Emmys: Who's Really Winning the 'For Your Consideration' Arms Race

emmys newsletter - H - 2016

Every year the For Your Consideration events leading up to Emmy voting deadlines get bigger and more prolific. Networks spend massive amounts of money to ply TV Academy members with food, booze and other forms of razzle-dazzle: screenings, Q&A panels, performances. But if the awards are meant to recognize actual excellence in the various categories, why all the fuss? And why does the TV Academy allow it? These are questions the organization prefers not be asked — but ones network execs anonymously say they want out in the open.

FYC events started in earnest in the mid-1990s and, in the beginning, mostly were hosted by cable networks trying to break into the Emmy race. The broadcast networks pretty much stayed out of the game until the turn of the century, when HBO started threatening their dominance. As dozens of cable channels blossomed into Emmy players, it became more of a challenge for networks to cut through the noise — so everyone began to copy everyone else for fear of ceding an advantage. And thus the billboards, events and publicity stunts became increasingly elaborate and expensive.

This season, from March through June, there was rarely a night or weekend when the TV Academy's roughly 20,000 members, and their plus-ones, weren't invited to a campaign event — from a "best moments" screening and carnival-themed party for Grease Live! on the Paramount lot to an "End of the World Party" for Mr. Robot with a cast reading live-scored by composer Mac Quayle.

Not all members show up to these, of course, but of those who do, many are regulars. According to multiple network reps, some attendees are like vultures, making a rush for the food and even bringing containers or tinfoil to take home extras. "Whether they even know how to vote online, nobody knows," sighs one rep.

WGN America threw a gospel brunch to campaign for its new series Underground.

So what's the TV Academy's take on this blatantly transactional activity? As it turns out, the organization not only allows it but is intricately involved: Desired dates must be submitted and approved, ostensibly to prevent conflicts; there's a requirement that every invite go to all members, thereby preventing the targeting of specific peer groups such as performers or sound editors; and the TV Academy charges a fee of as much as $10,000 for setting up each desired interaction between networks and members. Additionally, it often makes a killing on the events themselves by renting out its North Hollywood theater and reception area (though not this season because of construction work at the site).

Network reps say these FYC events, wherever they're held, now cost an average of $50,000 a pop between sending invitations, renting and outfitting a venue, bringing in technical equipment, hiring caterers, assembling talent and more. For most cable networks not named HBO and streaming services not named Amazon or Netflix, that's more than pocket change. But almost all execs now feel obligated to dig into their coffers anyway — at least once and sometimes multiple times per season. Not doing so when everyone else is could be seen as failing to support a show and its talent and could get an exec scapegoated for any eventual absence of recognition.

Whether these events actually boost shows' prospects is, of course, unknowable. A few voters admit they attend only the events that appeal to them — and this, of course, influences which shows they check out. Other voters dismiss FYC campaigns as an embarrassment to the TV Academy. Most network reps, meanwhile, feel there's little value to the shindigs.

"I don't think they move the needle at all," says one. "There's one every f—ing night, so they all blend together," says another. "It's absolutely insane and symptomatic of the desperation out there," adds a third. "Why do these when we're already sending mailers to every voter? We're all just trying to keep up with the Joneses. The [TV Academy's] tongues are tied — and are going to remain tied — because they're making a lot of money."

Taraji P. Henson signs autographs at Empire’s FYC event on the Fox studio lot. ???

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.