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When you’ve got more than 40 original series on the ballot, there’s simply not enough campaign money to go around — even if you’re Netflix. For the second year in a row, the big-spending streaming giant opened a giant FYSee event space dedicated to all its contenders. But like most networks, Netflix still has to pick favorites to highlight outside those walls, and hope the extra spotlight from FYC ads, panels, and various other promotions will boost the chosen shows’ profiles enough to earn Emmys.
That’s good news for new original series like “GLOW,” “Ozark,” and “Godless,” as well as past nominees returning to the race like “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “The Crown,” and “Stranger Things”; they’ve all had a huge presence on Netflix’s 2018 awards circuit. But it’s bad news for some of the streamer’s best-reviewed series, many of which are left out in the cold during critical campaign months.
By researching awards ads that ran this May and June in the two most-read Hollywood trade publications, as well as assessing the FYC events held in Los Angeles and New York, IndieWire has tracked a strategy that mostly ignores critically hailed series “One Day at a Time,” “Dear White People,” “American Vandal,” and “Orange Is the New Black,” and completely disregards “Alias Grace,” “The End of the Fucking World,” and “She’s Gotta Have It.”
All of these series are on the ballot, making them all eligible for this year’s Emmys. So why did a core group of popular shows earn priority over some of Netflix’s best reviewed series? Netflix representatives declined to comment for this story, but popularity, ownership, and star power all come into play. To answer more specifically, let’s look at the individual races.
Perhaps the most curious choice by Netflix’s awards team is to prioritize Scott Frank’s original western “Godless” over Sarah Polley’s adaptation of “Alias Grace.” After all, the six-part series is based on a Margaret Atwood novel, and the last Atwood adaptation to hit the small screen won eight Emmys in 2017.
“Alias Grace” earned rave reviews when it debuted in September 2017; 12 critics scored it at 90 or higher on the review aggregation website Metacritic, and it averaged an 81 rating overall. “Godless” netted only five 90-plus reviews and averaged a 75 rating overall.
And yet “Godless” netted 13 FYC ads and two standalone FYC events — one in New York, the other in L.A. “Alias Grace” got zero ads, and star Sarah Gadon took part in a joint panel with three other participants (including “GLOW’s” Alison Brie and “Seven Seconds'” Regina King). “Godless” talent took part in two similar panels. There were no other official FYC events for “Alias Grace.”
Why not push a series with pertinent modern ties and an author who’s clearly connecting with TV Academy voters?
“That confuses me, too,” Jonathan Taylor told IndieWire. Taylor, a former journalist and public relations agent, is an awards campaign specialist at consulting firm Robertson Taylor Partners. “‘Alias Grace’ is a great show with great auspices. Margaret Atwood couldn’t be more relevant than she is right now, but that one didn’t quite catch the public conversation. […] My guess is ‘Godless’ did much better [in viewership].”
With only six points separating “Godless” from “Alias Grace,” Netflix could have bet on the more popular option. That, or in a similar vein, it could expect Emmy favorite Jeff Daniels to attract more attention than the stars of “Alias Grace.”
But another argument focuses on the business side of things.
“You always push the [shows] that you have a stronger ownership stake in; the ones that you own the IP, you’re going to push harder than the ones you license,” Taylor said.
Since “Alias Grace” is a co-production with the CBC, Netflix could have chosen to back a series it wholly owns. That could also explain why “Godless” got a bigger push than “American Vandal,” which is produced by Funny or Die and CBS Television Studios. Even though the comedy is getting a second season, which means another shot at Emmys and fresh viewers, Netflix submitted it as a limited series, where there’s less competition overall.
Netflix did give “American Vandal” an early FYC event all its own, but that’s about it. Despite the show’s 75 Metacritic rating — the same as “Godless” — there were no ads taken out, and no other events held for the series.
What makes the lack of significant campaigns for “American Vandal” and “Alias Grace” all the more perplexing is the support shown for “Seven Seconds.” Though not overwhelming, Netflix included creator Veena Sud and star Regina King on joint panels at two separate FYC event and took out two ads for the series in the trades. That may not seem like much, but it’s more than “Alias Grace” got (and arguably more than “American Vandal”), for a series with a 68 rating; also, Netflix canceled “Seven Seconds” in April.
