Throughout its run, Friday Night Lights has gained critical acclaim, a loyal cult following and even a Peabody award. But for its fifth and final season, the show’s producing studio, Universal Media Studios (UMS), and its originating distributor, Direc- TV, were determined to see it earn one more honor: the most prestigious Emmy nomination it could get. So they went to work, using all the marketing muscle they could muster.
“I think the show was initially marketed as more of a teen soap opera, with quite a bit of emphasis on the idea that the show was about football,” says Jon Gieselman, DirecTV senior vice president of marketing. “What we did was reposition the marketing to emphasize that this is a high-quality drama about the heartbreak and joy of everyday life. That permeated into all of our marketing, whether that was the TV creative, the print ads or the Emmy mailer.”
Besides changing their marketing focus, UMS and DirecTV decided to send Academy voters the show’s entire fifth season, comprised of 10 one-hour episodes, on DVD. They had done this the prior year as well with some great success, earning Emmy nominations for the show’s dynamic leads, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. But as the critically adored series ended its run, UMS and DirecTV felt strongly that the show had a real shot at an outstanding drama Emmy nomination, even in an extraordinarily tough year. They felt that giving Academy voters every opportunity to see the program could make the difference.
“It’s hard when you send out only one episode of a drama. That doesn’t really tell the whole story,” says Jessica Nevarez, director of publicity for Universal Media Studios.
Sending out a show’s entire season has been done before -- including by FX with The Shield, which was the first series on ad-supported cable to win a major Emmy when Michael Chiklis was named outstanding lead actor in a drama in 2002—but it’s not done commonly because it’s a more expensive proposition.
“It’s expensive enough that we had to think about it,” says Gieselman. “And DirecTV is not like a network that places a great deal of importance on winning Emmys.”
But in the end, Gieselman and DirecTV decided the extra cost was worth it. “It was just such good creative, such a good mailer and such a good idea, I never had any doubt,” Gielselman says.
Gielselman admits, however, that his confidence is supported by the benefit of hindsight. The series did, in fact, win three nominations: acting nods once again for Chandler and Britton, and the hoped-for prize: a nomination for outstanding drama.
“In a show’s final season, the Academy tends to look at a show’s body of work,” Gielselman says. “Rightly or wrongly, that gets factored in. It was a great series and it deserves these nominations -- and to win.”
“At this point last year, we were banging our heads against the wall. We had done everything we could to get Friday Night Lights in front of voting members—panels, screenings, lots of initiatives,” says Nevarez, who also admits they may have popped some champagne after the Emmy nominations were announced on July 14. “This nomination is very rewarding to us. We couldn’t be happier.”
Universal Media Studios did a few other things to support its shows, which besides Friday Night Lights include first-time nominee Parks and Recreation as well as vets The Office, 30 Rock, House and Law & Order: SVU. UMS also put a big push behind NBC’s late-night offerings -- Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon -- and were pleased with the results, which included Kristen Wiig’s third nomination as best supporting actress in a comedy and Jimmy Fallon’s multiple nominations, including one for his show as best comedy, musical or variety series.
UMS ran theatrical trailers supporting its shows in Los Angeles-area movie theaters, and it placed the trailers in online TV trade publications for broader reach. The studio also mounted digital billboards in key areas of L.A. to get the word out to Emmy voters.
Perhaps most importantly, for the first time UMS made all of its shows available online to Emmy voters at universalmediastudios.com, giving every Academy member an individual code so that they could log on to the microsite and watch full seasons of all of UMS’ shows online.
“We know how many people went to the site because we have the analytics, so we can see how many people looked at the home page and how many full episodes were played,” says Curt King, UMS senior vice president of publicity. “Those are viewings we might not have otherwise gotten. If people are watching your shows, then hopefully they will vote for them. We moved into the digital world in a big way this year, focusing a little less on traditional print.”
While putting episodes online makes sense, not every studio or network -- including most-nominated network HBO -- does it yet. Showtime was the first network to put its shows online a few years ago. UMS and FX joined in this year.
“We took all of our series and had the executive producers for each show select their five favorite episodes,” says John Solberg, FX senior vice president of public relations, noting that the site exists at fxnetworks.com/fyc. “Anyone could log in. We ended up with a high amount of traffic.”
FX, which has been a precedent-setter at the Emmys, this year earned six nominations— four for Justified and two for Louie. In particular, FX is proud of its constant acting nominations, says Solberg, including this year’s nods for Justified’s Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, Margo Martindale and Jeremy Davies, as well as for Louie's Louis C.K.
Now that the nominations are out, all of the networks and studios that put their episodes online say they think it helped.
“I think the more avenues with which you can provide an Academy member to watch your show, the better off you are,” says Solberg. “In this day and age where everyone has an iPad or other mobile device, you can be on the go and out of your house and still watch.”
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