Netflix’s stock is up 2% this morning. Emmy’s ratings numbers are down 11%. The long, winding TV awards season campaign that started as far back as January finally has come to an end just as the long-winding Oscar season gets going in stride.
But what can you say about a 70th Emmy year in which more money was spent, more billboards bought, more Q&As and parties held, yet the big memorable takeaway after all was said and done, and all the envelopes opened, was an “Oscars” Emmy-winning director’s marriage proposal during his acceptance speech, the Fonz finally getting his prize after 43 years, and the appearance of 96-year-old Betty White who also was around for that first broadcast in 1949. That is what it all came down to, romance and nostalgia. Oh, and yes, an industry that is now just dreaming of streaming.
From my perspective sitting in the massive Microsoft Theater at LA Live (I have no idea how it played at home on TV), the moments that had virtually nothing to do with the industry’s increasingly rabid efforts to snag these winged trophies were the only ones that really electrified the crowd, beginning right off the bat with a genuinely warm and excited standing ovation for Henry Winkler’s Barry supporting win. You could feel the love in the room, as you could for that roaring ovation for White, who really was just trotted on stage for the moment. She wasn’t there for any other reason from what I could tell.
Winkler, by the way, was still beaming late, late into the night when I caught up with him well after midnight at the HBO after-party (one of many going on all over town). I asked if it made him happy to know he was the hit of the show. “I am very happy, I am still happy right now,” he said in finally being recognized by his peers, and as he was taking selfies with none other than Game Of Thrones’ George R. R. Martin who seemed more enthralled to be with the Fonz than any of the Lannisters.
By the way you can always tell who won by the heat surrounding the parties thrown by the studios and networks There was a line around the block to get into Amazon’s bash at Cecconi’s following the triumph of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the first streamer to come up with a Best Comedy Series win (and seven other Emmys). But it was no problem getting into Hulu’s party at the Nomad Hotel, at least according to partygoers in line at Amazon, who had already quickly been in and out of that one for The Handmaid’s Tale — a betting favorite that went home empty-handed Monday. Of course, last year was the complete opposite, when Hulu became the first streamer to win the coveted Best Drama Series with Handmaid’s. A tale of two very different nights indeed — Emmy giveth, and Emmy taketh away.
Clearly though, Emmy keeps on giving to HBO, which snagged the largest number of statuettes this year for any show with a haul of nine for its returning behemoth Game of Thrones. The big news was that the perennial leader was tied in overall wins with upstart and Emmy-hungry Netflix, both getting 23 each this year. However, on the other side of town at his perch at the Governors Ball, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos was quick to point out to me that his streamer actually had more wins — 7 to 6 — on last night’s show than HBO, even as Netflix VP Original Series Cindy Holland later put out an official statement, “We are honored to share this night with our friends at HBO, who have paved the way for years by setting the highest possible standard.”
Netflix had gone into the night with the most (barely) nominations over HBO for the first time, and its steady rise to take on HBO had finally hit pay-dirt with a tie, an “all about Eve” moment if ever there was one. Watch out for next year, when there might be more blood flowing than anything yet seen on GoT.
There was a little bit of grumbling I heard at HBO’s party over one of those Netflix Emmys: Regina King’s surprise win for Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for Seven Seconds ahead of among others the favorite Laura Dern for HBO’s The Tale. Seven Seconds was actually a canceled regular series on Netflix later labeled a “Limited Series” to compete in this category instead of uber-competitive Drama Series. The same thing happened a few years ago when ABC put Ashley Judd in the same category after canceling her series, gaining a nomination for her that she might never have received otherwise.
The wonderful King, as she should be, is clearly beloved by Emmy voters, now having won three out of four years (the first two for American Crime). I predict she will also be in the thick of the Oscar Supporting Actress race too for her luminous turn in Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk. Nevertheless the cagey late-inning campaign move by Netflix put them right on top with HBO for the first time, but the Television Academy probably should look at these loopholes and define the difference between a performance designed for an ongoing series versus a one-off limited series or TV movie.
In fact, I caught up with Dern at the HBO bash and we talked about all this. The multiple-Emmy winning star sits on the Motion Picture Academy’s board of governors and is well-versed in making rules herself. She said she believes the TV movie is back now in a big way, thanks in particular to Netflix which is turning out movies at a rapid pace (though many of them defined as theatricals rather than specifically for television, which is where they all debut anyway). Should they instead be classified, as Steven Spielberg (also an AMPAS board member) has suggested, as TV movies over theatrical, or is Netflix some sort of hybrid that can go whichever way it deems fit? It is a very big question for both academys, especially since Netflix with Roma and the upcoming, very powerful Sandra Bullock December movie Bird Box among others, will be trying to storm the Oscars in the same way they just conquered the Emmys.
Netflix actually tried to have its cake and eat it too in the Emmy documentary contests, where their Oscar winner Icarus also competed — a page ironically out of the old HBO playbook in those categories. Another irony is Netflix beat Dern’s HBO movie, The Tale, in the Outstanding Television Movie race. That’s where, for the second year in a row, an episode (“USS Callister”) of its anthology series Black Mirror won as a stand-alone movie. Complicated? Yes, but Netflix is proving itself very adept at playing this game.
But back to that big Emmy moment. Glenn Weiss, a frequent director of these shows and a former Emmy and Tonys producer, won for a second consecutive year for Directing in a Variety Special for The Oscars. Obviously he felt pretty confident of a win to have planned out his now-historic first for any big awards show by turning his acceptance speech into a marriage proposal, and then “directing” the Emmy helmer Hamish Hamilton to give him more time than the 45 seconds allotted. It is what makes live awards shows memorable, and this guy — a veteran of them and the man who presided over covering the Oscar Best Picture debacle a couple of years ago — knows exactly how to pull it off. Isn’t it ironic then that as part of the Television Academy’s negotiations with the four networks to continue airing the Emmys, there was talk of trying to move some of the writing and directing categories (like this one) out of the primetime show? It is a sensitive area and was apparently postponed for further discussion, but had it been strong-armed and put into effect this year we would never have had the Glenn Weiss proposal — the one very viral moment everyone could agree was the highlight of the 2018 Emmys. You can’t blame the all-time ratings low on this category, guys!
Although the comedy bits were hit and miss ( I loved Michael Che’s Reparation Emmy filmed bit, and that “We Solved It” diversity musical opening number), some of the presenters were woefully unprepared for their often inane “patter,” and parts of the show played flat like the last half hour of an SNL episode, these Emmys were also refreshing because they didn’t follow the same old path. There were lots of surprises (just check my miserable prognostication score this year for confirmation of that!), which is a good thing. It proves voters are actually watching the contenders, and not just checking boxes.
I was especially happy to see FX’s The Americans finally take home a writing award, and for that Rhys Lead Actor victory, but was hoping against hope that it just might pull off a huge upset and take Best Drama Series in its final season. Not to be. Co-star Margo Martindale, who previously represented the six-season show’s only significant Emmy wins thought so too, and was disappointed when I caught up with her at the Governors Ball.
But as FX’s indefatiguable communications chief John Solberg diplomatically said, “Tomorrow we start all over for next year.” Really, John? Give me a day at least.