There’s an old joke. Guy says, “Ask me the secret to comedy.”
Other guy starts, “What’s the secr …”
I’m never sure how well that translates to the page, but trust me, in person, or spoken aloud, it’s a winner. Thing is, it doesn’t just go for comedy. It goes for pretty much everything. Romance, business, hitting a baseball or a jump shot, everything. Even when it comes to awards in the entertainment industry. Especially then, in fact.
Doubt it? You might recall the controversy surrounding Selma in the 2014-15 Oscar race. The film scored a Best Picture nod, and won Best Original Song, but was hosed out of Actor for David Oyelowo, Director for Ava DuVernay, Screenplay, and a bunch of other possible nominations. The reason given was that the film was shown to Academy members too late for them to acknowledge the film’s quality and all the ingredients that went into it. The after-event critique suggested that if Paramount Pictures had screened it even a week or ten days earlier, the movie might have earned a lot more honors than the two it did get.
That’s just one example, of course, but it’s germane to the conversation about the Emmy nominations that came out last week. You may have noticed, for instance, that the Emmys all but ignored shows like The Comey Rule and The Good Lord Bird. You might also recall that the two mini-series came out last fall. One in September, the other October. You might also note that this is a long time ago. So long, in fact, that a child could have been conceived, brought to full term, and born in that span. You might also understand that, in the context of a global pandemic, during which time seemed to have passed at a different rate than before or since, that length of time feels like even more of a stretch than it actually was.
Point is, people forget, Emmy voters especially, given the sheer amount of content that comes across their screens in the course of a given year. This year particularly. Release a show too far ahead of the voting, and forget about being recognized.
This is not a hard and fast rule, of course, as Lovecraft Country did pretty well despite premiering on HBO last August. Yes, this was even earlier than the other two instances offered, but there is a major contextual difference: thanks in part to the predominantly Black cast, as well as the inventive storytelling and terrific performances, Lovecraft Country was an ongoing part of the pop culture conversation. As good as the other two shows were, and they were excellent, that kind of societal reach just didn’t happen.
I would argue, though, that something like Lovecraft Country is an exception, and that shows with a more immediate presence in a voter’s mind are going to be more successful. To wit, the great success of Hacks, another HBO show that premiered in mid-May, and did five weeks of double episodes so that all 10 of the first season’s shows were out by mid-June. Jean Smart, who has had a splendid career resurgence without ever actually being gone in the first place, was all over the place with interviews and publicity to go along with the fantastic reviews both she and the show were getting.
When you’re voting, and all you’re hearing about is how fabulous a show is, and how amazing Jean Smart is, and how special and awesome and genius it all is, and you have your ballot in your hand — proverbially speaking, obviously — how do you think your vote is going to be affected? I know I’d be paying close attention to this thing about which everyone is talking, and cast my tally accordingly.
The result? Fifteen nominations for a show very few people had even heard about three months ago. Yes, 15, including the obvious Best Comedy Series, Directing and Writing, as well as a Best Actress nod for Smart, Supporting Actress and Actor nods for costars Hannah Einbeinder and Carl Clemons-Hopkins, and three, count ‘em three Editing nods. That right there is a triumph for HBO’s scheduling team, as well as its publicity and marketing units. Brilliant, really.
Which leads to a third example that somehow combines both previous instances, but has the success of the latter. Even more of it, actually.
Ted Lasso premiered in August 2020, around the same time as Lovecraft Country. That’s nearly a year ago, and yet, it somehow still set a record for the most ever nominations for a freshman comedy, with 20. How could it go against the trend of a show being out of the public eye for so long and still pulling off such a triumph?
Answer: because it never left the public eye. On the contrary, it’s been on an epic run since it first showed up on Apple TV 11 months ago, won a Golden Globe and a SAG Award (both by star Jason Sudeikis), got stellar reviews, and, wait … there was something else on this list. What was it?
Oh, right. It’s been all over the place for the last month in preparation for the second season to premiere on Friday. Interviews, features, publicity, think pieces like this one … Ted Lasso is the show on television right now, and has been since it premiered and Schitt’s Creek closed up shop. Remember what I said about HBO’s distribution, marketing, and publicity teams? Of course, you do, it was only four paragraphs ago. Well, double that for Apple’s respective squads, because they had to do it without the luxury of putting the first season on the air within weeks of the voting deadline.
Knowing that, though, the Apple team realized that by pushing the second season, it would remind everyone how much they loved the first season, and how excited they were for new episodes, and thus that they should vote for the Apple show in as many categories as possible. Which is exactly what happened. So score one for them. Score 20 for them, actually, because, again, that’s how many nominations they scored to set a brand-new record.
As I’ve noted previously in this space, we’re long past the time when networks had a show on the air from September to May, and were therefore front and center in voters’ minds right up to the point when ballots were due to be submitted. The TV Season, such as it used to be, doesn’t really exist anymore and hasn’t for a long time. Shows premiere when they premiere, regardless of what’s on the calendar.
This is great for viewers, many of whom have never heard of or understand the concept of “summer reruns,” but it does make it tricky for circumstances such as these.
Honestly, I don’t hear anyone complaining about it, though. Hell, why would you? If you can’t enjoy a good Golden Age, why even bother?
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.