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Netflix's Emmy Future is Unclear, But May Be Important

The Atlantic
Netflix's Emmy Future is Unclear, But May Be Important
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Netflix's Emmy Future is Unclear, But May Be Important

We already know Netflix shows are a success on some levels. The likes of House of CardsArrested Development, and, now, Orange is the New Black, have garnered fans and critical acclaim. But tomorrow morning's Emmy nominations will tell a different story for the streaming site.

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Netflix is this year's big unknown at the Emmys. Two of their shows—Cards and Development—have at least a decent shot at getting nominated in multiple categories, and if they don't it won't be for the company's lack of trying. Netflix campaigned fiercely, giving incentives for homeowners to put up lawn signs, and giving Academy members BBQ. A strong presence for Netflix shows in the nominations tomorrow might herald a big change in tune for the awards show. 

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Though Arrested Development, what with its weaker critical reception, might have a harder time breaking into the comedy categories, we could easily see House of Cards picking up nominations for actors like Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and Corey Stoll, and possibly even scoring a best drama honor. If that were to happen it might mean a new era of television awards dominance. According to the New York Times' Bill Carter: "More than anything else, Netflix’s arrival in the Emmy mix is disquieting to some broadcast and cable executives because it is probably only the beginning." 

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The rule change that allowed Netflix shows to go up against their broadcast competitors came about in 2008, Michael Schneider of TV Guide explained back in February, quoting John Leverence of the Academy as saying: "I suspect that 2008 will join 1988—when the Academy introduced cable into eligibility—as a landmark year in the history of the Primetime Emmys." Obviously, the impact of the rule has taken a while to catch on. Last year, for instance, Netflix's Lilyhammer, starring Steve Van Zandt, was eligible, but obviously didn't make many waves. But that was also the case in cable programming. Though, yes, cable became eligible in 1988, it only started to rise in the latter part of the 1990s. In The Sopranos inaugural year, 1999, it led nominations. By the 2003 ceremony, HBO had two nominees in both the best comedy and best drama categories: Sex and the City and Curb Your Enthusiasm in Comedy and The Sopranos and Six Feet Under in drama. 

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The way Netflix is consumed also poses interesting problems. Netflix at first didn't even send screeners out, choosing instead to give free limited subscriptions, Pete Hammond of Deadline reported in June. Ultimately though, the company's "strategists clearly realized without sending screeners they would be at a huge disadvantage" so they gave them out to Academy members, also giving out a code to access the shows online. In his Times piece, Carter raises the question of whether its worth expanding the number of nominees to account for a wider range of shows—and the fact that not everyone has access to Netflix and other such sites—with the possibility of drawing more viewers to the awards' telecast. 

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As Carter explains, Emmy nominations don't really mean that much other than giving networks a sense of "validation," but with Netflix's model still in its infancy, that seal of approval could mean a lot symbolically. Figuring that Netflix comes away with at least some nominations, that could herald big things for the following year when a show like Orange is the New Black is eligible. 

Orange is the New Black was something of a surprising success story. The lead-up to its debut was fairly quiet until it was renewed for a second season before it started streaming and critical raves started rolling in. Since it debuted last week, Twitter has been aflutter with fans of the show, hailing both its portrayal of women and LGBT characters and it's general storytelling prowess. It's unclear whether it's a show that's destined for Emmy success, but we'll have to wait until next year to find out, since the eligibility cut-off for this year ended on May 31. As for future Netflix series that might claim prizes? That's on shakier ground. Netflix has one big new show on the slate for 2014: Sense8, a sci-fi Wachowski production that likely doesn't have much chance of Emmy love, considering the awards usually stay away from lauding anything genre. 

We'll have to wait until tomorrow to see what actually happens to theorize further, but this could be the dawn of a new awards-season era. 

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