Pete Hammond

Now it gets serious. Emmy ballots become active at 6 PM PT tonight for all 16,000+ active voting members of the Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences and are due by snail mail to Academy accountants Ernst & Young  by June 28 at 5 PM PT. Although, unlike the Oscars and other awards voting groups, there is no direct online voting option for the TV Acad yet  (but certainly there will be one eventually), the list of eligible shows and individual achievements with corresponding numbers for the Scranton computer ballot can be accessed via a special Emmy web address or on old-fashioned paper if members request it. Trying to influence those members  (full disclosure: I serve on the Academy’s Board Of Governors representing the Writers branch) just as voting gets underway are the Television Critics Association which (coincidentally?) announced their nominations today and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association which (coincidentally?) holds its awards ceremony at the Beverly Hilton tonight. But even as these are well-timed events, the TV Academy generally has a mind of its own and often is much slower to embrace the newer, quirkier programs these groups tend to endorse in a big way.

But things are looking up and the Academy does seem to be responding to new blood. Last year Homeland in only its first season dethroned four-time champ Mad Men. Lena Dunham’s edgy Girls and FX’s Louie also made waves. On the other hand the very deserving Breaking Bad, a critical favorite, has yet to win a Drama Series Emmy even as it ends its run later this summer (though stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul have won multiple times). Those final eight shows will be running just as the last phase of Emmy voting is taking place in August and could be a factor even though those episodes won’t be eligible until next year as cutoff was May 31. Last summer’s batch of eight is what voters will be assessing this year.

At any rate competition seems more fierce than ever across the board with increased advertising in newspapers and trades, ”For Your Consideration” billboards all around town for the likes of HBO’s new drama series hope The Newsroom among other shows, and nightly events at the TV Academy’s Goldenson Theatre for various contenders. Though these evenings pitched to Academy members aren’t endorsed by the Academy (they just rent out the facilities to studios) it is felt the cachet of trotting out creatives and actors in front of the giant Emmy Statues on stage is a plus. I  will be moderating one with the Downton Abbey gang  there tonight. Mad Men trotted out Matt Weiner and a stage full of actors last night. History’s Vikings was there Friday and others in the long parade have included House Of Lies, Veep,The Newsroom, Breaking Bad, New Girl, The Following, The Americans, Scandal and House Of Cards to name a few.

Most show an episode or clip reels followed by a panel discussion and then a reception where members can mingle with the stars. Scandal went further and had its cast do a “table read” of the finale episode. A real advantage went to reality food shows such as Bravo’s Top Chef  and The Food Network’s Food Network Star which in addition to pushing the actual programming also offered up generous portions of the gourmet food at their packed receptions with voters seen standing in long lines for some tasty morsels. At the Food Network event everyone went home with a box of “lasagna cupcakes” in addition to a DVD screener.

Whether any of this translates into hard core votes is anyone’s guess but it’s clear Emmy season is continuing to rival Oscar season for sheer chutzpah in campaigning. It must be the prestige factor associated with Emmys since the financial value, unlike winning an Oscar, is negligible for most.

Unlike the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences which officially does not cooperate in sending DVD screeners or downloading, the TV Academy facilitates studios and networks by offering a clearing house for mailing of all screeners to the entire membership. They also offer online opportunities to view numerous shows with constant notification to their members.

By the way, the number of screeners is huge this year. I have stacks of them. One overwhelmed member told me, “I just can’t keep up with all of this. How does everyone see all this stuff?” Clearly they don’t, so studios are just hoping their packaging  stands out and catches members eyes. Many of them also offer individual online destinations, apart from the Academy’s, where you can watch full seasons of their contenders.

The new kid on the block this year is Netflix and the big question was if they were even going to send screeners  of their maiden subscription series House Of Cards and Arrested Development (the latter barely qualifying with an end of May debut).  After all they didn’t even originally send screeners to critics, instead offering limited free subscriptions in order to access the shows. However Netflix strategists clearly realized without sending screeners they would be at a huge disadvantage so last week the entire first season of House Of Cards landed in members’ mailboxes followed closely by five selected episodes of Arrested Development. That package also included a card offering a free Netflix subscription to all voters for the month of June. Netflix head Ted Sarandos tells me the subscription offer had to be ok’d first by the Academy as giveaways are a little tricky according to Academy campaign rules. “Unfortunately our final three episodes weren’t completely finished by the time we had to produce the Academy mailing,”  he said so they offered the free access in case voters wanted to see all the episodes.  It’s also obviously a good way to get TV insiders hooked on Netflix. No dummies, there.

Nominations will be announced July 18 at 5:30 AM PT.

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