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I was seated in the front row at the TV Academy in North Hollywood at 5:30 a.m. PDT as Neil Patrick Harris and Aaron Paul unveiled the 65th Emmy Award nominations, but it wasn’t until the traffic-plagued drive from there to the office that I was able to really digest the larger meaning of what was disclosed there. Here are five points I think are as important as any to take away from Thursday’s big announcement.
1. The future awards prospects of broadcast TV look bleaker than ever.
Everyone today is focused on the ascendance of the new form of television, streaming, thanks to a nice showing by Netflix. But what has not received enough attention is how poorly the original form of television, broadcast, did today.
For the second straight year, not a single series that airs on one of the big four broadcast networks — CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox — received a nom for best drama series, and only three were among the six nominated for best comedy series (CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, NBC’s 30 Rock and ABC’s Modern Family).
They didn’t fare much better in the acting categories, either. On the drama side, their sole representatives were lead actresses Connie Britton (ABC’s Nashville) and Kerry Washington (ABC’s Scandal) and supporting actress Christine Baranski (CBS’ The Good Wife). There wasn’t even room in the lead actress category for Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), who was nominated for that show each of the past three years, thanks to the influx of cable and streaming competition in the category — Vera Farmiga (A&E’s Bates Motel) and Robin Wright (Netflix’s House of Cards) helped knock her out.
Even on the comedy side, where broadcast contenders have more effectively held off the rise of cable contenders, cable and streaming made major inroads. Zooey Deschanel (Fox’s New Girl), who was a best actress nominee last year, got boxed out this year by Laura Dern (HBO’s Enlightened); Jon Cryer (CBS’ Two and a Half Men), who won the best actor race last year, was displaced by Jason Bateman (Netflix’s Arrested Development); Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family), who won the best supporting actor race last year, and Max Greenfield (Fox’s New Girl), who was nominated last year, lost out to Adam Driver (HBO’s Girls) and Tony Hale (HBO’s Veep); and Anna Chlumsky (Veep) claimed a best supporting actress spot that some thought would go to Eden Sher (ABC’s The Middle) or Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory), who tied for the Critics’ Choice Award last month.
It’s not exactly a fair fight: Broadcast shows must be conservative enough to be viewed by people of all ages, whereas pay cable shows can use just about any words or images they’d like; broadcast shows, in order to make money, regularly have to be interrupted by commercials, whereas premium cable shows do not; and the people behind broadcast shows are expected to churn out a large number of episodes per season (i.e. 22 for The Good Wife), whereas the people behind pay cable shows (i.e. 12 for Showtime’s Homeland) are not, which makes it harder for the former to rise to the artistic level of the latter.
2. Netflix did well, but let’s not crown a new king yet.
Netflix, the subscription-based streaming service that made a big splash this year with its original series House of Cards, Hemlock Grove and Arrested Development, scored 14 nominations Thursday, including some big ones: House of Cards nabbed noms for best drama series, best actor in a drama series (Kevin Spacey) and best actress in a drama series (Wright), and Arrested Development was recognized with a best actor in a comedy series nom (Bateman). In short, it had a very good day.
But before we get too carried away and start calling Netflix “the new HBO,” as some did this morning — and not just in reference to the fact that HBO’s The Sopranos was the first pay cable network to score a best series Emmy nomination back in 1999 — let’s take a moment to put things in perspective.
Netflix spent a fortune on its Emmy campaigns — indeed, the only other network that was in its spending hemisphere was HBO, another subscriber-based service that sees campaigning and awards primarily as a way of attracting new subscribers. And yet Arrested Development still came up short in the races for best comedy series (whereas HBO was represented in that category by Girls and Veep), best supporting actor in a comedy series (Will Arnett and Jeffrey Tambor were knocked out by Hale and Driver of HBO’s Veep and Girls, respectively); and best supporting actress in a comedy series (Jessica Walter was held off by Veep‘s Chlumsky). Additionally, House of Cards‘ supporting actor and supporting actress contenders, Corey Stoll and Kate Mara, were both snubbed (at the expense of Bobby Cannavale and Emilia Clarke of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, respectively); and Hemlock Grove was, not surprisingly, nowhere to be found.
Netflix, the new kid on the block, did very well, but HBO, with 108 nominations (more than twice as many as the next highest-scoring network and nearly eight times as many as Netflix), decidedly remains the king of the hill.
3. The TV Academy (still) really loves movie stars.
The top tier of TV, in my humble opinion, never has been stronger. However, even as the quality of TV generally gets better and the quality of movies generally gets worse, Emmy voters still disproportionately reward “movie people” — or people better known for their work in movies than on TV — when they grace TV shows with their presence. Because more and more movie people are fleeing the movies for TV, where they can develop or find original material (as opposed to just formulaic remakes, sequels and adaptations), there are more movie people nabbing coveted Emmy nominations.
