The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Emmy Awards Adapt To A Stream Of TV Industry Changes

By Scott Collins, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Sunday will be TV’s biggest night, with formally attired celebrities ambling through the familiar red-carpet gantlet at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards.

But this won’t be the same old Emmys. After years of complaints of staid and predictable voting, the Emmys have finally caught up with the changes shaking up the TV business.

Transparent is Exhibit A.

An offbeat comedy about a middle-aged dad (Jeffrey Tambor) who comes out as transgender to his adult kids, Transparent has a premise that could risk alienating the traditional-minded, even in a year when Caitlyn Jenner captured headlines.

In fact it’s not a traditional TV series in any sense, as it bypasses the typical broadcast or cable platforms and is made and distributed on-demand by Amazon, the same online mega-retailer that ships books, diapers and countless other products.

And yet Transparent is also one of this year’s most-nominated shows, with 11 total nods and, in a formidable new vs. old match-up, is squaring off against perennial winner Modern Family for best comedy.

The ABC sitcom has triumphed at the awards show for the last five years, and another victory would set a new record in the category. But within the industry, there is a sense that the creative momentum has shifted to more off-beat, unusual shows — including the kind of shows proliferating on streaming outlets such as Amazon and Netflix.

“Audiences are still much larger for network-originated shows, but the shows on streaming services have the attention of the entertainment establishment,” said Jeffrey McCall, a media studies professor at DePauw University. “Non-network shows can be edgier, bawdier and take more risks than the major networks can, and the Emmy people want to reward that.

“This is in some ways a socio-cultural statement, but it is also a statement about where the creative world wants to take the video industry,” he added.

Many experts see a growing two-tier system, much like the one that operates in the movie business, where Oscars are more likely to go to art house favorites than summer blockbusters. Michael Keaton’s Birdman, this year’s best picture winner at the Oscars, grossed about $42 million at the U.S. box office. Meanwhile, American Sniper took in $350 million, followed by Hunger Games: Mockingjay at $337 million.

“When you look at the Emmys, they’re no longer about what the popular masses like,” said Billie Gold, vice president and director of TV programming research at ad firm Carat. “It’s more about if you have top actors doing these really interesting roles, with multi-dimensional characters. … (With) mainstream television, you’re trying to appeal to the masses.”

When commercial TV consisted of just three broadcast networks, the Emmys often honored what was considered not just good but popular. All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cheers, Seinfeld, and Frasier were honored with top Emmys. And they were huge hits in the ratings as well.

Occasionally, Emmy voters would nurture an arty, anti-populist bent. Back in the 1970s, for example, the best drama prize went three times to Upstairs, Downstairs, a BBC period piece about aristocrats and their servants that ran in the U.S. on PBS. As the Downton Abbey of its time, Upstairs, Downstairs was not nearly as well-liked as the cop shows it aired against, such as Baretta and Starsky & Hutch.

In 1981, a surprise win for the NBC cop drama Hill Street Blues — which had been languishing in the ratings but was considered one of the best-written shows on TV — rescued the show and helped turn it into a hit.

But over the last decade, as broadcast fortunes have ebbed and other providers have leaped in, the Emmys have reflected the trend.

In 2001, HBO’s urban romp Sex and the City became the first cable series to win the top comedy Emmy; three years later, HBO’s New Jersey mob epic The Sopranos set a milestone with the first best drama Emmy for a cable network. HBO is a premium network that the majority of Americans do not even subscribe to, although Sopranos delivered ratings that would today be the envy of ABC, CBS or NBC.

The victory for Sopranos cleared the path for AMC’s ad-agency period drama Mad Men, which took the top Emmy for four years in a row despite small audiences watching in real-time.

Mad Men’s ratings, I hate to say, were not very good,” Carat’s Gold said. “There were lucky if they got 2 million viewers an episode. … But people, especially those in the media, love that show.”

Once the industry accepted the idea of giving top honors to what were essentially niche programs, the streaming players were ripe for consideration, despite the fact that no one outside the companies has any reliable data on viewership.

