How Rich Licata drives Emmy Town crazy

Those double-decker busses plastered with NBC promos that pull up next to Hollywood execs at red lights on Sunset Blvd. reveal big news has arrived in Emmy Town:  that daredevil campaigner Rich Licata is at it again.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Licata emerged as one of the earliest pioneers of Emmy tub-thumping as we know it today – first at HBO, then at Fox and Rogers & Cowan — shipping VHS tapes and glossy brochures to TV academy members, blitzing the trade papers with ads and Hollywood with FYC billboards.

When he moved to Showtime in 2004, cynics thought his Emmy heyday was kaput because the pay channel’s shows about sexy serial killers and pot-pushing soccer moms weren’t exactly TV academy-friendly. However, in 2008, “Dexter” joined “Damages” and “Mad Men” as the first non-HBO cable show to be nominated for best drama or comedy series. One year later, “Weeds” smoked the top comedy race by nabbing a nom. Shrieks from many Emmywatchers erupted in 2010 when Licata made the shrewd but dubious decision to enter “Nurse Jackie” in the comedy races, but it paid off with a bid for best series and a win for lead actress Edie Falco.

Licata is notorious for jumping ahead of his rivals by launching his Emmy campaigns early – usually in February or March, compared to April and May for other networks – but he’s proven that the strategy works. Hell, back in 2005, did anybody even know that “Huff” was on the tube? Licata blanketed Hollywood with tapes and DVDs in January —  yes, January, six months before Emmy voting – resulting in the show nabbing seven nominations and two wins (main title design and guest actress Blythe Danner).

In 2008, Licata was the first to offer Emmy voters digital downloads of his programs on line. Many skeptics pooh-poohed the ploy, insisting that the Luddite geezers in the TV academy would never use the option. Nowadays not only are many rival networks copying the function – so is the TV academy.

Last summer Licata moved over to NBC Entertainment to take on the new job as EVP Communications and Emmywatchers wondered: what can he possibly do to goose the peacock web’s tired old lineup of shows like “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation” and “The Office”?

Answer: innovation again. He’s now offering Emmy voters the first iPad app for downloads (photos at left) in addition to a stylized website for more traditional viewing HERE. Oh, yeah, he also sent DVDs to all 15,000 academy members (see NBC’s new campaign package HERE), plus he’s hyping his contenders on electronic billboards and on the sides of those double-deck busses belonging to Skyline Tours. Actually, he first launched his fleet of Emmy busses last June while still at Showtime, so the ploy has become something of a trademark.

“It’s important for NBC to make a bold effort to re-establish our brand,” Licata tells Gold Derby. “When TV academy members are stuck at a red light, we have a chance to catch their attention if one of the busses pulls up next to them. Even if it’s just for a brief minute, we can engage them. As for the new iPad app, we need to offer the latest innovations.

“NBC has a few exciting new Emmy contenders this year like ‘Smash’ and ‘The Voice,'” he adds. “But I’m also looking right now to next year and thinking about restablishing our brand now while anticipation builds over upcoming shows like J.J. Abrams‘ ‘Revolution’ and Ryan Murphy‘s ‘The New Normal.'” Those aren’t hyped on the sides of Emmy busses yet, but Licata can’t help angling to be the first horse out of the next derby’s gate — 2013.

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