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Netflix Holds Trump 'Cards' in Likely Emmy Milestone

In 2002, FX’s The Shield broke a huge basic cable barrier when Michael Chiklis won the best performance by an actor primetime Emmy award. Many industry experts expect another bit of Emmy history to be made this year when Netflix’s House of Cards receives the first Emmy nomination for a show that is distributed exclusively via the Internet.

Even if House of Cards is not nominated as one of the past season’s best dramas, it’s highly likely the series—with its movie-star performances and stellar production values—will be nominated in some category, with odds-on favorites being outstanding drama, best actor or best cinematography. The category of nomination aside, this would mark an important television first.

It’s a possibility the Los Angeles-based Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has been prepared for since 2008, when its board changed the rules to accommodate shows distributed over the Web.

“In terms of the Emmy awards structure, this really hasn’t been a radical response to what you might call a radical innovation in the way programming is made, delivered and consumed,” says John Leverence, ATAS senior VP of awards. “The Academy learned this lesson way back when it first confronted cable.”

TV industry vets will remember that cable-only shows used to be celebrated by the CableACE Awards, put together by the National Cable Television Association before being voted out of existence after 1997. ATAS had allowed cable shows to be included in the Emmys as early as 1988, but it took nine more years before the industry realized there was no longer a need for two separate sets of awards.

“At the time that cable came in, there had been extensive discussions year after year on the board of governors as to whether or not there should be categories set up to reflect delivery systems,” says Leverence. “The board firmly made the decision that we would stick to the genre categorization and not go over into delivery systems.”

With that groundwork laid, ATAS was ready when Netflix upended the TV landscape by offering all 13 episodes of House of Cards at once, something that had never been done before in television. While that was a radical—and much-discussed— move for most of television, it was businessas- usual for Netflix.

“It didn’t make sense to us to not offer every episode at once, when literally every other show on our service is offered all at once,” says Ted Sarandos, Netflix chief content officer. “Our subscribers like to watch more than one episode at a time, and some of them literally watch them all in one sitting, although I wouldn’t recommend that. Offering all 13 episodes at once is very symbolic of how people watch our service.”

Sarandos is similarly philosophical when it comes to the burning question of why Netflix won’t release its streaming data, which would allow the world at large to see for themselves whether Netflix’s original series have in fact been embraced by the masses.

“Broadcast television has an instant feedback loop in the form of overnight ratings, and I don’t think that’s been great for the creation of content,” says Sarandos. “We want people to watch the content that we are putting on, and we want to get away from overnight ratings driving the creative.

“Our business model is really live-plus- five-years,” Sarandos continues. “We don’t compete with broadcast or cable networks for ad dollars, channel position or carriage fees. I’ve just got to put on great content that our consumers love, or they cancel.”

As a result of that philosophy, how widely viewed House of Cards—and Netflix’s other two original series releases over the past year, Hemlock Grove and Arrested Development— have been remains unknown. But critical response to House of Cards, especially, has been strongly positive, with many critics considering the show to be a real Emmy contender this year.

Should House of Cards garner a nomination, it will likely join such other wellpedigreed series as last year’s winner, Showtime’s Homeland, as well as AMC’s four-time winner, Mad Men, and that network’s critically adored Breaking Bad; along with HBO’s Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire. PBS’ Downton Abbey also is likely to score a repeat nom after an especially dramatic third season.

“Season three was a real roller coaster,” says Gareth Neame, managing director of NBC-owned Carnival Films and Downton Abbey’s executive producer. For many, that’s an understatement considering season three’s dramatic character deaths. “I think all of that drama enhanced enjoyment of the show for audiences. What people have grown to love about the show was never stronger than in season three. We gave audiences extraordinary moments.”

Besides House of Cards, other newcomers also could vie for contention, including FX’s The Americans and HBO’s The Newsroom. Other possibilities are FX’s Peabodywinner Justified and a broadcast TV entry, CBS’ two-time nominee The Good Wife.

“It’s going to be a very distinguished list of nominees,” says Leverence. “We can guarantee that from the excellent field of contenders.”

On the comedy side, Netflix also has a chance to make history with its reboot of Arrested Development, which aired on Fox from 2003-06 and won the Emmy for outstanding comedy in its first season.

Arrested Development faces tough competition, including ABC’s three-time winner Modern Family. If Modern Family can bring home a fourth statue, it will match comedy greats All in the Family and Cheers.

Last year’s nominees, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, NBC’s 30 Rock (which already has won three best comedy series trophies and just finished its final season) and HBO’s Girls and Veep also have good chances of earning repeat nominations. HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, nominated seven times, is not in the mix this year.

Other potential nominees include FX’s Louie, which won the Emmy last year for outstanding writing; NBC’s critically beloved Parks & Recreation; and Showtime’s Episodes and Nurse Jackie. Dark horse possibilities include NBC’s Community and ABC’s The Middle.

No matter what happens, the huge changes that have taken place in the TV industry in the past year also are shaking things up creatively, and the real winners in that score are viewers.

Says Leverence: “Anytime you have a disruption of the status quo with new technology, you get starbursts of innovation.”

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