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Shrewd Emmy campaigning paid off for AMC's 'Mad Men' and 'Breaking Bad'

September 22, 2008 |  1:02 pm

How did "Mad Men" pull off that historical victory as the first basic-cable show to win best drama or comedy series at the Emmys — plus that jawdropper for Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") as best actor? Much of it had to do with AMC, a new player in producing original dramas for TV, being instantly savvy about kudos campaigning.

Last year, after the success of the network's launch of its first-ever longform, "Broken Trail," which rustled up 9.8 million viewers, AMC decided to go prospecting for Emmy gold. Shrewdly, execs hired Murray Weissman, a veteran Oscar campaigner who once had been PR chief of the TV academy, and agreed to spend generously for the necessary investment. Weissman worked closely with AMC general manager Charlie Collier, PR chief Theano Apostolou and marketing gurus Gina Hughes and Alison Hoffman, and together they struck a motherload on awards night: "Broken Trail" won four Emmys, including best miniseries and actor (Robert Duvall).


Encouraged by that result plus positive reviews for its first-ever drama series, "Mad Men," AMC decided to take the plunge again, proceeding aggressively to crank up the ballyhoo for that show plus ratings sleeper "Breaking Bad."

"We made a strong push for all of the industry prizes, including the guild awards," Weissman says. They took out "For Your Consideration" ads in all of the trade publications' special award issues and did frequent Q&A panel discussions with those groups involving the shows' cast, producers and writers.

The effort paid off with victories at the writers, directors and art directors guilds for "Mad Men," and the cast received two nominations from the Screen Actors Guild (best ensemble, best actor).

The "Mad Men" gang held an early press conference with members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and earned two Golden Globe nominations for "Mad Men" that paid off with wins: best drama series and actor (Jon Hamm).

The Emmy campaigns began early in 2008 for both TV series. "Breaking Bad" missed out on the Globes and guild kudos because it wasn't eligible, being launched in January, but hype for Emmys debuted right along with the rookie show. Again, there was a hefty ad push in the trade papers and in the print and online versions of The Envelope, and each TV series took out double-page-spread ads in Emmy Magazine.

"Single-page ads in Emmy Magazine aren't enough," says Weissman. "HBO and other networks go in with spreads, so you should too." And, of course, Q&A screenings were held across Hollywood (one of which, for The Envelope's first Emmy Screening Series, was moderated by yours truly).

Last year AMC had to pay a hefty sum to rent out the TV academy's auditorium for a special event inviting members to meet the creators of "Broken Trail," but thanks to all of the TV critics' huzzahs for "Mad Men," that series was showcased this year as one of the academy-sponsored evenings.

"The DVDs were shipped to TV academy members a little later than I would've liked," Weissman says. "Just around the same time voters are being deluged with other screeners, but the DVDs were beautifully packaged, so maybe the production delay was OK."

Then AMC pulled off its savviest ploy. It scheduled the debut of the second season of "Mad Men" on July 21, so new hype about the show buzzed across Hollywood around the same time Emmy nominations were announced July 17 and the final round of voting commenced. Strategic launching of a show's new season has paid off for other networks in the past — like HBO, which frequently launched new episodes of "Sex and the City," for example, in June when academy members voted on nominations.

So … what about next year? That kudos campaign, believe it or not, has already begun.

Last Tuesday morning, the cast, writers and producers of "Mad Men" held a press conference with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to whip up Golden Globes interest and, in the evening, conducted a Q&A panel discussion at the Pacific Design Center for members of the Screen Actors Guild TV nominating committee.

Photo: AMC