When television professionals learn today who among them has been nominated for TV's highest honor, they'll also come to know a thing or two about the marketing effectiveness of specially packaged doorbells and rubber snakes jumping out of cans.
Taking a cue from their flashier brethren in the movie industry who each year wage multimillion-dollar Oscar quests, cable networks and production companies are campaigning more aggressively and creatively for this town's second most prestigious statuette: the Emmy.
Blame it on shaven-headed, raspy-voiced Michael Chiklis.
Just as upstart Miramax's savvy campaign earned "Shakespeare in Love" a surprise win over the favored "Saving Private Ryan" for best picture of 1998, the Emmy race was upended last year when Chiklis, star of FX's "The Shield," came out of nowhere to take the award for lead actor in a drama.
For the first time, an actor from a basic cable network took the top dramatic acting prize, and suddenly people realized everyone had a shot at one of the major awards.
That feeling was reinforced when "The Shield," Chiklis and Tony Shalhoub of USA Network's "Monk" all hauled in major prizes at the Golden Globe awards a few months later. Cable executives concluded: Goodbye to watching from the sidelines; hello to Emmy marketing campaigns.
Of course, nothing in the TV awards quest approaches the magnitude of the Oscar spend-a-thon, which has gotten so over the top that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has imposed new, harsher penalties for those who violate its rules. But then while a best picture Academy Award can substantially boost a film's bottom line -- much of "Chicago's" nearly $170-million domestic gross can be attributed to its best picture Oscar in March -- the reward from an Emmy is less tangible. It's more a matter of prestige and ego when it comes to the TV awards.
Still, ego counts for plenty in Hollywood. And so, the aggressive campaign waged on Chiklis' behalf, complete with a DVD packed in a box that lighted up when it opened, was widely emulated during the Emmy nominations season that led to today's 5:40 a.m. announcement of the nominees. As Peter Ligouri, president of FX Networks, put it: "Michael's win gave hope."
USA Networks President Doug Herzog, whose company has again mounted a noticeable campaign for "Monk," agreed. "For so long, cable programming has been the sorry second sister to the networks .... We feel very strongly about the work that we're doing, and we're vying for the attention just like the networks are doing. You want to wave the flag and say, 'We've got something here that's just as good as anything that's on television.' "
The television community learned its lesson. Simply sending out tapes or DVDs of TV episodes with just a "for your consideration" plea is not enough to set projects apart from the hundreds of other episodes and movies the 11,500 members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences receive.
While the film studios may spend millions of dollars on their Oscar efforts on a single title, most Emmy campaigns for particular shows are budgeted from $150,000 to $200,000, insiders said. A studio such as Miramax or DreamWorks could spend as much as $8 million just on ads in newspapers like The Times, as well as the entertainment trade papers.
Although there are a daunting 91 Emmy categories, almost all of the budgets spent in lobbying academy members are concentrated on the major divisions, such as outstanding series, actor and actress. To boost those efforts, cable networks and TV production companies make use of elaborate, custom-designed packages, billboards, lighted signposts and radio station sponsorships.
Take TNT's campaign for "Door to Door," an original movie inspired by the true story of Bill Porter, an Oregon salesman with cerebral palsy. TNT put together a custom package that contains a doorbell that rings when the box is opened. The network also put a huge billboard on Sunset Boulevard featuring the film and its star and co-writer, William H. Macy, whose performance has been mentioned in several circles as a favorite to be nominated. "Door to Door" also underwrote programs on public radio station KCRW-FM (89.9).
Steve Koonin, executive vice president of TNT, said, "We put together a very concentrated campaign that also spoke to our promise and slogan that we know drama. We think this was the best drama on TV."
"The campaigning for Emmy nominations absolutely got more intense this year," said Richard Licata, executive vice president of television for Rogers & Cowan, a public relations firm that has put together several Emmy campaigns this year. Licata got credit for developing the FX Emmy "lights on" campaign that was considered key in calling attention to Chiklis' critically acclaimed but little-seen performance. This year, Licata and partner Borris Jonah were involved in half a dozen Emmy campaigns.