|Netflix and Apple Finally Broke Old TV at This Year’s Emmys|
Big wins by “The Queen’s Gambit,” “The Crown” and “Ted Lasso” show how the industry has changed
By John Jurgensen
Wall Street Journal
Sept. 20, 2021 4:56 pm ET
Peter Morgan accepted the award for outstanding writing for a drama series for ‘The Crown’ during Sunday’s Emmy Awards. PHOTO: TELEVISION ACADEMY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
A historic night at the Emmy Awards for AMC and other cable networks roughly a decade ago left the television industry’s old guard questioning its relevance. Now the former insurgents of cable find themselves in the same wilderness.
Back then, in 2008, it was AMC’s “Mad Men” that became the first basic cable series ever to win the flagship award for outstanding drama series. It was a symbol that the major networks’ long reign over TV culture was ending. No broadcaster has won that top prize since.
The latest changing of the guard became official Sunday at the 73rd Emmy Awards, as streaming platforms swept most of the major awards. With Netflix’s first-ever wins for drama series ( “The Crown”) and limited series ( “The Queen’s Gambit”), the streamer amassed 44 total Emmys, tying a record that CBS has held since 1974. Apple TV+ stormed the comedy categories with wins, including best series for “Ted Lasso.”
The crowning of the streaming era came at the expense of not just the long-suffering broadcast networks, but also some of the cable networks that unseated them in the prestige race. AMC had a single nomination, for the stunt work in action series “Gangs of London,” but didn’t win it. FX, one of the biggest forces in cable’s golden era of the 2000s and 2010s, received only three technical awards for its drama “Pose,” and left Sunday’s ceremony empty-handed. HBO has routinely piled up more wins than any network or streamer, including 30 total wins in 2020. The premium cable powerhouse claimed 19 wins this year—four for shows on HBO’s streaming sibling, HBO Max.
As they celebrated their own wins Monday, Netflix executives took a victory lap on behalf of their sector as a whole. “It was a historic night for streaming,” Netflix head of global TV Bela Bajaria said. “The nominations were there [for TV networks], so there’s great work being done in a lot of different places, but I do think this was the streamers’ year.”
Netflix won its first-ever Emmy for a limited series with ‘The Queen's Gambit.’ PHOTO: CHRIS PIZZELLO/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Not every streamer succeeded. Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the first streaming show to win best drama, in 2017, won none of the 21 Emmys it was nominated for this year. Amazon Prime Video, which cracked the ranks of best comedies in 2018 with “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” was shut out, despite high-profile nominations for its drama “The Boys” and limited series “The Underground Railroad.”
The pandemic played a role in this year’s results. It influenced the kinds of shows and platforms viewers gravitated to, such as “The Queen’s Gambit,” which triggered a run on chess sets during the lockdown months. Covid-19 also halted the production cycles for established hits, including HBO’s big winner from 2020, “Succession.”
Netflix countered that none of these factors merited an asterisk on the breakthrough wins for streamers. “I believe that at any moment in history, ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ and ‘The Crown’ and many of those other shows would absolutely have won and could have won,” Ms. Bajaria said.
In an era when traditional TV ratings have less importance—and don’t apply at all to streaming services—the Emmys represent an important indicator of clout in the television industry.
But in other ways, the awards are an often misleading measure of what’s happening in that world. This year’s pool of nominees was the most racially diverse so far, yet no performers of color won in any of the 12 acting categories presented on Sunday night. (That got #EmmysSoWhite, a version of the hashtag that dogged the Oscars, trending on Twitter.
The continuing content boom yields hundreds of scripted series each year, but Emmy voters tend to have tunnel vision: All seven drama awards went to “The Crown” and its cast members and creators Sunday night, on the heels of last year’s total sweep of the comedy genre by “Schitt’s Creek.”
For networks and their stars who routinely end up on the sidelines, a question emerges: How much of an honor is it just to be nominated, and nominated only? This year marked the seventh time in a row that “black-ish” star Anthony Anderson lost the race for lead actor in a comedy series. It was the fourth time in six years that “black-ish,” a long-running family hit on ABC, was denied a win for outstanding comedy series.
ABC declined to comment.
One legacy network that walked away from the ceremony with a measurable win was CBS, which aired the ceremony. The network said its Emmy telecast, hosted by Cedric the Entertainer, star of CBS sitcom “The Neighborhood,” drew 7.4 million viewers, up 16% from last year’s show, a largely virtual event that hit a record ratings low on ABC. After nearly a decade straight of declining viewership, it was the largest Emmys audience since 2018.
Now, the cycle begins again with the official start of the networks’ fall television season, which traditionally kicks off after the hardware is handed out.
Write to John Jurgensen at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Appeared in the September 21, 2021, print edition as 'Netflix, Apple TV+ Win Big Over Broadcast, Cable TV.'
Netflix and Apple Finally Broke Old TV at This Year’s Emmys - WSJ