TV's New Emmys Strategy: Scare the Crap Out of Voters

Courtesy of Hulu

"People like a little bit of intrigue," says FX's chief of the Russia takeover ads for 'The Americans' as Hulu sends silent handmaids around L.A. and Samantha Bee teases a Trump "pee tape."

With a record 309 scripted series on the 2017 ballot, the best way to get Emmy voters' attention may be to scare the crap out of them.

Forty women in red cloaks and white hoods silently marched throughout L.A. on June 12, the day the TV Academy opened nomination voting, as part of an eerie and heavily Instagrammed plug for Hulu's dystopian hit The Handmaid's Tale. Just 24 hours earlier, and three days after ousted FBI Director James Comey testified about Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, FX launched its own cryptic pitch for The Americans. Ads in newspapers (The New York Times) and on TV (ABC's This Week) depict the Washington Monument, shrouded by a Soviet flag, under the words "The Russians Are Here."

"We knew that any news show where we could place this spot would be talking about Russia," says FX Networks CEO John Landgraf, who rolled out more ads (minus FX or show branding) on all three major cable news nets June 13. "Even though this is a Soviet-era flag, this could easily be a reference to stuff that's happening today."

The spots include the URL (www.therussiansarehere.org) that leads to a For Your Consideration website for the acclaimed Cold War drama. As of Monday, FX says it already has received 10 times as much traffic as any previous FYC effort. Days before, TBS also made some noise with the Russia route, hiding Full Frontal With Samantha Bee FYC screeners in a VHS box labeled "2008 Russia Pee Tape."

Creepy or crass, they're cutting through. Going to such lengths might be what's necessary as the old campaign strategies fall flat. The standard screening and a panel has been overwhelmed by volume (blame Amazon and Netflix pop-ups for up to three competing events on a single night), leading strategists to rethink the season. Says Landgraf, "People like a little bit of intrigue."

A version of this story first appeared in the June 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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