Reaction in September 2013: Panic!
For anyone who has missed the avalanche of headlines and hand-wringing over the past several weeks, the TV industry is gearing up for a potentially historic night on Sunday. Netflix, the online subscription powerhouse that racked up 14 nominations with shows such as “House of Cards” and “Arrested Development,” could become the first digital media service to score major honors during TV’s most prestigious awards ceremony. It would be not only a game changer for the industry, but a huge victory for cord-cutters everywhere.
Those who ignored the fine print in 2008 are paying close attention now. Still, though the awards show is breaking new ground, this isn’t the first time the Emmys have shaken things up with a rule change.
For example, notice how nearly every year brings about another cable clean sweep? These days, it’s rare for a broadcast network show to make headlines during the Emmycast. However, it wasn’t always that way: Cable wasn’t even allowed to compete until 1988, the Emmy Awards’ 40th anniversary. The decision from the television academy, made in a similar low-key manner, initially got zero reaction from the industry or the public — until more than a decade later, when the reign of HBO’s “The Sopranos” began, and premium cable networks started winning everything.
But Netflix invading the Emmy Awards could prove to be an even bigger story, given how quickly the Internet company has risen to the top.
“It took cable 13 years to get its first drama series program nomination, whereas it took the Internet six years,” John Leverence, the television academy’s senior vice president of awards, said in an e-mail. “New distribution platforms — even cable with its wildly precocious HBO — don’t start getting drama series program nominations at the tender age of just six years.”
TV experts agree that Netflix’s rise was unusually speedy, particularly in the big award categories. “House of Cards” is up for best drama, along with the lead acting nods for Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.
“It’s been a major challenge for the networks,” said Ron Simon, a television and radio curator at the Paley Center for Media. “If you go back at look at history at some of the other forces that had to be reckoned with, it generally took a few years.” He credits “House of Cards” for making such a big splash that it demanded attention, and for being a perfect storm that brought together a big star (Spacey), famous director (David Fincher) and popular subject matter (Washington, what else?).
“It created so much buzz,” Simon said. “And you could just not ignore it.”
While Netflix may seem like a bigger deal these days, it’s worth looking back at a few other eligibility changes that made waves.