Is it quantity over quality?
Netflix’s quest for TV domination just got another boost – the streaming service just ended HBO’s 17-year streak as the most nominated network at the Emmy Awards, racking up a total of 112 nominations heading into the 2018 ceremony, versus HBO’s (still impressive) 108 nods. Check out the full list of 2018 Emmy nominations here.
But HBO’s shows still lead the pack in terms of the most-nominated series: Game of Thrones made a triumphant return to the ballot after being unable to compete in last year’s Emmy race because it aired outside the eligibility window (June 1, 2016 – May 31, 2017); this year, it racked up the most nominations of any series with 22 in total, including Best Drama, as well as supporting actor and actress nods for all three Lannisters, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. (HBO also holds the record for network with the most nominations in a single year – it scored 126 in 2015.)
NBC’s Saturday Night Live and HBO’s Westworld were tied for second place with 21 nominations apiece, while Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale came in third with 20 nominations. Netflix’s most-nominated series, The Crown, tallied 13 nods in total, the same amount as HBO’s Barry and NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
But the reason Netflix was able to squeak past HBO in total nominations is perhaps indicative of the two networks’ programming strategies – HBO produces fewer shows, with an emphasis on high-budget, “prestige” fare starring big name talent (like the A-list rosters of Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects, and the expansive worlds of Game of Thrones and Westworld) that often rack up a lot of nominations in technical categories like costuming, editing, and production design. Meanwhile, Netflix has been criticized for prizing quantity over quality, with reports that the streaming service is set to outspend every major Hollywood studio in 2018 and release almost 500 originals between May and December alone – creating shows across a broad swath of genres and budget levels. Its business model purposefully seems to position it as a jack of all trades, master of none.
Given the attention to detail that goes into creating the world of Westeros, it’s no wonder Game of Thrones is able to amass nominations in categories like makeup, sound design, visual effects, stunt coordination, music composition, and casting, in addition to its acting, directing and writing accolades – something that’s easier to accomplish when your show is the crown jewel of your network, as opposed to one show out of 1000 ever-expanding menu options.
That’s not to say Netflix isn’t also producing excellent TV – shows like The Crown, GLOW, and Black Mirror have been hits with both audiences and critics – but it’s certainly easier for a network to land more hits when they’re throwing more punches to begin with, just by the law of averages.
The real test of Netflix’s influence will come on Emmy night itself. Thus far, Game of Thrones still stands as the drama series with the most Emmy wins of all time (it’s racked up 38 awards so far), while Netflix has yet to score a win in either the best drama or comedy categories, or in any of the lead actor or actress races. The streamer has had more luck in the supporting categories where Orange is the New Black’s Uzo Aduba, Bloodline’s Ben Mendelsohn, and The Crown’s John Lithgow have previously triumphed, and in the TV movie category, where Black Mirror’s “San Junipero” beat the likes of Sherlock and HBO’s Wizard of Lies last year. But it was Hulu, not Netflix, that became the first streaming service in history to score a best drama series Emmy with The Handmaid’s Tale last year, and odds are good that the dystopian drama will continue that streak for a second year in a row, unless Emmy voters flip their vote back to Game of Thrones now that it’s eligible again. It would be a definite upset if the likes of The Crown or Stranger Things muscled past them for the top prize.
But with HBO now under AT&T’s control thanks to the Time Warner merger, rumor has it that the prestige cable network will have to “change direction” to better compete with the likes of Netflix, with a focus on building “more hours of engagement” for HBO shows every day, not just on Sundays at 9 p.m. That may or may not result in more awards recognition in the long run, but it seems like sooner or later every TV network will have to reckon with the way Netflix has changed the game, and start competing on a global playing field with the likes of Amazon, Apple, and Facebook, as opposed to a traditional broadcast model. As HBO boss Richard Plepler reportedly said at the recent town hall with AT&T’s John Stankey, “more isn’t better, only better is better, but we need a lot more to be even better.”
We’ll see if less is more come Emmy night.
Laura Prudom is the Executive TV Editor at IGN. You can talk to her on Twitter at @LauinLA.