International Emmys: Why the Awards Show Has Become Much More Important to Hollywood

Emmys statues - H 2014
Associated Press

In the age of Netflix, studio remakes and binge viewing, the once-ignored race has become (almost) as high-profile as its U.S. counterpart

This story first appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

There was a time when the industry paid about as much attention to the International Emmys as it does the best documentary short category at the Oscars — which is to say: none whatsoever.

The only buzz the foreign version of the Emmys typically got was for the Hollywood flash that came in the form of its presenters and lifetime achievement honorees. This year's Founders Award winner, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, will enjoy a substantial portion of the spotlight, alongside series stars Christina Hendricks, John Slattery and Vincent Kartheiser, who will present Weiner with his award at the black-tie event Nov. 24 in New York.

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But it won't just be the token Americans grabbing headlines at this year's event. The production boom in international television and shifts in the domestic business, including the explosion of such on-demand services as Netflix and Amazon Prime, have created an unprecedented appetite, and market, for foreign shows in the U.S. — and an unprecedented spotlight on the International Emmys.

"There's much more attention paid to the International Emmys than when I started this gig [back in 2004]," says Bruce Paisner, president and CEO of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which runs the foreign version of the Emmys. "One of our problems used to be that not enough people recognized the shows that we were honoring; they weren't well-known enough in the States."

Times have changed.

Devoted American fans already have binged on many of this year's nominees, including German miniseries Generation War or Australian gay coming-out/coming-of-age dramedy Please Like Me, available on Netflix and cable network Pivot, respectively.

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And U.S. broadcasters are wasting no time snatching up Emmy-worthy foreign shows. An adaptation of French zombie drama Les Revenants, last year's International Emmy best drama winner, is set to air on A&E in 2015. Fox has pounced on Broadchurch, one of this year's hottest dramas, adapting ITV's hit crime drama as Gracepoint. And while few American viewers have seen Channel 4's sci-fi show Utopia, a 2014 best drama nominee, the series is red hot, having been picked up by HBO for a U.S. remake with House of Cards maestro David Fincher attached to direct.

"All the U.S. television executives out there are looking at these projects as format opportunities or as actual programming opportunities," says Paisner.

"The world has really shrunk," says Jane Featherstone, CEO of British production house Kudos — which, with Utopia and Broadchurch, has two of the hottest nominated dramas at this year's International Emmys. "Viewing is becoming more niche across all platforms, so being 'foreign' is no longer such a big issue."

Featherstone admits that her International Emmy nominees this year were all "just a contract away" from being U.S.-U.K. co-productions, which would have made them eligible for "the grown-up Emmys."

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In some ways, the International Emmys has become a victim of its own success. As the U.S. television market has become more international, American broadcasters are looking to get into business with foreign talent at the development stage, before their shows become International Emmy winners and global hits.

Says Paisner: "The lines are crossing so much that the old categories become harder and harder to maintain. The one thing I am confident of is the question of excellence. However the world changes, if there is excellent television out there, we will find it and give it the attention it deserves."