, the joke continues: “Celebrating diversity: written by 8 WASPS, 6 Jews, 2 Asians and 1 Gay.” There are no credits, so it is impossible to match the writers to their backgrounds.
Screeners: A DVD of three episodes.
Overall Impression: Whether or not someone finds this funny is a good litmus test of whether they will enjoy the show. It would have been a lot funnier six months ago.
Other Observations: The decision to go after Best Comedy instead of Animated Series, against the likes of ‘Modern Family,’ ‘Glee,’ ‘How I Met Your Mother,’ and ‘Big Bang Theory‘ is misguided. Watch full episodes of ‘Glee’ here.
Network/Studio/Show: ‘How I Met Your Mother’
Package Design: A big square with a photo of the cast in suits from the Girls vs. Suits episode. It opens to reveal a pop-up of Barney hanging on a lamp post.
Screeners: A DVD of three episodes affixed to a piece of black cardboard so it looks like an old fashioned record.
Overall Impression: This show is clever and fun. Pop the DVD in your computer right now.
Other Observations: The DVD was sent out by the studio behind the show, 20th Century Fox. There is not a single mention that the show airs on CBS. Watch the latest episodes of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ here.
Network/Studio/Show: ‘Friday Night Lights’
Package Design: Two sided cardboard rectangle. The left side quotes the L.A. Times, “the best dramatic series in the history of television. That’s right: history.” The right side says, “See for yourself.” It opens to reveal a thoughtful essay about the show along with an invitation to watch the enclosed DVDs of the entire current season. There is a glossy booklet filled with rave reviews from both critics and fans, and photos as well as a list of all the major awards the series has won.
Screeners: DVDs of the entire current season.
Overall Impression: What the hell is wrong with you, Academy? This is the best show on television and you have shown it no love. None. So we’re going to shame you into doing the right thing.
Other Observations: This lavish package was sent out by the show’s cable home, DirecTV. NBC/Universal just sent out a sad little DVD in its Peacock pack. DirecTV really seems to care about this show. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. Watch the latest episodes of ‘Friday Night Lights’ here.