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This story first appeared in the Dec. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Since their launch in 1973 to honor the best in small-screen entertainment from outside the U.S., the International Emmys have been the gold standard for global TV, consistently ahead of the curve on worldwide viewing trends. Indeed, they predicted the boom in U.K. drama well before Downton Abbey took over PBS (not to mention Wolf Hall), honored Israeli talent before Homeland made it cool and praised Nordic noir when few stateside viewers had heard of The Killing and Detective Chief Inspector Sarah Lund.
But this is 2015, and America finally has read the memo on foreign TV. Downton Abbey draws as many as 10 million viewers an episode, and Netflix’s Colombian drug drama Narcos, Germany’s spy thriller Deutschland 83, France’s zombie chiller The Returned and the BBC sci-fi series Orphan Black are cult favorites with slavishly devoted U.S. fans.
However, if you’re one of those global TV addicts, don’t expect to find your favorite foreign show among this year’s International Emmy nominees. (Although not nominated, Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes will receive the ceremony’s lifetime achievement prize, the Founders Award.)
After preaching the gospel of global TV for decades to a nonbelieving U.S. audience, the International Emmys find themselves in the strange position of the missionary who has few heathens left to convert. They seem a victim of their own success.
“Well, I haven’t felt victimized,” says Bruce Paisner, president and CEO of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which nominates and awards the International Emmys. “But it’s absolutely right that something we have believed for years would happen is happening: that much more money is flowing into television around the world, the programs are getting better, and some of it is beginning to play on U.S. television.”
Why aren’t the shows you’ve heard of (and binge-watched) competing for International Emmys? The International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences does not reveal details about submissions, but one theory is that increasingly the international Emmys are finding themselves in competition with their big brother, the U.S. Primetime awards.
The academy has been mum on the subject, but we do know that while there still are several British nominees this year — notably Rafe Spall for his turn as a tortured criminal on the dystopian anthology series Black Mirror and Sheridan Smith as the late Brit entertainer Cilla Black in the ITV miniseries Cilla — the International Emmys remain a cosmopolitan affair, exploring new global TV hotspots not yet colonized by the U.S. networks. Those include Brazil, which received five nominations including two for HBO Latin America’s Psy, a drama that revolves around a psychiatrist and his troubled patients; Turkey, which picked up a best actor nom for Engin Akyurek of the cop actioner Black Money Love; and oft-neglected Africa, represented with three noms including best comedy for the South African political satire Puppet Nation ZA and best telenovela for Jikulumessu, a serial drama from Angola.
“There’s been a real balancing out in terms of nations represented,” says Paisner. “Look at Brazil or Argentina or Germany or even the [United Arab] Emirates: There’s a real commitment to national television in these areas now. This is truly the era of international television, and we are the people to showcase it.”
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