Netflix, Amazon and Hulu viewing figures are not widely published, but Nielsen this year has ramped up a pilot program that is designed to capture tallies of people watching streamed shows. However, Netflix has argued that the figures are flawed because they do not count people who watch on phones and tablets.

Orange Is the New Black is a case in point. A dark comedy set in a women’s prison, the Netflix show has generated enormous media coverage and a dedicated fan base, not to mention a nomination last year in the best comedy category — and another this year for best drama. (The series switched categories after a recent Emmy rule change addressed the blurring lines between complex dramas and comedies.)

But exactly how large that fan base is, at the moment, impossible to gauge.

“We don’t really know what the numbers are,” Gold said. “Netflix can tell us some numbers, but we don’t know if it’s substantiated. The thing is, if they get 2 to 3 million viewers, that’s huge for them, but it wouldn’t be a hit on network television.”

But experts expect that niche shows will continue to dominate come Emmy time as the industry slides away from a scheduled broadcast model in favor of streamed programs that can be viewed whenever users want.

One such show that won over Emmy voters is Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which snagged seven nominations including one for best comedy series. The Tina Fey-produced comedy about a young woman who moves to New York after escaping from a cult was originally developed for NBC but wound up on the streaming service, where it premiered to acclaim.

“We are moving toward a video-on-demand environment,” said Brad Adgate, analyst for New York ad firm Horizon Media. “It’s begun already with younger adults and will grow toward viewers in their late 30s and 40s this season.”

As more Americans subscribe to streaming services, the companies continue to ramp up production with the river of revenue. About 43 percent of U.S. households get Netflix, while 42 percent have HBO.

“That means people are interested in that (Netflix) content and are actually paying $8.99 a month to get it,” said Gold.
Netflix and Amazon both recently announced plans to step up original programming, effectively making them direct competitors with major Hollywood studios such as Warner Bros. and Fox.

All that could mean a Transparent future.

Released by Amazon last year, Transparent won praise from critics if not necessarily much attention from ordinary viewers. But the show’s profile rose earlier this year as the Jenner gender transition grabbed headlines and sparked national curiosity.

From that standpoint, streaming providers may have only scratched the surface in terms of what can be dramatized for a TV series. And this year’s Emmys prove that top industry acclaim can follow, no matter how limited the audience.

“They’re looking for really hard-hitting social issues … pushing the envelope,” Gold said. “And that attracts a certain kind of viewer.”

Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Emmy Nods Reflect Push For Diversity On TV

By Scott Collins, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — There won’t be any need for an #EmmysSoWhite hashtag.

The 67th Emmy Awards nominations announced Thursday underscored TV’s push into diversity over the last year, with nods for minority lead actors such as Viola Davis in “How to Get Away With Murder,” Taraji P. Henson in “Empire” and Anthony Anderson in the comedy “black-ish.” A win by Davis or Henson would be the first for an African-American actress in the dramatic category. And Amazon’s “Transparent” was nominated for best comedy — an Emmy first for a show with a transgender protagonist.

In this arena, as in so many others, TV is simply reflecting the times, veterans say.

“I don’t like to say ‘diversity’ in 2015,” said John Ridley, creator of ABC’s murder mystery “American Crime,” which was developed in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing and received 10 nominations. “I like to say ‘reality.’ Look at the stories around us … these are different types of shows, different types of perspectives.”

Even so, the nominations didn’t represent quite the coup that some observers were expecting. “Empire,” a soap opera set in the hip-hop world that turned into a major hit for Fox, had to settle for just three nominations, including Henson’s scene-stealing turn as Cookie. That was a long way from the 24 nods for HBO’s fantasy epic “Game of Thrones,” the most-nominated program of this year’s pack.

There was no mention of Terrence Howard, who plays the tortured patriarch on “Empire” — in fact, the lead dramatic actor category was entirely white, featuring repeat nominees Kyle Chandler, Jon Hamm and Kevin Spacey. And no major nods went to “Jane the Virgin” or “Fresh Off the Boat,” two other much-talked-about series that featured Latina and Asian-American lead characters respectively.

