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Trends Favor Diversity, Newness and Pay TV as Awards Season Revs Up

The 2016-17 TV and movie awards season has hit high gear with the presentation of Critics’ Choice Awards winners as well as nominations for Golden Globe Awards, NAACP Image Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards. While TV viewers and critics will undoubtedly cheer shows recognized by the major awards groups — and lament over their favorite shows that did not make the awards cut — The Wire saw three trends coming out of the awards blitz that could affect the television industry heading into the new year.

More love for diverse casting: A number of new scripted series with predominately multicultural casts won Critics’ Choice Awards in major categories or earned multiple Golden Globe, NAACP Image or SAG Award nominations. Established and more mainstream series like Empire and Black-ish continued to remain popular with awards judges, garnering numerous nominations. The most prominent and eye-opening nods, though, were for more niche shows like FX’s hip hop-flavored series Atlanta, as creator and star Donald Glover won a Critics’ Choice Award for best actor in a comedy series and Golden Globe nomination in the same category, and HBO’s comedy series Insecure, which nabbed eight NAACP Image Award nominations and a Golden Globe best comedy actress nod for Issa Rae, star of the freshman comedy series. Also, Golden Globe, SAG and NAACP award nominations for Thandie Newton’s performance as a newly sentient android in HBO’s Westworld, and multiple nods for FX limited series The People v. O.J. Simpson and actors including Courtney B. Vance and Sterling K. Brown (also nominated for an NAACP Image Award for NBC’s This Is Us) demonstrate that, when given a chance, actors of color can turn in award-defining performances.

Newbie series bring buzz: During every awards season there seems to be a new series that captures the zeitgeist of the viewer and the eye of judges. This season, several new shows have gained major award recognition. Half of the Critics’ Choice Awards winners in the major drama categories were from freshman series Westworld (HBO) and The Crown (Netflix). Four out of the five Golden Globes-nominated series in the drama category are from first-year shows (The Crown, Westworld, This Is Us and Netflix’s Stranger Things). Four of the five SAG Awards nominations for “outstanding performance by a female actor in a drama series” were from new series, including two from binge-viewing favorite Stranger Things. With 400-plus scripted series for U.S. audiences to choose from, new shows are cutting through the clutter to build both audiences and critical acclaim.

Cable, streaming services dominate TV drama: Anyone who doubted whether the best and most critically acclaimed shows on television today are on cable networks and streaming services only has to look at recent award-winning and nominated shows in the major drama categories. Broadcast network shows were virtually shut out of Critics’ Choice Awards wins in all six drama categories and four of six comedy categories. On the nominations front, This Is Us is the lone broadcast entry in 15 Golden Globes drama category nominations and PBS’s recently ended Downton Abbey staved off a complete SAG Awards nominations sweep for cable and streaming services in major drama series categories. Shows from Netflix (The Crown, Stranger Things), HBO (Westworld, Game of Thrones), USA Network (Mr. Robot), AMC (Better Call Saul), FX (The Americans) and Starz (Outlander) have set the standard for quality among drama series that the broadcast networks will have to live up to if they are to be recognized during future awards seasons.

Reindeer Rundown: NORAD Set for Holiday

To ensure that cable operators and other media outlets can help prevent highflying grandmas from getting run over by flying reindeer and keep up with the lively and quick doings of the little man with the sack, NORAD, the joint U.S.-Canada aerospace warning and control operation, is inviting them to participate in this year’s Santa Claus tracking operation “in a variety of ways.”

NORAD, which annually charts Santa’s Christmas Eve/Christmas Day flights over North American airspace, is allowing media outlets to embed its “track Santa” logo, countdown clock and live tracking map on their websites.

Those outlets will also be authorized to tap into the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS) system for live satellite interviews (6 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 24) with senior NORAD command leaders (email requests to Various flight crews will escort the flight, per usual.

Starting at 2:01 a.m., the website will stream video of Santa preparing the flight and then from several locations en route. Those with OnStar can also press the button in their cars to locate Santa in his sleigh. No word on whether car-to-sleigh communications are mandated under the Department of Transportation’s new V2V “light duty” vehicles proposal issued last week, though Santa’s sleigh probably qualifies as heavy duty.

NORAD has tracked Santa since 1955. Before that, it was mostly word-of-mouth between siblings talking excitedly, snug in their beds, while they were supposed to be asleep.

— John Eggerton

Ball-Watcher Update: Times Square Hosts Set

Updating our item on the New Year’s Day festivities in Times Square, the talent, or at least most of it, has been named for the free, anchored, coverage of the ball drop that the Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment are making available to media outlets.

Singers Gavin DeGraw (“She Sets the City on Fire”) and Rachel Platten (“Fight Song” and “Stand By You”) will be co-headlining the live, commercial- free feeds and the webcast. Platten also gets the honors of carrying on the tradition of performing John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

Univision will provide “three star musical performances,” but they have yet to be named.

Returning as host of the Web coverage will be Spotify’s “global head of rock” Allison Hagendorf, joined by Jonathan Bennett (Mean Girls, Cake Wars).

— John Eggerton

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.