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Emmys 2016: It’s HBO’s Night, But Give It Up for FX

Hardly a soul would be shocked if HBO and Netflix wore a path in the carpet heading to the stage to claim Emmys tonight, but the bigger story may just be FX and the 56 trophies it’s in the running for. Yes, Game of Thrones bagged 23 nominations, and looks primed to convert on a high number of them. But FX’s American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson is up for 22—a large chunk of FX’s impressive nominations haul, which is (a distant) second only to HBO’s.

While FX has for years cranked out edgy, cinematic, well received originals, it’s still an outsized total for the mostly unsexy basic cable segment of the programming world. The People v. O.J.’s main competition in the limited series category comes from in-house—FX’s critically adored Fargo. (ABC’s American Crime, History’s Roots and AMC’s The Night Manager are also in the running in the increasingly prestigious—and competitive—category.)

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FX chief John Landgraf has emerged as an unofficial spokesman for the age of peak TV, his State of the Union-esque presentations at TCA press tour painstakingly detailing the competitive landscape. During his address in Beverly Hills last month, Landgraf waxed philosophical about the challenge of competing for top-shelf projects—the kind that win Emmys—against the likes of Netflix, where fiscal restraint looks to be something of an afterthought.  

He did not call out Netflix by name, but bemoaned the emergence of Silicon Valley superstars, such as Uber and PayPal, leaving little room for competitors in their space. 

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“I just think that it’s something we as a society ought to be paying attention to,” Landgraf said, sounding like a baseball franchise’s general manager in a small market whose owner has demanded a World Series title. 

“It’s particularly bad for our culture when someone seizes 40%-50% of market share within storytelling.”

Turning a healthy number of nominations into trophies tonight will be a big vote for Landgraf’s vision at FX, no races more important than The Americans, long adored by critics, vying for best drama. Standing in the way is HBO’s Game of Thrones, PBS’ Downton Abbey, USA Network’s Mr. Robot, AMC’s Better Call Saul, Showtime’s Homeland and Netflix’s House of Cards.

Netflix is up for 54 Emmys, 20 more than last year and trailing only HBO (94) and FX. 

Jimmy Kimmel, host of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, emcees tonight’s affair at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Kimmel takes delight in skewering the industry—its lack of imagination, its poor batting average regarding hits—at ABC’s annual upfront presentation in the spring, and has surely brought his grilling gear to downtown Los Angeles tonight. The telecast starts at 5 p.m. PT on ABC, and 8 p.m. ET.

January’s Golden Globes are more likely to single out eccentric, narrow-cast shows, such as Amazon’s Transparent and USA Network’s Mr. Robot and other surprise winners. Some have parlayed Globe glitter into an Emmy, such as Transparent’s Jeffrey Tambor, as well as director Jill Soloway, a year ago. 

Besides Mr. Robot being up for outstanding drama, star Rami Malek is in the running for best actor in a drama. It would represent his first Emmy.

Transparent represents five of Amazon’s 16 nominations. Its third season starting up Sept. 23, Transparent is up for best comedy alongside reigning champ Veep and Silicon Valley on HBO, Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Master of None, and ABC’s Black-ish.

The critics largely like and respect Black-ish, but the Emmys long ago ceased to be broadcast’s big night. No broadcast shows are up for best drama. NBC leads the broadcast pack with 41 nominations, same as last year. ABC and CBS got 35 apiece, while Fox tallied 29, including a nod for Taraji P. Henson for best actress in a drama for her work on Empire.

PBS seized 26 nominations, 10 tied to recently concluded Downton Abbey. The term “recently concluded” counts for something with Emmys voters, which awarded Jon Hamm the outstanding actor prize for the first time last year after his many years on Mad Men.

At least the broadcasters get to air the Emmys, which the Big Four share on a rotating basis. Last year’s telecast on Fox, hosted by Andy Samberg of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, had 11.9 million viewers—a record low but the new norm in the balkanized TV landscape.

HBO won 14 Emmys last year, followed by Comedy Central’s four as voters saluted departed Daily Show host Jon Stewart. “To everybody on television, I just want to tell you—cling to it as long as you can,” deadpanned Stewart. “It’s a barren wasteland out there” once you step off the set.