Critic's Notebook: On the Netflix/HBO Emmy Rivalry, Hulu's Underloved 'Casual' and TCA's Kick-Off

Casual Season Two Michaela Watkins Tommy Dewey Tara Lynne Barr H 2016
Courtesy of Hulu

As the Television Critics Association's summer press tour begins, here are five television-related insights to mull:

1. I talked to someone in the TV industry, a knowledgeable someone not associated with HBO, and that someone predicted that the pay cabler will not only be nominated for more Emmys than Netflix in 2019, but actually win more of them as well. Listening to the argument and the guesstimate of numbers involved, it doesn't seem as far-fetched as current conventional wisdom (my own included) suggests. So there's your counter-intuitive bit of insider chit-chat, and let's all just sit back and see if that comes true over the next year-plus.

Also, if it does come true, it means that Netflix had about 72 hours to gloat about toppling HBO's 17-year run as the most nominated content provider in the industry before its stock took a hit after subscriber numbers were lower than expected and a competitor predicted it will have a one-and-done run with the title. Good times!

2. As the TCA's summer press tour kicks off and tons of content creators breeze through the Beverly Hilton filled with hope, despite the devastating and daunting environment of Peak TV, it comes on the heels of something quite different and theoretically more indie-based: The New York Television Festival (NYTVF). The event has been around since 2005 and has gained more traction certainly in the last decade, dedicated to providing a platform for independent TV creators. The fest has helped launch numerous series and helps writers, actors and directors either get a foot in or simply get more notice for their ideas and talent, even if it doesn't lead to the next series on HBO or Netflix. This year, the event shifted to the less-crowded summer season where it can get more notice, which conveniently puts it right before TCA. I've been a NYTVF judge for years now and have witnessed it evolve from people truly on the outside of the industry to, say, this year, when actor-director-producer Timothy Busfield had a project and executive producers Tony Gilroy (Rogue One, Michael Clayton), Kerry Orent (The Tick, The Affair), Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim (Tim and Eric Awesome, Great Job!) all had involvement.

Now, each judge only gets 10 projects to view, but there's been a creeping sense that more and more Hollywood veterans are now in this indie mix to get noticed, which is kind of fascinating (and probably slightly annoying for true outsiders). But even with their involvement in what is essentially a DIY effort to make a show, the odds are very long not only that a series will be made out of the projects but, if it does get made, that it will be seen. Everybody wants to get something personal made. I'm sure that's why Busfield entered his own show. But I think the beauty of the NYTVF is that it's all about hope in the face of the Peak TV madness. You have to think about the opportunity and not the hurdles when you're living in the Platinum Age of Television. But it's weird to transition from watching those fledgling offerings to being at TCA, where there's a bevy of what amounts to more packaged and polished attempts. Where the divide seems so great, it's really not. While it's easier to DIY a TV show in 2018, it's insanely difficult to get noticed.

That said, my highest vote went to Hammerhead, created by Dean Imperial, which won the Critic's Award and "Best of the Fest." Like every year, the quality varies. I think this year was much better than last, for example, even though some of the winners in other categories were, uh, stunning to me. In fairness, most of the entries are not fully evolved and are more works in progress; some succeed as "filmed ideas" rather than something that could actually become a weekly series. But then again, that might be something we find true at TCA in the coming weeks as well. And now I'm ready to see the highly original Hammerhead, about a man overcoming his deformity, become a series.

3. You may have heard that HBO has announced that the long-awaited Deadwood movie is happening. Sometimes closure takes a long time. A long, long, time. I'm hoping the wait will be worth it. But most people are going to have to discover the old series for the first time.

4. We are going to see a lot of excellent offerings here (or at least I am, since I'm only staying for the cable and streaming portion), and possibly some of those shows will be your new favorites. But until then, how about a shout-out to an excellent series, Hulu's Casual, which has largely gone under the radar and now will begin its fourth and final season on Tuesday (Hulu will release all eight episodes at once).

Casual was one of the first breakthrough series for Hulu as it got into the scripted game and was successful enough to earn all four seasons (a rarity on lots of platforms). But it is still a series I mention to people and they haven't discovered it and never got a chance to enjoy an exceptionally nimble, smartly written (by Zander Lehmann) and fantastically acted bit of television (Tommy Dewey, Michaela Watkins and Tara Lynne Barr are exceptional in a strong ensemble). Well, of course, that's the beauty of our new streaming reality — it's never too late to discover something, which is precisely what you should do with Casual.

5. This is a little inside baseball, but I've been talking with executives about the constantly changing nature of the industry — shifts that seem to veer or reverse course even before they become clear trends, or emerging trends that were once considered dire/doomsday scenarios and are now just accepted fluctuations of the business. One of them, on the cable and streaming side, is that viewing patterns are moving further away from premiere dates, with a dramatically increasing number of people watching the show after 30 days as opposed to within 30 days. In the past, there wouldn't have been enough Xanax to control that panic but now, in a super-saturated market, it just makes more sense as a reality. Viewers aren't abandoning new series — they are just overwhelmed and taking more time to sort through the clutter, which is entirely understandable.

From the critic's perspective, the job is also changing in various ways, one of which was on display last week. There was a time when being early on a review was considered beneficial — and outlets like The Hollywood Reporter often benefitted from early deadlines and early exposure. But what I found with my review of AMC's upcoming new drama series, Lodge 49, which we put up on the THR site on July 17, is that people were almost actively avoiding reading about it because it was too far in advance of its Aug. 6 premiere. And I totally get that. It goes back to the notion of being overwhelmed. I think people who discover Lodge 49, whether it's Aug. 6 or 30-plus days after that, will find it a wonderfully acted, thoughtful and creative new series. They just don't want to know about it so far in advance because they don't have time to think about (or set 'record' for) something that's not on right now.


OK, back to TCA and whatever discoveries that may start trends which will be reversed by the month's end.