Emmy Awards adapt to a stream of TV industry changes

18 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

2015 Emmy Awards: 6 reasons to watch to Sunday’s telecast.

Sunday will be TV’s biggest night, with formally attired celebrities ambling through the familiar red-carpet gantlet at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards. At a time when streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now are rapidly changing the landscape of television, and programming is getting more racially diverse than ever, the Emmys, the medium’s biggest awards ceremony, can seem woefully out of date.

Sure, “Modern Family” and Julia Louis-Dreyfus could once again waltz out of the Emmy Awards with gilded hardware in their grips, but this is also the year that the Television Academy looked past some old favorites (“The Big Bang Theory” and Jim Parsons, “The Good Wife” and Julianna Margulies, “Girls”) for some fresh prospects.TV producer Warren Littlefield, who ran NBC’s entertainment division during most of that successful period, recalls that the statuettes recognising excellence in television didn’t often move the needle in the ratings. “There were good bragging rights, and we tried to say to viewers and advertisers this is part of the patina that is our network, and I think we did a very good job of that,” he said. “Did it matter in terms of the audience that came to the show?CLEVELAND, Ohio – Perhaps the biggest drama to be played out during the 67th annual prime-time Emmy awards involves the race for outstanding lead actor in a drama series.

Rarely.” But Littlefield sees the Emmy in a whole new light after going up onstage last year to accept one for outstanding miniseries for his FX series Fargo. Nominees for the ceremony included MTV Unplugged, Jerry Seinfeld, and Sally Field, and the red carpet was chock-full of far-from-timeless ’90s style. Being recognised by his peers with the industry’s highest honour not only made him happy but it also put the series on the radar of viewers who were not familiar with it. This could be the year when Jon Hamm finally takes home that all-too deserved golden statuette for his portrayal of Don Draper on AMC’s “Mad Men.” Although “Mad Men” has won four Emmys for best drama series, its top-billed star hasn’t been able to break through. An offbeat comedy about a middle-aged dad (Jeffrey Tambor) who comes out as transgender to his adult kids, “Transparent” has a premise that could risk alienating the traditional-minded, even in a year when Caitlyn Jenner captured headlines.

In fact it’s not a traditional TV series in any sense, as it bypasses the typical broadcast or cable platforms and is made and distributed on-demand by Amazon, the same online mega-retailer that ships books, diapers and countless other products. Due to a number of rule changes, and viewers’ increasing appetites for shows that reflect the racial and cultural diversity of America, this year’s ceremony, which takes place in Los Angeles on Sunday and will be hosted by Andy Samberg, has the potential to be groundbreaking.

Blocking his path to Emmy glory on four of the seven previous occasions was Bryan Cranston, certainly a worthy choice for his work as Walt White on another AMC series, “Breaking Bad.” But “Breaking Bad” ended its celebrated run in 2013, and Cranston isn’t in the field. And yet “Transparent” is also one of this year’s most-nominated shows, with 11 total nods and, in a formidable new vs. old match-up, is squaring off against perennial winner “Modern Family” for best comedy. This just may be Hamm’s year — after some floundering, “Mad Men” ended very strong; and with Walter White permanently retired and otherwise formidable competitors coming off seasons that were either disappointing (Kevin Spacey for “House of Cards,” Jeff Daniels for “The Newsroom”) or little buzzed-about (“Bloodline,” Kyle Chandler), the field is fairly clear. Yet this year, both How to Get Away with Murder’s Viola Davis and Empire’s Taraji P Henson stand a strong chance of taking home the award over fellow nominees Claire Danes (for Homeland), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Mad Men (Elizabeth Moss) and Robin Wright (House of Cards).

But within the industry, there is a sense that the creative momentum has shifted to more off-beat, unusual shows — including the kind of shows proliferating on streaming outlets such as Amazon and Netflix. “Audiences are still much larger for network-originated shows, but the shows on streaming services have the attention of the entertainment establishment,” said Jeffrey McCall, a media studies professor at DePauw University. “Non-network shows can be edgier, bawdier and take more risks than the major networks can, and the Emmy people want to reward that. “This is in some ways a socio-cultural statement, but it is also a statement about where the creative world wants to take the video industry,” he added. Many experts see a growing two-tier system, much like the one that operates in the movie business, where Oscars are more likely to go to art house favorites than summer blockbusters. In February, Empire – a torrid soap with a largely African American cast set in the music industry – astonishingly became the first show since 1992 to increase its ratings over the course of its first five weeks on air (most shows have a popular first week, then immediately plunge in week two). Meanwhile, “American Sniper” took in $350 million, followed by “Hunger Games: Mockingjay” at $337 million. “When you look at the Emmys, they’re no longer about what the popular masses like,” said Billie Gold, vice president and director of TV programming research at ad firm Carat. “It’s more about if you have top actors doing these really interesting roles, with multi-dimensional characters. … [With] mainstream television, you’re trying to appeal to the masses.” When commercial TV consisted of just three broadcast networks, the Emmys often honored what was considered not just good but popular. “All in the Family,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Cheers,” “Seinfeld” and “Frasier” were honored with top Emmys.

Henson, who plays Cookie, a soap villainess in the tradition of Dynasty’s Alexis Colby, has “a very good shot” at the prize, says Daniel Montgomery, a senior editor at awards prognostication website GoldDerby. The premium cable network then used the awards to blaze its path as a destination for series programming with wins and nominations for Sex and the City, Six Feet Under and The Sopranos. Back in the 1970s, for example, the best drama prize went three times to “Upstairs, Downstairs,” a BBC period piece about aristocrats and their servants that ran in the U.S. on PBS.

