Eventizing Emmy Season: Studios Enlist New Tactics in Campaign Battleground

Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup
"Modern Family"

"Modern Family" re-creates a wedding, "American Horror Story" enlists Stevie Nicks, and Fox and Netflix appeal to women as a shorter voting window has many making louder "for your consideration" pitches.

This story first appeared in the June 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

TV executives love to tout "event" programming, and the strategy is being applied to this year's Emmy nominations race. With more scripted programming than ever before and seven fewer days of voting than usual (online balloting runs June 9 through June 20), courting TV Academy attention has become increasingly difficult. Hence the audacity of campaign stunts.

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In addition to the standard For Your Consideration billboards, ads, mailers and Q-and-As at the academy's North Hollywood outpost, this year Modern Family studio 20th Century Fox Television re-created a wedding reception for Jesse Tyler Ferguson's and Eric Stonestreet's characters, complete with cake-cutting. American Horror Story showrunner Ryan Murphy got Coven guest star Stevie Nicks to sing at a New Orleans-themed reception. Fox Broadcasting sent Sleepy Hollow headless horsemen to visit media outlets throughout L.A. and hosted a screening at Hollywood Forever Cemetery -- and Brooklyn Nine-Nine enlisted a food truck to make the rounds, with castmember Joe Lo Truglio passing out gratis bites.

Faced with aging Emmy darlings Homeland, Modern Family and AHS, 20th TV decided to get aggressive this season. "It's a challenge because people always like something new," says 20th TV chairman and CEO Gary Newman. "As we look for these opportunities, we have to find things that feel unique to our shows."

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For Newman and fellow 20th TV chief Dana Walden's roster, that meant drawing on current events for Homeland's panel moderated by ABC News' Martha Raddatz. Fox hosted a "Girls Night Out" event June 9, with network stars including Mindy Kaling and Jane Lynch, to court female voters. Netflix employed a similar strategy with its "Women Ruling TV" panel for Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards. The challenge for a campaign, which can cost $750,000 a show, is to break through the clutter while avoiding overkill. "You want to give an opportunity for guests to really interact with the show elements," says Newman, "but you've got to avoid pandering and literally campaigning for their votes."