Just when networks, studios and streamers thought it might be safe to resume their Emmy campaign plans, COVID-19 had other ideas. A sharp spike in cases this August — around the country but also specifically in Los Angeles County — forced some For Your Consideration event cancellations, while other plans have had to be dramatically downsized, right as the second phase of Emmy voting was set to begin.
It’s a reminder of how unpredictable the past 18 months have been, given the optimism everyone felt earlier this summer. Even as this year’s Emmy nominations were announced in July, things were opening up to the point that Hollywood premieres and other in-person events had resumed. “It’s so hard to plan,” says one awards exec. “We would never want to do anything that risks anyone’s health or safety. The target keeps moving, and the trend isn’t getting any better.”
National Geographic, which used to hold a major weekend-long FYC showcase every year in pre-COVID times, was ready to bring back a version of it the weekend of Aug. 14 and 15. TV Academy voters were invited to a space at the Westfield Century City mall to see Q&As with Emmy-nominated talent including star Cynthia Erivo (“Genius: Aretha”), filmmaker Steve James (“City So Real”) and “Life Below Zero” subjects Sue Aikens and Ricko DeWilde. But just two days before the event — which was also built to include activities such as a “Running Wild with Bear Grylls”-themed rock-climbing wall and a book signing with a Nat Geo photographer — the entire weekend was scrapped. A Nat Geo spokesperson said the decision to cancel was made “out of an abundance of caution.”
So much for the return of face-to-face panels. During the nomination phase of Emmy campaigns, the Television Academy mandated that any officially sanctioned in-person events had to take place as drive-in gatherings, with attendees watching from the safety of their cars. (A few panels, including those held by Apple TV Plus at the Ford Amphitheater, were held outdoors in person, but invites were not sent through the Academy.)
Now, the second cycle of this year’s Emmy campaign looks a lot like last year: Virtual panels with partners such as the trade outlets (including Variety’s Virtual TV Fest: The Nominees), supplemented by print and digital ads plus outdoor billboards.
The in-person gimmicks haven’t completely gone away, however. Pop-up giveaways, which require less interaction (other than handing out freebies) still abound. Amazon Prime Video set up a mobile coffee truck to hand out free java branded with its Emmy-nominated shows and also created a week-long strategy surrounding drama series contender “The Boys,” which included free sandwiches and themed cocktails from celebrity chef Ludo Lefebvre, as well as a free ice cream truck, exercise classes at Barry’s Bootcamp locations and an on-the-beach memorial for the whale Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) killed in the third episode of Season 2.
Disney Television Studios also handed out free food via several food trucks to promote the Emmy nominations for FX’s “Pose” and ABC’s “Black-ish.” And on Aug. 18, all visitors to L.A. shopping center the Grove received free parking, also from “Black-ish.”
Netflix’s FYC campaign in Phase 2 included a life-size chess set activation at the Grove to promote “The Queen’s Gambit” and a costume exhibition featuring wardrobe from “The Crown.”
And in one of the few in-person events that still took place, Universal TV promoted HBO Max’s “Hacks” by throwing a surprise comedy pop-up show in front of the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard with the show’s creators and some of its stars (including nominee Hannah Einbinder) performing from the roof of a double-decker tour bus. In a nod to these pandemic times, vaccinations were required — and not just for your consideration.
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