“It’s highly unusual,” Taylor said. “Only an outlet like Netflix would give that kind of attention to a show that it cancelled. They have the means to do it.”
But why use those means on “Seven Seconds” instead of programs with better reviews? Taylor said “one of the fundamental rules” in awards campaigning is keeping important talent happy. “‘Do you want to be in the Veena Sud business?’ I think everyone does, and Regina King is a quality actress; she elevates everything she’s in. So it doesn’t hurt to make them feel good by bringing them to Raleigh Studios and sitting them in front of a room of people.”
King is a two-time Emmy winner, and “Seven Seconds” is one of the more inclusive limited series Netflix has on the ballot. These could have easily played a factor in its extra push.
“The Crown” and “Stranger Things” are the jewels of a once-robust Netflix drama lineup; with “Orange Is the New Black” earning fewer total nominations each year and “House of Cards” out of the running, it should come as no surprise the two nominated Netflix dramas from 2017 that are still eligible in 2018 are getting big campaigns.
Netflix took out 17 ads for “The Crown,” held a standalone FYC event, and six of those ads were even two-page spreads or featured on the magazine’s cover. “Stranger Things” only got 13 ads, including six with special placement (two-page spreads, covers, inserts, etc.), but it had its own FYC event and was included in another joint panel. Moreover, “The Crown” is the network’s best reviewed drama (an 87 rating for Season 2) and “Stranger Things” is tied for third (78).
But here’s where things get a little wonky — and the Duffer Brothers might deserve to be a little jealous. Despite snagging just a 66 rating for its debut season, “Ozark” was given two separate FYC events, included on three joint panels (including one with just Jason Bateman and Jodie Foster), and had 17 ads in the trades — including eight with special placement. That’s more than “Stranger Things” and “The Crown.” Plus, if you’d taken a quick drive around Los Angeles in June, you’d have seen a boatload of billboards with Bateman’s face — including one on the side of a building right across from Netflix headquarters.
“My guess is Netflix thought they had a real opportunity with Jason Bateman,” Taylor said. “He’s a fish out of water in this one; he’s not playing the usual Jason Bateman character, so Emmy voters are going to respond to that. And he directed some, [so] his fingerprints are all over this thing.”
Historically, it’s harder to break into the Emmys than get invited back. “Orange Is the New Black” has been nominated every season and won four awards, but its drop-off in recent years could explain why Netflix only held one FYC event for the drama and didn’t take out any ads in the designated trades. From that perspective, it makes sense to give “Ozark” an extra boost in the hopes it could become the next awards juggernaut for Netflix; it’s already snagged Golden Globe and SAG nominations. That’s the only evident reason “Ozark” got twice the campaign output as another new show: “Mindhunter.”
David Fincher produced and directed the adaptation, but that — and its 78 Metacritic rating — only earns eight ads, two FYC events, and a joint panel. That’s far less than “Ozark,” and the low numbers could be explained by “Mindhunter’s” lack of recognition from the Golden Globes and SAG Awards. Netflix might be thinking that “Ozark” has the momentum, so it’s betting on the hot horse.
“I think [‘Ozark’] has bigger star power,” Taylor said. “Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are established brands, if you will, and they have a real chance. […] ‘Mindhunter’ is a challenging one. It’s a really quality production, but it’s a tougher sell.”
Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany may not be household names like Bateman and Linney, but the subject matter of both shows is dark. “Ozark” tracks a family on the run from a cruel drug cartel, while “Mindhunter” focuses on FBI agents profiling serial killers through lengthy, detailed conversations of their crimes. Either way, Netflix had a grim story to sell to voters; they chose the one with the movie stars.
Even if Netflix executives are hoping “Ozark” can beat the odds and earn a slot in the Outstanding Drama Series race, it’s nothing compared to how badly they want “GLOW” to dominate the comedy categories. “GLOW” has it all: great reviews, a new, well-received season fueling fresh conversation through awards season, and, even though Netflix doesn’t release viewing statistics, it sure seems like a popular series. (Recent Nielsen reports confirm as much.)
