Universal Television injects P.T. Barnum ballyhoo into Emmy push

When it comes to Emmy campaigning, Universal Television loves that classic P.T. Barnum style – big, brassy bravado.

Years ago Barnum drove his elephants down Eighth Avenue to let New Yorkers know the circus was in town. Now Richard Licata, EVP of Communications, NBC Entertainment, sends his equivalent goliaths down Hollywood Boulevard – huge double-decker busses wrapped in promos touting the Emmy worthiness of “The Blacklist,” “Parks and Recreation,” “The Voice,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Bates Motel” and his other contenders. He also plasters his bold messages across billboards that loom down onto the Hollywood landscape.

“I love the old publicity stunts,” Licata tells Gold Derby. “We’re trying to dazzle the voters. In this business, you need to make noise and to differentiate yourself.

Let’s peek inside Universal Television’s Emmy campaign mailer

“We have a theme – everything old is new again,” he adds. “When you see James Spader and Mariska Hargitay staring down at you, you remember the amazing work they always do. When you see Amy Poehler, you should think, ‘Oh, yeah, Amy just won the Golden Globe. I should take another look at her work.'”

Licata thinks it’s shocking that Poehler (“Parks and Recreation”) still hasn’t won an Emmy and that Monica Potter (“Parenthood”) still hasn’t been nominated. “Monica Potter is the Meryl Streep of television,” he says with true Barnum panache. “She gives one of the best performances on TV – she can do anything.”

Hargitay won the Emmy in 2006, but hasn’t been nominated in recent years. “She’s doing the best work of her career this year,” he says. “She’s got to get back in the race.”

Longtime Emmy darling James Spader won three times for portraying Alan Shore on “The Practice” and “Boston Legal” and now is back in the Emmy derby with an even more flashy role dramatically – as the diabolical “Red” Reddington on “The Blacklist,” which seems likely to nab him an Emmy nom as Best Drama Actor, according to the latest Gold Derby racetrack odds.

See a detailed breakdown of Universal Television’s
Emmy contenders and category placements

“His character is a fascinating combination of hero and villain,” says Licata. “You never know how he’s going to react to a situation.”

Licata’s hottest contender on the comedy side is “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” which recently snagged two Golden Globes – as both Best Comedy Series and Comedy Actor (Andy Samberg). Even though it airs on Fox TV network, it’s produced by Universal Television, sister company of NBC.

A few weeks ago, Licata sent TV academy members DVDs with sample episodes of his contenders, but all of the eligible programming has been available on line at the NBCAwardsScreeningRoom since March. Licata loves being one of the first to do anything related to Emmys.

Licata was the first Emmy campaigner to stream his programming on line back in 2008 when he was at Showtime. Now the option is widely copied across the TV industry. He’s been a pioneer in the field of Emmy campaigning dating back to the 1980s and 1990s when he worked first at HBO, then at Fox and Rogers & Cowan.

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When he was at Showtime 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” popped up in the comedy contest, followed by “Nurse Jackie” in 2010. And he’s championed many wins, including Edie Falco (“Nurse Jackie”), Toni Collette (“United States of Tara”), Holly Hunter (“The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom”), Blythe Danner (“Huff”), Tony Shalhoub (“Monk”) and Michael Chiklis (“The Shield”).

Last year NBC/ Universal Television’s “The Voice” pulled off an Emmy coup that the original singing competition show, “American Idol,” could never do – it won Best Reality Competition Show. Notable nominations in 2013 for Universal Television shows included “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and “Saturday Night Live” (Best Variety Series), “30 Rock” (Best Comedy Series plus acting noms for Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey and Jane Krakowski), “Parks and Recreation” (Best Comedy Actress – Amy Poehler), “Bates Motel” (Best Drama Actress – Vera Farmiga) and more.

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