Emmy Nominations: How Netflix Can Avoid Self-Defeat and Top HBO Again

This Emmy season, Netflix has the best sort of problem a TV platform can have: It has so many high-caliber and popular shows, it boasts one serious contender in nearly every category and, in some categories, so many that they could end up boxing out one another. This is the result of Netflix's multibillion-dollar investment in original content — it planned 700 original shows for 2018 — as it strives to fortify itself against the progression of existing competitors (like Amazon and Hulu) and rise of new ones (Disney+ and Apple).

Netflix is still seeking its first drama, comedy or limited series Emmy victory — and this year it will have a lot of shots. Among comedies, it has past nominees GLOW, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Arrested Development and formidable rookies The Kominsky Method (it won a Golden Globe), Russian Doll, Dead to Me and After Life. Netflix dramas include former nominees Ozark and Orange Is the New Black and freshmen Bodyguard (star Richard Madden got a Globe) and Sex Education. And among limited series, it has When They See Us, Maniac and The Haunting of Hill House.

And then there's the variety special (pre-recorded) category, in which Netflix could snag four or even all five slots, having fielded standouts in filmed stand-up (it can trot out specials featuring Hannah Gadsby, Ellen DeGeneres, Adam Sandler, Amy Schumer, Ken Jeong and Kevin Hart); concerts (Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé, Springsteen on Broadway, Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour); and reunions (Still Laugh-In). Category sweeps have happened only a handful of times in Emmy history. To have one occur in the Peak TV era would be stunning.

Last year, Netflix had a similar plethora of awards-friendly content and a specific goal: to become the first network in 18 years to score more noms than HBO. To that end, its awards team got creative with shows where there was category wiggle room. For the second consecutive year, it submitted an installment of its episodic anthology Black Mirror in the TV movie category and landed a nom (and ultimately a win). A Series of Unfortunate Events, which had failed in previous years to register in comedy categories, entered in the children's programming race and became one of three Netflix shows nominated there. And when Seven Seconds, a drama canceled after its first season, was reclassified as a limited series, Regina King was nominated for (and won) best actress in a limited series. In the end, the streamer beat the pay cabler, 112 nominations (for 36 shows) to 108 (23).

None of this is to say that Netflix knocked HBO out of the game — at the end of the day, each took home 23 wins. But Netflix learned how to run up the numbers and, as much as possible, keep its own shows out of one another's way. And it is doing so again this year.

A Black Mirror installment, "Bandersnatch," is competing as a movie — and also is eligible as an interactive program. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, previously nominated in the variety talk category, is being pushed as an informational special so it won't bump up against rookie variety talk series Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj, and for an easier path to a nom, probably alongside the David Letterman interview show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction (also evading the variety talk category) and cooking program Salt Fat Acid Heat. Netflix has spread its many documentary contenders among the doc special (Quincy), doc series (Our Planet, Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, Making a Murderer 2 and Chef's Table) and exceptional merit in doc filmmaking categories. And, after having no shortform comedy contenders last year, it now has three (Special, Bonding and It's Bruno!).

The danger of fielding so much desirable content is that talent might feel they aren't getting the TLC they would from another outlet. Netflix's primary answer to that is presumably that no other outlet has the cachet with TV Academy members or expends anywhere near the resources in support of content that it does.

Moreover, at its Raleigh Studios FYSee space, on almost any night over more than a month during the run-up to nomination voting, TV Academy members could attend exciting panels promoting content (Bruce Springsteen being interviewed by Martin Scorsese, When They See Us creator Ava DuVernay in conversation with Oprah Winfrey) and then enjoy an open bar surrounded by Instagram-ready installations. And an upcoming Netflix magazine, for which Krista Smith was lured from Vanity Fair and which will be distributed to TV Academy members, also will enable Netflix to publicize its content in different ways.

HBO once famously proclaimed, "It's not TV, it's HBO." Now, when it comes to Emmy season, Netflix can proclaim it's not TV, not HBO and not anything we've seen before.

This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.