So it should come as no surprise that “GLOW” has the most ads and was given the biggest FYC push of all Netflix’s eligible comedies. With 13 ads (four of which had special placement) and three standalone FYC events (plus two joint panels), “GLOW” topped previous comedy nominee “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” by four ads, three special placements, and two FYC events.
“Netflix is the star chamber,” Taylor said. “They hold their cards close to the vest on what they’re doing, what their strategy is, how many people watch — any of that. So for all we know, them pushing ‘GLOW’ over [other comedies] is because it’s their most popular show.”
There’s no real reason to contest the approach; what’s odd is how few other comedies are seeing similar love. Four dramas were given 10 or more ads; only one comedy hit the same mark. There were 56 total FYC ads for the five dramas, and only 31 for the five comedies. Netflix hosted eight standalone FYC events for its dramas, and six for its comedies — but three of those six were for the same show. Other series were highlighted at the FYSee space, but Netflix seems to have gone all in on two shows.
It would be one thing if “GLOW” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmit” represented Netflix’s best reviewed comedies, but they don’t. They’re not even in the top three, and “GLOW” isn’t the highest rated new series, either. It’s tied with “The End of the F***ing World,” which received zero ads and zero FYC events. “Kimmy” is tied for third overall (with an 85 rating), while “GLOW” is sixth (81). They’re behind “Dear White People” (89), “One Day at a Time” (88), and “Lady Dynamite” (85), while “Grace and Frankie” outpaces “GLOW.”
Many believe the Emmys are an opportunity for networks to shine a light on critically hailed series with low ratings; it elevates series above the back by associating its title with the prestige of an awards show. So why prioritize a perceived hit over series with better reviews?
“Because you want to be in the ongoing conversation,” Taylor said. “It’s great to push the underdog here, but it’s really hard to get in, so my guess is that their calculation is, ‘Let’s go with our strength.'”
Yet there’s a nagging similarity between the well-reviewed comedies given less FYC support: Their two top-reviewed series — “Dear White People” and “One Day at a Time” — feature minorities in lead roles and throughout the cast. Plus, “She’s Gotta Have It” earned far better reviews than “Ozark” and “13 Reasons Why” and did not receive comparable FYC support.
To that end, “Dear White People” snagged two ads, an FYC event, and a panel at the Paley Center during voting. “One Day at a Time” got four ads and one FYC event. That’s not bad, but there are caveats: one of the two “Dear White People” ads ran with only five days left in voting, neither ran in Variety (only THR), and half of the “One Day at a Time” ads were only pushing Rita Moreno for Supporting Actress. (“Dear White People” did get a billboard, though — and it was up for at least three days during voting.)
“I think it’s tougher for a Hispanic show to break through,” Taylor said, adding that the #OscarsSoWhite campaign didn’t really translate to Emmy voters, who already feel like they nominate a more diverse lineup than their film brethren.
Other publications saw a similar breakdown in Netflix’s priorities. Written By, the official magazine for Writers Guild of America members — who represent a wide swath of Academy voters — had 18 Netflix originals represented in advertisements, but zero ads for “Dear White People.” Other ads featured “Ozark” and “13 Reasons Why,” the latter of which has the fourth lowest Metacritic rating of all submitted Netflix series: 49.
One could argue Netflix’s minority-led series are given less support because of conventional wisdom. For one, “Dear White People” and “One Day at a Time” are produced by Lionsgate TV and Sony Pictures Television, respectively. For another, it’s hard to get series into major races after they’re shut out for Season 1. But “Dear White People” and “One Day at a Time” have incredibly strong reviews — the kind that eventually bring voters around, as with “The Americans,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Black-ish,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm”; these latter two examples were shut out of the Best Comedy race for their first seasons, and later went on to become perennial players after snagging nods in Season 2.
Meanwhile, “She’s Gotta Have It” and “The End of the F***ing World” are freshman series. The latter could have ran in the limited series race, as it’s not expected to come back for a second season, but it was submitted as a comedy. And if Netflix wanted to push a freshman series it wholly owned, “She’s Gotta Have It” is right there.
“You have to play a little bit of ‘Animal Farm’ here: All shows are created equal, but some are more equal than others,” Taylor said.
But it’s fairly clear which shows are left on the outside looking in.