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The Emmys push is on for 'Friday Night Lights'

Dale Roe
DirecTV sent this package containing all 13 episodes of this season of 'Friday Night Lights' to Emmy voters to promote the Austin-shot show.

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't win.

The critically acclaimed "Friday Night Lights," shot in and around Austin, can't get a break with Emmy voters. Oh, there was that 2007 win for Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series and a handful of other casting, directing and short subject nominations but, in spite of Peabody Awards, laurels from the Television Critics of America — even a Humanitas prize — the DirecTV/NBC drama remains the Rodney Dangerfield of Emmy-eligible television programming.

So this year (to get the obligatory football analogy out of the way) the cable operator and broadcast network have teamed up to mount a strong offense in an effort to push Coach Taylor and company into the end zone. In a move that's rare in Emmy campaigns, the cable operator — which aired the fourth season on its 101 Network before it was shown on NBC — has sent all 13 episodes to the Television Academy's members "for their consideration" (the members review submitted episodes of TV programming and their votes determine the nominees for the annual Emmy Awards).

A little background: "Friday Night Lights" debuted on NBC in fall 2006. A second season renewal followed, but it was cut short by the 2007-2008 writers' strike. Facing possible cancellation, the show was saved by the deal struck between NBC and DirecTV to share production costs in exchange for first-run episodes airing on DirecTV's 101 Network.

"As a studio, we try to treat all of our shows fairly, and we send out one mailer and it includes 16 different shows," explains Curt King, who oversees publicity for Universal Media Studios, the network arm of the "FNL" team. So though Universal's Emmy packet includes an episode of "Friday Night Lights," it also sports programming such as "30 Rock,' "The Office," "House," late-night shows and so on.

"So Direc really thought — and they worked with us very closely on it — why not send all episodes?" King says. "Let's send the whole 13 episodes to the Academy members because we believe if those 14,000 voters see it, they will absolutely be compelled to nominate the show for Outstanding Drama, etc."

"We wanted to be sure that we did give the Academy members the opportunity to actually watch it, and the best way for them to be able to watch it is to get it into their hands, not to ask them to record it or to tune in," explains Patty Ishimoto, vice president of entertainment and general manager of the 101 Network.

Sending out a full season is rare, but it has been done before, and it has resulted in nominations. In a May 25 blog (goldderby.latimes.com), the Los Angeles Times' Tom O'Neil, who performs forensics on these "for your consideration" packets, says that Showtime was the first to try the full-season push, sending out a full season of "Huff" in 2005 and gaining seven Emmy nominations and one win — Blythe Danner for supporting actress. FX followed with a full season of "The Shield," netting acting nominations for Glenn Close and CCH Pounder, O'Neil wrote. The same network sent the full freshman season of "Rescue Me," receiving writing and directing nods.

DirecTV hired a firm, Yes Design Group, to wrap a pretty and persuasive package, which includes nearly two-dozen effusive quotes from critics and fans. Perhaps the most pointed:

" ... will FNL's high quality be both maintained and finally rewarded with the Emmys the show so deserves?" Entertainment Weekly Universal Media Studios supported the gambit with the creation of a plea from fans incorporating still shots and video snippets to drum up buzz. (The video can be viewed at at http://bit.ly/fnlfanvid.)

"Yes Design ... reached out to fans who were, like, in droves eager to do everything they could to support ‘Friday Night Lights,'" King says, adding that "hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of fans" took the time to participate. "It was pretty overwhelming. As we expected, people are very, very passionate about that show."

But what's the benefit of Emmy nominations or even wins for a show that is widely thought to be filming its final season? Both NBC and DirecTV deny that there's any conscious effort to use Emmy attention to extend the show or to make the 101 Network an original drama destination the way shows such as "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" did for cable network AMC.

"That's not the reason we're getting behind it," Ishimoto says. "It really is just that we wanted to let it shine."

King agrees.

"We feel that incredible work deserves recognition," he says. "The show does incredible work and we feel it can't garner enough recognition and attention for that."

We'll see if the effort pays off when Emmy nominations are announced July 8. It could happen — the Biography channel is pushing its episode on Rodney Dangerfield to Emmy voters, too.