Among the biggest — and most welcome — surprises in the Emmy nominations were top bids at long last for "Friday Night Lights." For years TV critics have ballyhooed "Friday Night Lights" for major recognition, but Emmy love eluded the drama series about a football-crazed Texas town for the first three years of eligibility. Then, curiously, last week Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler popped up in the lead acting races.
How did that happen? Answer: Shrewd Emmy strategy by NBC, Universal Media Studios and DirecTV played a starring role.
NBC, Universal Media Studios and DirecTV teamed up to back the low-rated, critically acclaimed show recently in order to save it from cancellation. The joint deal entitled DirecTV to air the episodes first, which it did in late 2009. Then NBC chose to delay its rebroadcast until May sweeps in 2010, thus giving the show a prominent, national prime-time showcase just weeks before voting on Emmy nominations.
Then, just days after the latest season debuted on NBC on May 7, DirecTV and Universal Media Services sent all 14,000 members of the TV academy all 13 episodes of the most recent season on DVD. That was an extraordinarily bold move.
Only rarely has an entire season of a series' episodes been shipped to all voters. Showtime was the first to do so in January 2005, sending out a full season (13 episodes) of "Huff," which reaped seven Emmy nominations (Blythe Danner won in the supporting slot). A few months later FX sent out 13 episodes of "The Shield," resulting in acting bids for Glenn Close and CCH Pounder, and "Rescue Me" (first season), nabbing two noms (directing, writing). The ambitious Emmy campaign ploy has not been attempted recently, so the fact that "Friday Night Lights" did so is the equivalent to throwing a "Hail, Mary" pass in the Emmy game.
"Friday Night Lights" also made a bold drive online. Teaming up with the same marketing group that created the DVD mailer, Yes Design, producers went viral with a cheeky video featuring scores of "FNL" fans making pleas to Emmy voters to not overlook the much-awarded series again.
The TV show got a lucky break when the editors of Emmy magazine chose to feature a joint interview with Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler in the June issue, which lands in TV academy members' mailboxes exactly when voting begins. The article was one of the first features in the front section of the magazine. "FNL' placed an ad up front too.
Below is the mailer sent by DirecTV and UMS to academy members. To view larger versions of the photos, click on each image. Also below: the gutsy viral video.
Photo credit: Tom O'Neil