Thursday's news that Netflix original programming earned 14 Emmy nominations signals one of the biggest paradigm shifts in Emmy Award recognition since “The Larry Sanders Show” blasted the door open for cable series in the 1990s. It is the first time that streaming shows have actually been in contention since the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences made streaming video eligible in 2008.
Netflix' nomination take was split between “House of Cards,” “Hemlock Grove” and “Arrested Development,” with “Cards” grabbing the lion's share with nine nods, including nominations for Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. It is a far cry from the massive take by HBO, which garnered 108 nominations — 27 more than 2012. But this change closely mirrors the cable revolution that began with “The Sopranos.”
With the broadcast networks' increasing reliance on reality shows and unchallenging scripted programming, cable programming began to dominate awards seasons in 1999 when “The Sopranos” started on HBO.
The most adventurous show creators and writers migrated to cable, and the relatively recent ascendance of AMC and FX brought the quality levels up in the basic spectrum, as well, with series such as “Justified,” “Mad Men,” “The Shield,” “Louie,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead” and “Sons of Anarchy.”
The television academy's acceptance of streaming as a viable medium five years ago is unusual for such groups — the Grammys and the Oscars are generally seen as playing catch-up on trends, coming to the table a few years late in creating categories and validating technology or genres. The fact that the academy was ready to embrace “House of Cards” as soon as original streaming shows were ready for their close-up is a surprising act of forward thinking.
This year turned out to be the big watershed for streaming, but now that the platform is proving viable, expect a torrent in 2014. Amazon Prime has already given the full-season go-ahead for “Alpha House” and “Betas,” two half-hour series it tested with its “pilot season” this spring. As more people shift to streaming video and Netflix and Prime become more competitive, the original programming on those services will multiply.
Not all of it will be stellar and both services have to measure how much original programming their business models can sustain. But it's a safe bet that both services are building trophy cases.