LOS ANGELES — Portland’s best known feminist bookstore owners are headed to Los Angeles this week, and they mean business. Funny business.
Toni and Candace, the bohemian couple who run the Women and Women First bookstore in IFC’s quirky sketch comedy “Portlandia,” will be squaring off with a couple of local academics in what promises to be one of the more unusual efforts to attract the attention of the Television Academy. Voting for the prime-time Emmy Awards begins Monday, June 9.
The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles is hosting a “debate” Wednesday, June 4, between the “Portlandia” characters and USC professor of gender studies Jack Halberstam and UCLA associate professor of gender studies Juliet Lewis.
“Toni and Candace are definitely going to win the debate,” said Fred Armisen, who plays the gray-haired Candace, in an interview. “They’re also going to be the judges. But I’m sure they will do their best to be objective.”
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Added his “Portlandia” co-star Carrie Brownstein, she also of the long wig and formless blouse: “They’re going to be arguing aggressively for our side, and our side will be constantly changing.”
The critically acclaimed “Portlandia” is trying to capture the pop-culture spotlight in a season when network and cable outlets are frantically promoting their shows and talents for awards consideration. Of course, the bookstore event stands out amid the Emmy marketing schemes that typically include lavish DVD mailers, billboard campaigns, bus wraps and newspaper ads.
But lacking the deep-pocket resources of larger networks, IFC has tried to be more innovative in its Emmy campaigns for “Portlandia,” a sketch comedy series that pokes gentle fun at the zeitgeist of Portland, Ore. The network also wanted to develop a promotional strategy that matched the offbeat nature of the comedy series, which just finished its fourth season.
“What we always endeavor to do is engineer campaigns that break through and align themselves with the spirit of the show,” said Jennifer Caserta, IFC’s president and general manager. “It’s a crowded space. The traditional routes are important, but I believe that being a bit off the beaten path gives you a leg up in the race.”
In addition to the gender studies debate, the fourth season finale will be screened at the bookstore. Also, Armisen and Brownstein will be joined by the show’s co-creator and director Jonathan Krisel for a question-and-answer session.
Brownstein loves the idea of the Emmy event and how it highlights the show’s spirit. “It serves as a reminder to the voters of the strangeness we embrace,” she said. “It’s not just a sketch comedy show, but there’s an elasticity of form.”
And that’s not all for Toni and Candace in L.A. — the pair is slated to “take over” a popular Runyon Canyon hiking trial Thursday. The “Portlandia” invasion will entail renaming the area “Beaver Canyon.” (The name is inspired by the beaver retreat in the show’s season finale.) The newly named Beaver Canyon will have a pop-up “Portlandia” lounge where hikers can get refreshments and watch clips of the show.
This isn’t the first time the show has taken the path less traveled to promote its show to Emmy voters. In 2012, Portland Mayor Sam Adams asked Emmy voters to “put an Emmy on it,” a twist on a signature sketch that called for putting a bird on anything, transforming the item into a piece of folk art. And last year, IFC recruited political strategist James Carville to get the word out.
The marketing ploys have had some success. The show has scored nominations for both writing and directing for a variety series and has won two Emmys for costumes. Producers are hoping this year for marquee nominations as well as awards. The Emmys air Aug. 25 on NBC.
And while Emmy voters are the ultimate target of the events, Armisen said the real draw for the promotions is performing with Brownstein: “I’m trying hard not to think about the Emmy stuff so much. This is more of a fun thing — any opportunity to do something in public with Carrie is fun.”