In his opening monologue Aug. 25 at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards, Seth Meyers compared television’s top honors to MTV’s continued mounting of the Video Music Awards long after abandoning music videos as a programming staple.
“That’s like network TV holding an awards show and giving all the awards to cable and Netflix,” Meyers said.
The joke played well in the moment. By the end of the night, it felt dated.
Four of the five networks with the most 2014 Primetime Emmy wins were broadcasters. Pay cabler and perpetual champion HBO once again led the field in statuettes, this time with 19. But the snubbing of broadcast that NBC chief Bob Greenblatt and CBS chief Nina Tassler groused about at the TCA summer press tour in July turned out to be a stealth celebration of the old guard. CBS (11 wins), PBS (11), NBC (10) and ABC (8) outperformed cable competitors such as FX Networks (7), AMC (6) and Showtime (4). While total nominations for broadcast networks fell from 195 in 2013 to 182 this year, the number of wins rose from 36 to 47.
Broadcast may have seen fewer at-bats this year, but it got more hits—and several of them were for extra bases. ABC’s Modern Family took home its fifth straight Emmy for best comedy series in its first five years of eligibility, tying the record set in that category by Frasier. CBS landed two of the major performing prizes. Jim Parsons won his fourth best comedy actor award for his work on The Big Bang Theory, and Julianna Margulies won her second best drama award for The Good Wife. In her acceptance speech, Margulies seemed to reference the show’s exclusion from the best drama series nominees, crediting creators Robert and Michelle King “and all our writers, who never cease to amaze me with 22 episodes a year.”
CBS had run a for-your-consideration ad campaign for the show that emphasized the difficulty of broadcast production schedules vs. those found on cable, where seasons can run between eight and 12 episodes.
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It seemed fitting, given that the table appeared set for Netflix to lead the Emmy narrative. The digital service more than doubled its number of nominations from last year to this (from 14 to 31), landed a genre-leading 12 nods in comedy categories for Orange Is the New Black and even won seven awards Aug. 16 at the Creative Arts Emmys.
But Netflix added zero trophies to its haul at the big show—being beaten in major categories such as comedy series, where Orange lost to Modern Family; comedy actress, where Orange’s Taylor Schilling lost to Julia Louis-Dreyfus of HBO’s Veep; drama actress, where House of Cards’ Robin Wright lost to Margulies; drama actor, where House of Cards’ Kevin Spacey lost to fourth-time winner Bryan Cranston of AMC’s Breaking Bad; and drama series, where House of Cards lost to repeat victor Breaking Bad.
Netflix did not exactly emerge as the new HBO. Holding at seven wins, it finished with the same Emmy total as the least nominated broadcaster, Fox, which also picked up all its awards at the creative arts ceremony. But while Fox won one Emmy for every 2.6 nominations it received, Netflix won one for every 4.4 nominations.
Meyers’ broadcast line wasn’t the only joke from his monologue to serve as foreshadowing.
“This year we had dramas that made you laugh and comedies that made you cry, because they were dramas submitted as comedies,” Meyers said, referencing what looked to be attempts by some networks to move shows into more advantageous or attractive categories than the ones in which they appeared to belong. Orange, an hour-long prison series whose season 1 finale ended with the protagonist violently beating another character, was one such show. Showtime’s Shameless was another. Though it had previously competed as a drama, the hour-long show was submitted as a comedy this year. The distinctions between series and miniseries proved equally fuzzy, with HBO submitting True Detective—an anthology like FX’s Fargo and American Horror Story that could have presumably, like those shows, competed as a miniseries—as a drama.
But such gamesmanship failed to pay off. Orange won only three awards, all at the Creative Arts Emmys. Shameless garnered a lead comedy actor nomination, but no win, for William H. Macy. True Detective won five awards, but was shut out of high-profile categories such as best drama actor, where star Matthew McConaughey was such a heavy favorite that Cranston led his acceptance with, “Even I thought about voting for Matthew.”
True Detective’s presence in the drama categories also lessened the competition for movie and miniseries awards, and possibly cleared the way for PBS’ Sherlock: His Last Vow. The Masterpiece miniseries won seven awards—including one for Benedict Cumberbatch for best movie or miniseries actor—the most of any show in any genre.
Jessica Lange won for best movie or miniseries actress for American Horror Story: Coven, her third win in that category and second for the FX franchise. Fargo won for best miniseries, and HBO’s The Normal Heart won for best movie.
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