Although it took nearly two decades for the cable networks to level the field with their broadcast competitors in series programming, the Emmys have accelerated the acceptance of streaming services Netflix (34 nominations this year) and Amazon (12 nominations) as significant programming players only a few years after they entered the business. They included Terrence Howard for the first season of Fox’s “Empire” and Tim Olyphant for the last season of FX’s “Justified.” So, despite everything he has going for him this year, Hamm hardly is a shoo-in to take home the big prize. HBO is a premium network that the majority of Americans do not even subscribe to, although “Sopranos” delivered ratings that would today be the envy of ABC, CBS or NBC.

Michael Katcher, head of CAA’s TV talent group, said that when executives pitch projects to big-name stars, they often open by telling them they can win an Emmy. “It’s much easier to get the actors to cross over because the material is so good,” Katcher said. “To get someone to do [HBO’s] True Detective and say, ‘You’re going to be nominated for Emmys,’ that’s a great thing.” The direct financial effects of Emmy wins or nominations are harder to assess. The victory for “Sopranos” cleared the path for AMC’s ad-agency period drama “Mad Men,” which took the top Emmy for four years in a row despite small audiences watching in real-time. “‘Mad Men’s’ ratings, I hate to say, were not very good,” Carat’s Gold said. “There were lucky if they got 2 million viewers an episode. … But people, especially those in the media, love that show.” Once the industry accepted the idea of giving top honors to what were essentially niche programs, the streaming players were ripe for consideration, despite the fact that no one outside the companies has any reliable data on viewership. Executives in the TV syndication business who sell shows made by the studios – none of whom wanted to be quoted – say they would much rather be out selling a series with a strong ratings track record than one with Emmy recognition.

Netflix, Amazon and Hulu viewing figures are not widely published, but Nielsen this year has ramped up a pilot program that is designed to capture tallies of people watching streamed shows. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” earned the most nominations, 24, including best drama, but a fantasy series has never taken the top prize — unless you count “Lost,” which was considered sci-fi but certainly had elements of the fantastic. “Game of Thrones” consistently scoops up technical awards, and star Peter Dinklage won an Emmy for best supporting actor in 2011, but major kudos have eluded the show.

And if he loses, expect to hear comparisons with everyone from Susan Lucci, who famously went 0-for-18 at the daytime Emmys before a win, to Peter O’Toole (nominated for eight Oscars as best actor, losing every time). However, Netflix has argued that the figures are flawed because they do not count people who watch on phones and tablets. “Orange Is the New Black” is a case in point.

At last week’s Creative Arts Emmys, which honour technical achievements in television, Transparent won awards for costumes, main title music, and Bradley Whitford’s guest performance. “I love to be in a show that is a voice of understanding, compassion and radical inclusion,” Whitford said in his acceptance speech. “We’re not there yet, but non-judgment day is coming.” , currently the hottest talent in American comedy, is a favourite to win an award. Still, a loss won’t diminish the accomplishment, and, let’s face it, some of the most important performances in TV history were not recognized by Emmy. Her show Inside Amy Schumer has been nominated for the inaugural award for variety sketch series, while she has also been recognised in the categories for lead actress in a comedy, writing for a variety sketch series, and directing for a variety sketch series.

The thing is, if they get 2 to 3 million viewers, that’s huge for them, but it wouldn’t be a hit on network television.” But experts expect that niche shows will continue to dominate come Emmy time as the industry slides away from a scheduled broadcast model in favor of streamed programs that can be viewed whenever users want. Perhaps the one side of the TV business that has benefited least from Emmys’ clout in recent years has been the broadcast networks, which will have no contenders in the outstanding drama series category this year while Netflix has two.

On Thursday, the Women’s Media Centre analysed the writing, editing, producing and directing categories and found that this year this year 25% of the nominees are female – slightly up from the 22% average over the previous 10 years. “The bottom line: if more women were hired as writers, directors, editors, producers, and especially as creators and executive producers, the talent pool for nominations would be more reflective of the overall population and audience – more than half of which are women,” Julie Burton, the WMC president said. Earlier this year the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which runs the show, made some alterations to reflect changing viewing habits and to prevent shows from “category shopping”, or bending the rules to insert their shows into the categories they were most likely to win. Based on “House of Cards”‘s third season, fuggedaboutit. “Kimmy Schmidt,” which got stronger and funnier and, yes, weirder through its inaugural run, may still be too much of an acquired taste to take best comedy. Netflix and Amazon both recently announced plans to step up original programming, effectively making them direct competitors with major Hollywood studios such as Warner Bros. and Fox. There are six streaming stars up in the various supporting actor and actress categories; my favorite is Ben Mendelsohn as the vulnerable but cagey black sheep in “Bloodline”— but good luck to him, because he’s going up against Jonathan Banks as the invulnerable and cagey Mike Ehrmentraut on “Better Call Saul.” 6.

Under the new rules, they have both been shuttled to a category called “limited series” defined as “programmes of two or more episodes with a total running time of at least 150 minutes that tell a complete, non-recurring story, and do not have an ongoing storyline and/or main characters in subsequent seasons”. It includes not only actors, directors, producers and writers but engineers, set designers, publicists, composers and even a couple of professional wrestlers and a televangelist.

Leonard Nimoy, who died Feb. 27 at the age of 83, would be my top contender if not for the Sept. 4 passing of Joan Rivers, which happened a little over a week after the 2014 Emmys telecast. Those same Emmy voters never warmed up to “Justified,” and they should be crawling over glass strewn across a red carpet to honor that sublime moment of storytelling excellence.

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