How the Writers Strike Is Forcing a Rewrite of Emmy FYC Season

As TV Academy members toasted the stars of “Ted Lasso” on May 1, things were about to change dramatically in the Emmy campaign space. Apple TV+ was celebrating the opening of a “For Your Consideration” activation at Goya Studios, where it erected a massive tent to showcase its bevy of contenders.

It’s a well-appointed and pristine space, with an almost Apple Store-meets-Emmys vibe. Displays celebrating Apple TV+ shows were front and center, along with an open bar, passed bites and a theater room for screenings and panels for celebrated shows like “Ted Lasso,” “Shrinking,” “Bad Sisters,” and more.

But now here’s the problem with FYC: The writers strike has upended everything. The clouds were already forming at that “Ted Lasso” event, as the strike was called at the same moment co-creator/star Jason Sudeikis and team were celebrating the show’s Season 3 on stage. Many of the “Lasso” stars double as writers — Sudeikis, Brett Goldstein and Brendan Hunt included — so the power and importance of writers was on everyone’s minds. Sudeikis even remarked on how surreal it was to be there on stage talking about writing “Ted Lasso” just as the issues facing the town’s scribes took center stage. “Shout out to the writers,” he said. “What a day to be doing this.”

And yet, no one initially knew how much a strike would impact FYC plans. The various streamers and congloms had already shelled out millions of dollars to build elaborate activations, with not much mind to how opening these spaces in May — after the WGA’s deal with studios and producers had expired — might become a problem. And yet, these spaces had just returned to a sense of normalcy after several years of COVID-impacted pivots.

Besides Apple TV+ at Goya Studios, Amazon Studios/Prime Video launched a space it dubs “The Prime Experience” at Citizen News in Hollywood. Disney’s “FYC Fest” takes place at the DGA Theater in June. Netflix has its “FYSee” space at Red Studios. Paramount is taking over the Hollywood Athletic Club (where Amazon once held its event) for its own activation this year. NBCUniversal will be returning to The Aster in Hollywood for their Emmy showcase.

The possibility of a strike had been looming for months, but Emmy campaigning seemed to exist on another plane: It’s about celebrating programs that had already been written and produced. The WGA had not shared any guidelines prior to the strike about what would be acceptable for writers in the FYC space, leading many to assume it wouldn’t be impacted.

Turns out the WGA had kept it quiet for a reason: On May 2, as the strike commenced, it issued guidelines that made it very specific for writers: No festivals, no FYC. “You are prohibited from making these promotional appearances about your work until the strike concludes,” the guidelines stated.

“I think everyone was surprised by that,” said one awards exec. “It does feel like it does maximum damage to the studios because of the twin timing of FYC and upfronts. If writers want to get attention, now’s a good time to get attention.”

The impact was immediate. John Mulaney bowed out of his Netflix FYC panel for his standup special “Baby J,” while Jon Stewart canceled his Apple TV+ event for “The Problem with Jon Stewart.” Also at Apple, planned events for “Carpool Karaoke: The Series,” “Echo 3,” “Mythic Quest” and “Five Days at Memorial” were axed.

Other events continued, but without showrunners or a panel all together. Prime Video’s event for “Swarm” continued with star Dominique Fishback, but creator Janine Nabors bowed out. HBO Max’s FYC event for “The Other Two” kept the screening, but scrapped its Q&A. The same went for Apple TV+’s “Truth Be Told.” Apple TV+ also continued with “Bad Sisters,” but star/creator Sharon Horgan no longer attended.

For the talent continuing to show up, one insider notes, “It’s their way of honoring their showrunners. They’re not crossing a picket line to do it. They’re getting out there and talking about their showrunners and the work that they’ve done. It’s past work. I don’t know that you’d get an actor to go to an upfront. But an actor to an FYC event and campaign for their show is a different thing.”

The fast-changing and evolving Emmy FYC season is starting to echo the chaotic situation of 2020, when campaigning began as usual — before the pandemic lockdowns forced a complete shutdown and pivot by networks and studios to find other ways of campaigning. This time out, the issue isn’t health concerns — events can still continue, even if show representatives aren’t there. But this time out, non-writing talent involved are having to decide on a case-by-case basis whether they feel comfortable appearing at such events.

The Television Academy has now also released its own guidelines for outlets as they decide whether to proceed with events or scrap them. Offering “partner options during the WGA strike,” the org recommended that networks and studios with booked FYC events could either proceed as originally scheduled and contracted, continue with screening and reception only or cancel.

But if invitations have already been sent out — and that’s been the case for most of these current FYC events — the TV Academy won’t reimburse invite administration fees ($5,000) or penalty fees ($2,500). It’s still a bit of a Catch-22 for studios and networks: The TV Academy requires events to be committed and contract signed three weeks out; so, if cancellations are last minute, those fees have already been paid. “Late booking and asset penalty are still in place for events that proceed,” it noted.

Meanwhile, while there’s a question of who’s on stage, the FYC organizers are also starting to be asked the question of whether an audience will still attend as well, especially if the panel is canceled. “Is the Academy going to make it up to us if the turnout is low?” asks one exec. “That’s a lot of the questions I’m getting, is the FYC event even worth it if people aren’t going to be there? But people are still coming out.”

Indeed, never underestimate the power of free food and drink. There always has been a question of how valuable these FYC screenings and panels are as campaign platforms. Are TV Academy members really attending these events to learn more about these shows — or are they there to see celebrities and then have a nice dinner on someone else’s dime?

“I do think what we see consistently is that the biggest, most popular shows are overwhelmed with interest,” says another awards exec. “And then for other shows, we’re thoughtful about finding the right environment. Not every show is going to fill the TV Academy theater, and that’s OK.”

The big FYC events are also important for seeding social media and getting plenty of press pickup beyond who’s just in the room. Prior to the strike, several major events made huge waves: Netflix, for example, attracted more than 600 people to the Hollywood Forever cemetery for a screening of the “Wednesday” premiere episode, along with a chat (moderated by FYC favorite Yvette Nicole Brown, who also did the “Ted Lasso” one) with the series’ producers and stars Jenna Ortega, Catherine Zeta Jones, Luis Guzman and Gwendolyn Christie.

CBS Studios touted its comedy standout “Ghosts” with a standing room only crowd at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. And for series just dropping now, premiere parties are also doubling as FYC events — such as Netflix’s big launch for “Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.”

As for the FYC spaces, execs say there are efficiencies in by being in the same space for multiple events and being able to have permanent installations. But they also admit that it’s harder to wow attendees now, given how common such activations are.

Still, they’re still trying: Amazon’s impressive setup, for example, includes hair and makeup touchups inspired by shows like “Daisy Jones & the Six” and a blue screen room where guests can transport themselves into scenes from “Dead Ringers” or “The Boys,” in addition to the usual theatre, food and bar setups.

“All of those things can help you stand out,” says another exec. “You know, there’s so many invites that come throughout the season… The challenge is always how to make the shows standout. We love having the space as a place to congregate and to build out show-specific things that help celebrate a show.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *