The Emmys of late have become a revolving door of monolith premium, cable, and streaming shows, parading one after another, in and out of vogue. And it seems like there’s always a new powerhouse waiting in the wings to take the crown. It wouldn’t be a problem per say, if it wasn’t for the drastically uneven playing fields. How are network dramas and comedies, with all their FCC regulations and red tape regarding obscenity and profanity, supposed to keep up with the practically unregulated world of subscription TV?
The facts speak for themselves. The last 5 winning shows of the Emmy award for Outstanding Drama Series include: Breaking Bad (AMC), Game of Thrones (HBO), The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu), Succession (HBO), and The Crown (Netflix). And, since a few of those shows won multiple years, that’s the winners list since 2013. And if nominations are more your speed, the only network program that has been nominated in all that time is This Is Us (NBC). It’s important to note that Downton Abbey (PBS) did get some recognition from 2012-2016, but since PBS isn’t exactly considered a network channel, technically that doesn’t count either. It seems that there is exactly one spot in the nominations for network programming, and they have little to no chance of grabbing the big prize, even when they do manage to sneak into that spot.
The Outstanding Comedy series category isn’t much better. The winners list since 2015 includes Veep (HBO), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon), Fleabag (Amazon), Schitt’s Creek (Pop TV), and Ted Lasso (Apple TV+). And while they made room for two network nominees (Black-ish and Modern Family, both ABC productions), neither stood a chance once the freedom of the premium cable networks took hold. Flipping back to the pre-streaming times, you see a myriad of great network comedies in the winner’s circle, including Modern Family, but also 30 Rock (NBC), The Office (NBC), Everybody Loves Raymond (CBS), and Arrested Development (FOX).
Isn’t it time for the Emmy awards to consider giving network broadcasts back their own chance at glory? There are plenty of programs worthy of the honor, and no shortage of praiseworthy performances. Imagine a world where a great network comedy like The Good Place walks away from the 2020 ceremony with the title of Best Network Comedy? Plus, we’d still get to watch Schitt’s Creek rake in all their deserved gold as well in the new Best Premium/Streaming Comedy (the name could probably use a little work, but the idea stands true). It’s truly the best of both worlds. And, in order to not weigh one category higher than the other, it would only make logical sense to alternate which category gets to present their award last in that coveted ‘final award’ spot. Network television is not inferior to its alternatives, but it has a staggeringly more difficult road to pave to be considered something great. It’s becoming an entirely different challenge that deserves to be recognized on the same scale with its own category.
It’s a travesty that great comedies Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX) and New Girl (FOX) never managed a nomination. Nor did Superstore (NBC), Community (NBC), or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW). We are forced to ask ourselves, is it because they weren’t worthy of the recognition, or is it because the new worlds of premium, cable, and streaming networks are more attractive to the Academy with all their creative freedom?
And the same goes for dramas. This is Us has managed to squeak out a nomination or two the last couple of years, but what about quality shows like Prodigal Son (FOX), Parenthood (NBC), All Rise (CBS), or even a newbie like Nancy Drew (CW)? And let's not forget the long-running behemoths like Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) or Supernatural (CW). Do they deserve to be shut out of any and all recognition for their incredible, nuanced work just because a streaming site can tackle tough subject matter with little to no restrictions on how they must handle that content?
This is not a problem that is going to go away. Streaming is here to stay, and HBO is not going to lose any steam as it brings home Emmy win after Emmy win in a myriad of categories. And I absolutely do not believe those platforms need to be stopped. The creative freedom brought by the paywall of subscriptions allows television a more equal playing field with the movie industry, allowing it to attract top-tier talent to projects that would have been swept under the rug a decade ago. This is more about how network television shouldn’t be left out of the discussion because of the limitations it’s forced to perform under. Those restrictions can also propel a series to greatness, or provide more family friendly avenues for entertainment, but it’s an entirely different animal than premium programming, and deserves recognition for jumping all those extra hurdles.
If more network shows were nominated for the series itself in these new network categories, the acting and creative awards could probably remain as is, at least for the time being. I doubt the Academy would be receptive to adding nearly a dozen new categories to separate the acting, writing, and directing awards as well. Of course it would be wonderful to present the award to the Best Actor in a Network Drama, etc., but if more shows are being brought into the award discussion in general, there is bound to be a resurgence of consideration for the hard-working network casts. If the premium shows continue to dominate, then that’s something to take into consideration for future Emmy broadcasts.
There’s no doubt that this type of recognition could open doors for network shows to take more chances. We could see a resurgence of networks challenging their audiences with genre shows and more truly unique, interesting projects. Rather than spitting out another crime scene investigation show that is destined to be a ratings juggernaut, raking in advertising revenue, we could see the return of the great network sci-fi series or maybe even a fantasy epic or two. The era of the great network drama doesn’t have to be over just because new platforms allow more creative and artistic freedom. And network comedies still deserve their chance to shine and be properly recognized for their accomplishments. It’s clear that awards mean good things for all outlets, and it is time for premium and streaming services to share the wealth.
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