Emmys: Can Broadcast Reclaim Comedy and Drama Series Berths?

The outlook is as bleak as ever for network series, says THR's awards analyst, who explores why that is and which series could prove to be outliers.
Courtesy of ABC
'Modern Family'

When the 2015 Emmy nominations were announced, only two shows from the Big Four broadcast networks were among the 14 nominated in the drama and comedy series categories: ABC's Modern Family and NBC's Parks and Recreation. No broadcast drama even was nominated. That showing was poorer than any other year in the history of the Emmys except 2014, when only Modern Family and CBS' The Big Bang Theory made the comedy series cut. This year, with Parks gone, Big Bang coming off a snub and Modern Family generally thought to be fading, some wonder if we have seen the last of a broadcast presence in the most prestigious Emmy categories.

How did broadcast reach this point? There are several explanations: Unscripted programming increasingly provided a less expensive way to fill the hours. Live programming — especially sporting events, which are big ratings drivers — began to occupy a greater share of airtime. And, perhaps most obviously, cable and streaming programming exploded, providing far edgier content than the constraints of broadcast allow.


Shades of Blue

Where does that leave things heading into this year's nominations? In the comedy series category, it's difficult to imagine HBO's Veep (the 2015 winner) and Silicon Valley, Amazon's Transparent and Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt not being nominated again. Netflix's acclaimed rookie Master of None seems likely to join them. FX's Louie is unable to reclaim its slot (no new episodes), so that leaves two berths for everything else. I suspect Modern Family will show up again, as it has every year of its run, because it still has a substantial number of loyal viewers — so that's one broadcast show. Will the final slot go to another? Big Bang, which crossed the 200-episode mark and continues to deliver extraordinary ratings, could return to the running for a fourth time in five years. Alternatively, CBS' Mom, a more critically acclaimed offering from Big Bang's Chuck Lorre, or Life in Pieces, TV's highest-rated freshman series thanks to Big Bang's lead-in, could get a first nom. But it feels as though ABC's Black-ish and NBC's The Carmichael Show — diverse comedies that tackle social issues in edgy ways — capture the zeitgeist far better and have a stronger shot. That is, if they can hold off the best of cable and streaming, including Amazon's Golden Globe winner Mozart in the Jungle, Netflix's Grace and Frankie and, from the little-broadcast-network-that-could, The CW's breakout Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.


Empire

On the drama side, broadcast's prospects are far bleaker. The most recent show from the Big Four to land a series nom was CBS' The Good Wife, for its second season in 2011. Now in the running for its final season, it seems like broadcast's one shot at cracking the category.

The only other past nominee still on the air is ABC's Grey's Anatomy, which was nominated for its second and third seasons in 2006 and 2007. Actually, that's not entirely true: The original incarnation of Fox's The X-Files was nominated from 1995 to 1998. But I wouldn't bet on Grey's, or the X-Files reboot that debuted last year. The same goes for Fox's Empire, NBC's The Blacklist and ABC's How to Get Away With Murder and Scandal — primarily because they failed to land nominations for earlier and stronger seasons. It's hard to see a path to a nom for any rookie shows, even those with a megastar like Jennifer Lopez (NBC's Shades of Blue).

There are too many better-liked dramas on cable and streaming, including Game of Thrones (HBO), House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black (Netflix), Homeland (Showtime) and Better Call Saul (AMC) — all nominated in 2015, along with PBS' Downton Abbey. And let's not dismiss these hot newbies: USA's Mr. Robot, Showtime's Billions, LouisCK.net's Horace and Pete, Netflix's Narcos and WGN America's Underground.

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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