This year’s class of nominees includes two-time Oscar winner Spacey, Wright and David Fincher for House of Cards; Jeff Daniels and two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda for HBO’s The Newsroom; Oscar nominee Alec Baldwin for 30 Rock; Oscar nominee Don Cheadle for Showtime’s House of Lies; Oscar nominee Dern for Enlightened; Oscar winners Matt Damon, Michael Douglas and Steven Soderbergh for HBO’s Behind the Candelabra; Oscar winners Al Pacino and Helen Mirren for HBO’s Phil Spector; two-time Oscar winner Jessica Lange, Oscar nominee James Cromwell and Zachary Quinto for FX’s American Horror Story; Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver and Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn for USA’s Political Animals; Oscar nominee Laura Linney for Showtime’s The Big C: Hereafter; Oscar nominee Alfre Woodard for Lifetime’s Steel Magnolias; Charlotte Rampling for BBC One’s Restless; and Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton for HBO‘s The Girl.
In short, the days of movie people regarding TV work as a comedown are now firmly a thing of the past.
4. Expect Emmy campaigning to continue to increase.
For a long time, the extent of Emmy “campaigning” was having talent show up at awards shows for which they were nominated and perhaps taking out a few “for your consideration” ads in the trade papers. Then, a couple of years ago, FYC ads started to show up on the sides of buses, the backs of public benches and even on a few billboards. But this year, several networks kicked things up a notch by hiring independent awards strategists — people with years of experience in the fine art of Oscar campaigning — to organize and orchestrate strategic Emmy campaigns. Ginsberg-Libby handled Netflix; LT-LA handled History; MRC PR handled Matt Weiner and therefore, in effect, AMC’s Mad Men.
And now it looks like there’s no turning back because, surprise surprise, the new approach worked.
Netflix scored several major nominations; History scored an improbable best movie or miniseries nom for The Bible and a bunch of lower-profile noms for drama series The Vikings and non-fiction miniseries The Men Who Built America. And Mad Men registered 12 noms — including best drama series, best drama series actor (Jon Hamm), best drama series actress (Elisabeth Moss), best supporting actress (Christina Hendricks), best guest actor (Harry Hamlin and Robert Morse) and best guest actress (Linda Cardellini) — despite having a relative shaky season.
5. Voters really like a lot of different things this year.
Emmy winners always are hard to predict because they are chosen by small clusters of TV Academy members (as opposed to the roughly 15,000 who pick the nominees), supposedly on the basis of single-episode submissions (as opposed to a full season of work). But this year, things look even harder to predict than usual because of the fact that the major nominations were so widely dispersed among so many shows, denying us even a semicredible hint of how voters might be leaning.
Take, for example, the drama series nominees. Emmy voters clearly love Mad Men, having awarded it this prize in four of the past five years. Last year, however, they awarded it to Homeland, which is nominated again this year, but for a season that most people agree was considerably less impressive than its first. They’ve nominated Breaking Bad each of the past three years without ever giving it the top prize (even as they regularly recognize its actors), but this year its greatly anticipated final season will be airing Aug. 11, just as the second round of voting takes place, and that could put it over the top for many people who have been catching up with it during its long hiatus. Meanwhile, PBS’ Downton Abbey, which surprised many by winning the best ensemble SAG Award over the aforementioned three shows (plus Boardwalk Empire), remains immensely popular with a certain segment of Emmy voters, as demonstrated by the fact that it scored at least one nom in all four acting categories for the second year in a row, something that also could be claimed by only Mad Men last year and Homeland this year. But whereas Downton may not have matched the quality of its earlier seasons this year, Game of Thrones had its best and most-watched season yet and made demonstrable inroads with actors, too, by adding a nom for Clarke to its annual nom for Peter Dinklage. But then there’s House of Cards, a very buzzed-about new show from a network that hasn’t previously factored into Emmy race — a description that certainly fit Homeland last year when it ended up winning the category, didn’t it?
In the comedy race, there’s a generational and temperamental war brewing. Will traditional broadcast network shows (i.e. 30 Rock and Modern Family, one of which has won the category each of the past six years) and sometimes even laugh-tracks (i.e. The Big Bang Theory) still be able to hold off edgy pay cable shows that may have fewer total viewers but more effectively permeate the zeitgeist, as demonstrated by social media activity (i.e. Girls, Veep and FX’s Louie), or will there be a changing of the guard?
Even in the movie/miniseries category, it’s something of a crapshoot. The winner has come from HBO in five of the past 10 years, which, along with a late release date and the participation of huge movie stars, bodes well for Behind the Candelabra. But FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum benefits from being the second incarnation of a franchise that was nominated in this category last year and led the entire field of shows this year with 17 total noms, including four for its actors (Lange, Cromwell, Quinto and Sarah Paulson), three of whom stand a great shot at winning. (Behind the Candelabra received 15 total noms and three for its actors — Douglas, Damon and Scott Bakula.) To win, though, they will have to beat the miniseries Top of the Lake, from BBC Two, and Political Animals, to say nothing of Phil Spector (in the form of the star-anchored HBO movie of the same name) and Jesus Christ himself (in the form of the most-watched TV miniseries of all time, The Bible).
In short, there is plenty of uncertainty as we head into the second phase of the Emmy season … which should make it all the more fun.
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