At this morning’s Emmy nominations perhaps the most momentous news was the fact that supreme streamer Netflix finally achieved its goal of becoming King of the Emmys, at least in terms of nominations where it received 112 overtaking leader for the past 17 years, HBO which had 108.
The Netflix achievement most likely is due to the sheer range of programming available on the service, in addition to an aggressive and expensive campaign on the part of the deep-pocketed company. Congratulations are in order since it has been a steady rise to the top.
But the story likely will be different on Emmy night(s) since it is widely believed that rival streamers Hulu, with The Handmaid’s Tale, and Amazon Prime, with newcomer The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, are more likely to prevail in the marquee Drama and Comedy series categories over Netflix’s entries. HBO’s returnee and past champ Game of Thrones (leading the list with 22 noms) and FX’s Atlanta are also extremely strong possibilities. Netflix has been in the game for a few years but might be beaten where it counts by streamer rivals — Hulu became the unlikely first to break through with Handmaid’s Tale last year — which have a tenth of Netflix’s overall nomination total, thus making their ultimate 2018 Emmy story a little bittersweet,. But let’s not count the chickens before they are stolen away and give Netflix its due.
It was the first question I asked Television Academy Chairman and CEO Hayma Washington and President and COO Maury McIntyre this morning at the Academy’s Wolf Theatre right after nominations were announced. They were thrilled with the results because from their point of view it indicates that the Academy is doing something right. “Netflix should be commended, but it is very close with HBO, and I think it’s also very notable that NBC is right there with them, ” said Washington, pointing out that the 2018 Emmys’ host network — a traditional broadcaster — came in a strong third with 78 noms, sharply up from last year. The Peacock probably can thank Jesus, as in Jesus Christ Superstar, which grabbed 13 noms, same as Netflix’s highest ranker The Crown on the show list. “All the formats are being represented. It is an exciting time for us.”
NBC had double the number of nominations of its rival broadcast nets CBS, ABC and Fox combined, but that didn’t stop McIntyre from touting their “triple crown” this year. “For us it is fantastic to see your top three distribution platforms be so different.,” he said “You have over the top (streamers), you have cable and you have traditional broadcast with NBC in third. I think that’s terrific. It is just showing you there is phenomenal quality work being done across all platforms and it is going to get recognized.”
Still, the overwhelming strength of streamers and cable vs the networks that continue to broadcast the Emmy show itself just indicates the frustration the nets feel in participating in such a big commercial for their competition. With that in mind I asked both about the current negotiations with the Big 4 on renewing what is known as the “wheel,” in which they rotate airing the Emmys over a four-year period (NBC has it this year on September 17, the last of the current agreement). There have been reports in Deadline and elsewhere that the commercial networks are looking to put more entertainment in the show and possibly lessen the time for categories such as writing and directing, which are guaranteed four awards each on the Primetime broadcast in return for guild approvals of free clip usage. Washington said that because it is a negotiation at this point, it wouldn’t be realistic to comment, even specifically when I asked about the writer/director question. “I just think we will sit down and work out something that is going to be amicable for all of us,” he added.
McIntyre said the Academy is dedicated to making sure it can produce the best show possible. “I think the conversations, which we really can’t comment too much on, are just to make sure we have the best show and that is not specific to any category, not specific to directors or writers, just how we can do the best show,” he said. “If we can do that with (the current) 26 categories or if we can do it with more, great. If we can do it with a little less we are going to have to figure that out. For us, let’s make sure we are going to do a very entertaining show and respect and honor the people who are winning or who are nominated. Any time you talk about changing a show it is going to be a little contentious. We are not looking for anything to be contentious at this point. We’re just wanting to have conversations, and that’s kind of where we are.”
Marquee names nominated in this year’s writing categories included Bill Hader, Donald Glover, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Michelle Wolf, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Patton Oswalt, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, and Emmy hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost from Saturday Nght Live. Would hate to miss any of those speeches. I was on the Board of Governors representing writersin 2009, the last time the writing and directing categories were part of a “conversation” about the Emmy show. In concert with the Writers Guild, we got the idea killed and the writers and directors awards have gotten their contractual due since. But it was “contentious” until the Academy was forced to give in, thanks in large part to producer Don Mischer’s urging at the time in order to have a show that pleases the whole industry. Here is hoping it all gets worked out peacefully.
With Lorne Michaels producing, and “Weekend Update” anchors Jost and Che hosting the Emmys this year, the natural question was how political will these Emmys be? And is the Academy worried about offending Trump country? “Last year we had Stephen Colbert, and one could say that was gonna be political,” Washington reminds. “We’re obviously working with Lorne and his team about what the show is going to be. They know the Television Academy is not a political organization, but we also know the humor. I think it will be a balance. We know what the SNL team can bring to an exciting show, but I don’t think it will be something that we find will be uncomfortable for the Television Academy.” By the way, it was NBC’s decision to put the Emmys on a Monday this year rather than resort to a late-August date due to its commitment to Sunday Night Football. When NBC broadcast the Emmys on a Monday in 2014, there was lots of worry about weekday traffic and lower ratings, but neither prediction of doom came true, and NBC was pleased enough to go with Monday again. As this is the 70th anniversary of the Emmys, Washington is hoping for some special moments, promising to honor its past, present and future. Speaking of the past, veterans including 85-year-old Carol Burnett and 96-year-old Carl Reiner again are nominees this year– which would make for a great presenting team on Emmys’ 70th. Just sayin’.
Both executives sense a real interest in the Emmys, simply due to the bulging membership that now numbers a whopping 25,000-plus overall, and 23,000-plus with voting rights. There now are 122 categories, and the org received 9,100 submissions this year, which also resulted in a record 38 performer nominees from diverse backgrounds. The diversity numbers particularly pleased Washington, a producer who can hire. “It is not just our effort, it is an across-the-board industry effort,” he said. “We’re excited about it, but we still have some work to be done. When we don’t talk about it anymore we will know we’ve got it,” he said.
McIntyre pointed out that a third of all acting nominees are first-timers, and he said the “flak” the Academy has gotten in the past for being too repetitive in its choices year after year no longer is relevant. He thinks it is due in part to some winners taking a year off — like Game of Thrones last year and Veep, Better Call Saul and Master of None this year. He points to three new Comedy Series contenders (Barry, GLOW, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) in addition to a long-missing Curb Your Enthusiasm shaking up that race this year.
Likewise last year was a big one for change as five new series were ushered into the Best Drama Series race, something that had never happened in that usually stagnant contest before. Then again, all five are back this year along with returnees The Americans and GOT. You giveth and you have to keep giving. The Emmys can be that way.