LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Robert Carlock noticed an immediate impact when “30 Rock” won its first comedy series Emmy in 2007.
“That first year was moment-to-moment and day-to-day,” recalls Carlock, an executive producer of the show. “(NBC) delayed our pickup, we had a bunch of different time slots on a bunch of different nights. But maybe the awards gave them the confidence that they could sell this thing. It did help calm things down a lot when we got back to New York with the win.”
The immediate, visceral effect of an Emmy Award is easy to parse. But what does taking home a statuette actually mean for the actors, producers, writers or networks who win the big prize on August 29?
“It places a glow around a program that, ‘This is a quality show or actor,’” says Tim Brooks, a former network executive and TV author. “And people like quality — they think it’s more durable, it lasts longer and to a degree quality sells.”
But how much an Emmy sells is up for debate. Unlike an Oscar, which typically boosts box office and DVD sales in a quantifiable way, the value of an Emmy is more elusive. It means the most to the most vulnerable in TV — struggling shows, nascent actors, networks looking for a branding hook.
The effect on a network can be significant. When FX’s “The Shield” picked up an Emmy for lead actor in a drama (Michael Chiklis) in 2002, it was the first basic cable network to do so, and put the industry on notice that FX was not just about lowbrow material any more.
HBO has built its branding around its Emmy attention. Likewise, AMC has benefited from Emmys won for a string of original programing — including “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” wins that have shifted the expectations of the network.
“It’s a validation of our programing,” says AMC senior vp marketing Linda Schupack. “Taken as a whole, we’re the most-nominated basic cable network. That’s a very strong AMC story as well as a strong story for the other shows. It’s a story we can tell to advertisers — we’re not smoke and mirrors, we’re the real deal.”
Advertisers do pay attention to Emmys. “The Shield,” for instance, was having problems generating advertising because of its violent story lines, but things changed with that first win.
“If the show gets an Emmy and is acknowledged as a quality program, that takes the sting out, and it gives them a rationale: This may push the boundaries, but it’s also quality work,” Brooks notes. “And for that show, advertisers started coming back.”
Matthew Weiner, two-time winner of the drama series Emmy for “Mad Men,” sees his wins in a more practical light.
“This is something that can go on the outside of the DVD box, on the posters, on the iTunes ads,” he notes. “This is about a keeping this show around, one way or the other, for the next 30 years.”
Keeping a show around is one thing. But parlaying an Emmy win into a ratings bonanza is quite another. Once NBC’s “The West Wing” began winning drama series Emmys, ratings actually began to drop. “30 Rock” is also seen in fewer households since its Emmy win, and after a single-season brief uptick, “Lost” lost viewers after its 2005 drama series win, too.
But that hasn’t been true for either “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad,” both of which have seen regular upticks since their big awards the past two years.
“Emmys don’t make much difference to an audience, unlike an Oscar or Tony which has been well documented to help the boxoffice,” Brooks says. “TV viewers don’t care much about what awards you’ve earned.”
Equally debatable is the effect an Emmy win has on the careers of individual recipients, especially actors.
“The Emmy tide that raises those celebrity ships almost certainly provides an opportunity if not for more money, then to catch the eye of a casting agent,” suggests TV Academy senior vp awards John Leverence.
That was the case with Christine Baranski, nominated this year for her supporting role in “The Good Wife” and for guest actress in a comedy for “The Big Bang Theory,” who won her Emmy with a first nomination in 1995 for “Cybill.”
“It elevated my status at the network,” Baranski says. “After ‘Cybill’ finished, I was talking to a lot of people about doing my own show.”
Similarly, when Katherine Heigl won for supporting actress in a drama (“Grey’s Anatomy”) in 2007, the Emmy gave her a bit of gravitas that helped boost her burgeoning film career.
Yet for every Baranski and Heigl, there are others whose Emmy wins failed to lead to more opportunities. Kathy Baker won the lead actress drama award three times in the 1990s for “Picket Fences,” but it did not translate into many lead roles when the show ended. Gillian Anderson took home the same prize in 1997 for “The X-Files,” but her post-show career has not matched that of co-star David Duchovny, who has never won an Emmy.
This year, several actors could benefit from an Emmy boost. “Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons has earned industry cred for his quirky portrayal of supernerd Sheldon Cooper. Could he end up on a Steve Carell track with an Emmy win? Jane Lynch of “Glee” has long been a comedy scene-stealer but an Emmy could put more juice in her film career or lead to her own show.
Similarly, a win for any of the “Modern Family” nominees could open the door to film roles, while the “Mad Men” crew of Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks or January Jones will likely get a career boost if one of them becomes the first to take home an acting award on the series. Jon Hamm could also earn that distinction this year, but he has already branched out into film; the ladies on the show have far more to gain from the exposure.
Emmy attention certainly raises a showrunner’s profile, but that comes with drawbacks as well.
“Suddenly you realize that a lot of smart people are paying attention, and I start thinking, ‘I better not screw it up now,’ “ says “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan, who scored his second drama series nomination this year. “I’m not able to put it out of my mind completely, and I have felt more pressure since the start of last season.”
Carlock says the “30 Rock” team got nicer offices after their Emmy win. Craig Zisk, executive producer of “United States of Tara,” says his crew received a cake from Showtime.
“Everyone jokes around that an Emmy (nomination) doesn’t mean anything — until you’re nominated, and then, well, the nomination is good enough— until you win one,” Zisk says.