Even so, the balance generally on display throughout the roster still provided an illuminating counterpoint to, say, the Academy Awards, where the monochromatic nature of the nominees this year led to a #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. No black, Latino or Asian-American actors were nominated at the Oscars.

“Film needs to take a leaf out of the TV book especially with diversity and women starring, directing and producing,” said the British-born actor David Oyelowo, nominated for his work in the HBO movie “Nightingale.” “There is a far more representative view of what it is to be in America from TV” than from film.

After years of tokenism — minority actors traditionally relegated to “buddy” roles in shows created by and aimed at white people — television is embracing diversity amid a larger creative renaissance. Part of the reason is financial, at least for broadcasters. As affluent whites have abandoned free TV for premium outlets such as HBO and Showtime, programmers have reaped the benefits of creating shows, such as “Empire,” that reveal other sides to culture.

Much of the attention leading up to the awards will likely focus on the dramatic actress category. An African-American has never won in that category; the first to even get a nod was Debbie Allen, for “Fame” in 1982. Between Cicely Tyson’s nomination for “Sweet Justice” in 1995 and Kerry Washington’s first nod for “Scandal” in 2013, nearly two decades went by without a black actress getting a nomination.

A historic win for Washington was widely expected in 2013 and 2014, but she was edged out first by Claire Danes from Showtime’s “Homeland,” then by Julianna Margulies from CBS’ “The Good Wife.” (Margulies was not nominated this year.)

The sense of TV as a medium now embracing multiple cultures and identities has been growing for a while. Last year, “Orange Is the New Black,” Netflix’s drama that reinvented the cliched and exploitative girls-in-prison genre with biting wit and a famously diverse cast, received eight nominations, eventually winning three Emmys. (This year, after moving from comedy to drama categories because of a rule change, it’s back with four nods.)

Among the most-nominated programs was HBO’s movie “Bessie,” a biopic of the blues pioneer Bessie Smith that earned 12 nods, including one for star Queen Latifah.

Some of the nominees say that there’s no going back.

“Audiences are demanding new stories,” said veteran character actor Andre Braugher, nominated for his work on the Fox comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

TV is “always going to be less representative than the general population,” he added. “It moves at a glacial pace. But it continues to move.”

(Times staff writers Meredith Blake, Tre’Vell Anderson, Yvonne Villarreal and Steve Zeitchik contributed to this report.)

Photo: Anthony Anderson, right, who plays a father in ABC’s “black-ish,” is nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. After years of criticism that the award show focused too much on white shows and actors, this year’s crop is notable for its racial diversity. (Bob D’Amico/ABC/TNS)

‘American Idol’ Sinks To All-Time Ratings Low Opposite Winter Olympics

By Scott Collins, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, end in a few days, and at least one group of people probably won’t be sorry to see the Games go: the producers of American Idol.

Now in its 13th season, Fox’s singing contest sank to some all-time ratings lows for a Wednesday show this week, according to Nielsen. That episode featured performances from the Top 10 boys.

Idol’s 2.6 rating was its worst-ever Wednesday number in the key adults ages 18 to 49 demographic. And the 10 million total viewers who tuned in made it the least-watched Idol during the traditional September through May TV season (Idol’s first season was during the summer of 2002).

Idol has seen its ratings drift down for years, of course, and this season is struggling to reinvent itself after another shake-up at the judging table. But this week’s record low is almost certainly due to Olympic competition. Through Wednesday, the Sochi Olympics are averaging 22.5 million total viewers for NBC’s prime-time coverage. That’s down 10 percent compared with the Vancouver Games in 2010. But it’s still a huge audience that is diminishing the number of eyeballs available for other shows.

Fox pointed out that the Wednesday episode actually drew slightly more viewers than the Tuesday show featuring the Top 10 girls (9.7 million).

Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT