Pop TV was one of the biggest stories at the 2020 Emmy Awards. Fueled by Schitt’s Creek‘s unprecedented sweep of all seven comedy categories on the main telecast Sunday, the small basic cable outlet ranked third among all networks and platforms in total wins, behind only awards juggernauts HBO and Netflix. Schitt’s Creek also finished with the second in most wins by a program behind HBO’s Watchmen.
Until this year, Pop had not won an Emmy after landing its first nominations in 2019. This week, it won 10 — nine for Schitt’s Creek and one for One Day at a Time, which became the first Pop show to get an Emmy on Wednesday during the Creative Arts ceremony.
But the triumph is bittersweet. Pop TV has overhauled its programming strategy since the Viacom-CBS merger in late 2019, which moved previously CBS-owned Pop TV to the Viacom side of the company where it is now part of the ViacomCBS Entertainment & Youth Group. The unit put muscle behind the final season of Schitt’s Creek and Season 4 of One Day At a Time with simulcasts on multiple networks. But since the merger, Pop TV also has undergone multiple rounds of layoffs. Pop TV president Brad Schwartz, who launched the network in 2015 and brought in both Schitt’s Creek and One Day at a Time, exited in June. In March, the majority of his slate of original scripted series, including the well received Florida Girls, Flack and the newly ordered Best Intentions, was abruptly scrapped. “Where will creatively oddly-shaped masterpieces be able to find their way moving forward?,” one industry veteran who has had a show on Pop lamented about the net’s pullout from original scripted series.
Heading into Emmy season, Schitt’s Creek and One Day at a Time were the only remaining Pop TV original scripted series. Schitt’s Creek is now gone, and One Day at a Time, whose first season on Pop was cut short by the pandemic, awaits word on its future. There has been speculation that, if the praised family sitcom is to be renewed for another season, it may move to ViacomCBS’ more established comedy cable network TV Land.
One could argue that Netflix has a hand in all of Pop’s wins. Schitt’s Creek was a cult hit with devoted but small following until the streamer introduced it to a wide audience and helped it become a pop-culture phenom. In his Outstanding Comedy Series acceptance speech, co-creator/star Eugene Levy thanked Netflix “for the spark that seemed to start everything.” Meanwhile, One Day At a Time originally was a Netflix series until it was canceled after thee seasons.
But it was Pop TV that gave Schitt’s Creek a U.S. home and saved One Day at a Time.
In October 2014, Dan and Eugene Levy, along with distributor ITV Studios, were at Mipcom in Cannes, pitching to buyers their new show Schitt’s Creek, which already had been commissioned by Canada’s CBC. A number of networks passed, but TVGN, then soon to be rebranded as Pop, took a chance on the comedy from first-time showrunner Dan Levy, to be its first original — and ultimately signature — series. “It’s a dream cast, it’s hysterically funny, and it’s sure to pop,” Schwartz said of Schitt’s Creek at the time of the pickup six years ago.
Last year, Pop TV was able to clinch a deal for One Day at a Time, moving a streaming show to a basic cable network, also after a number of bigger nets had passed. In both cases, some inventive dealmaking had to be done as Pop TV has been an emerging cable network with modest budgets.
Schitt’s Creek was a co-production with CBC and ITV and used tax credits; for Pop TV to be able to afford One Day at a Time, sibling CBS gave the sitcom a second window. The reimagining of the Normal Lear classics debuts on CBS on October 5.
Schwartz was the architect of both deals. He was recognized tonight by Eugene Levy after Schitt’s Creek‘s comedy series win. “I want to thank Brad Schwartz and Pop TV for putting us on the radar here in the States,” he said.
Schwartz has been cheering from the sidelines, tweeting up a storm with congratulations on all of Pop’s Emmy wins this past week.
The historic performance of Schitt’s Creek, which broke a couple of records, including the most wins ever for a comedy series in a single year, could also serve as a coda to basic cable’s strong Emmy run.
Many ad-supporting cable networks are pulling away from scripted series, especially high-end live-action programming, as the basic cable model cannot sustain it. Awards juggernauts like FX and AMC have been shifting resources to streaming; while the two nets still have seasoned Emmy veterans such as Fargo, American Crime Story, Atlanta and Better Call Saul, it was telling that FX’s only Emmy win on Sunday came for one of its first streaming series, Mrs. America from FX on Hulu.
So as we bid farewell to a great series and acknowledge the feat of a small network that never had the resources of the networks and streamers it topped at the Emmys, we may be saying goodbye to the likelihood of such dominant Emmy performance by a show on a traditional linear ad-supported network ever happening again.