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2018 Primetime Emmy Nominations: A Time-Bender, In More Ways Than One
July 12, 2018  | By Alex Strachan  | 1 comment
You can be forgiven for wondering if Barack Obama was still President the last time you saw a new episode of Game of Thrones. (Hint: He wasn’t, actually. The last new episode of Game of Thrones aired on Aug. 27 last year, on HBO; the Trump era was already eight months into its reign.)
You can also be forgiven for wondering how Game of Thrones (below) could possibly be eligible for a repeat Emmy for outstanding drama series when the 2018 Primetime Emmys are handed out Monday, Sept. 17, on NBC.
For this is the conundrum facing TV’s highest-profile, most sought-after award ceremony. The rules of eligibility were created for a past TV era in which there were just four major broadcast networks, the TV season ran between Labor Day and Memorial Day, and everybody played by the rules.
Today, attention spans are as short as a 30-second commercial break, streaming threatens to overtake broadcasting any day now, and more people — especially those younger, hard-to-reach viewers sought after by advertisers — are watching on MP3 players and iPads rather than on the big-screen TV at home.
Arguably — arguable in my household, anyway — relatively new categories like outstanding reality competition series and late-night talk show and variety series are more buzzworthy, and certainly more talked about, than the old standbys like outstanding drama and comedy.
Thursday’s Emmy nominations hinted at the cultural shift: The Trump era means that one of the most closely watched contests is likely to be that between returning late-night champion Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, from HBO, and CBS’s Trump-centered Late Show with Stephen Colbert (top), hosted by “that guy from CBS,” as President Trump recently tweeted of Colbert.
This year’s televised Emmy ceremony will be hosted by Saturday Night Live Weekend Update anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che, so politics — and the temper of the times — will play a major role.
“Colbert v. Oliver” is just one contest worth keeping an eye on.
Another is the curious, time-bending battle for hearts and minds between the dated Game of Thrones and Hulu’s oh-so-au courant Handmaid’s Tale.
FX’s now departed The Americans, respected and praised in equal measure, will likely prove an also-ran when the awards are actually handed out, but its nomination Thursday is a reminder that it was one of TV’s best during the small screen’s new platinum age. Emmy watchers who admired The Americans can at least take solace in the knowledge that leads Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys (both left) made the final cut in the lead acting categories, though with Handmaid’s Tale’s Elisabeth Moss and This is Us’s Sterling K. Brown again in the mix, an actual win will likely prove elusive once again.
The drama acting categories reflect the stiff competition of the times: Russell has been named alongside not only Moss but also Evan Rachel Wood, Sandra Oh, 2016 winner Tatiana Maslany, and two-timer Claire Foy, while Russell and Brown face Ed Harris, Jason Bateman, Milo Ventimiglia, and Jeffrey Wright.
For the record, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Americans, and Game of Thrones are named alongside The Crown, Stranger Things, This Is Us, and Westworld.— dare I say, not a dud in the bunch.
Industry insiders are likely to make much of Netflix’s successful bid to supplant HBO in the overall nominations race —Netflix landed 112 nods overall, to HBO’s 108 — and the broadcast networks’ continuing malaise in the major categories, with This Is Us and black-ish (right) the sole representatives of the Big Four commercial broadcasters in the defining outstanding drama and comedy series categories.
Ah — but here lies the rub.
As viewing habits change, the broadcast networks and cable channels have asserted themselves in the one area where streaming services are at a disadvantage — the late-night talk shows and what the TV Academy labels, somewhat prosaically, “variety talk series.”
In a nominations list that pointedly overlooks both NBC’s Jimmy Fallon and, more unfairly, Seth Meyers, CBS’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert, CBS’s Late Late Show with James Corden, and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! are right there alongside returning champ John Oliver and his Last Week Tonight, together with Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Trevor Noah and TBS’s Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. No sign of Netflix, Amazon or Hulu there.
It’s a sign of these rapidly changing times that premium cable’s Showtime has announced its own to-debut-in-2019 late-night talk show fronted by podcast personalities Desus Nice and The Kid Mero of Desus & Mero fame and infamy. The small screen has changed a lot since the days of Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, and not just in prime time.
Game of Thrones leads this year’s field with 22 nods, followed by Saturday Night Live and Westworld (left) with 21 apiece and The Handmaid’s Tale with 20.
But — and this is worth remembering — the Emmys are more popularity contest than sports score. Futuristic, sci-fi shows like Westworld can run up the nominations tally in technical categories; that doesn’t mean they’ll win in the prestigious categories, where it counts.
More noteworthy, perhaps, are the nominations tallies racked up by relatively modest newcomers like Bill Hader’s HBO comedy Barry, with 13 mentions — don’t be surprised to see Barry win in the comedy-series slot vacated by Emmy perennial Veep when the awards are handed out Sept. 17 — the Netflix western Godless, with 12 nominations, and Netflix’s women’s wrestling comedy GLOW, with 10.
Emmy snubs — or the right call, depending on your personal taste and political leanings — included Modern Family; the newly retooled Roseanne, Will & Grace, and Twin Peaks: The Return; Real Time with Bill Maher; Hulu’s 9/11 drama The Looming Tower; Netflix’s mind-bending serial-thriller Mindhunter; and actors Liev Schreiber, of Ray Donovan; Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke, from Game of Thrones; Holly Taylor, who more-or-less grew up in front of our eyes in The Americans; and, last but not least Mandy Moore, in This Is Us.
What does this all tell us?
That premium cable and the streaming services are asserting themselves not just in drama but increasingly in comedy, too.
And that the future of traditional network broadcasting lies in live events, sports broadcasts, award shows — and the late-night talk shows that are reacting, with both anger and with lively humor, to the live news events of the day, in real time.
I have seen the future of network TV, and it looks increasingly like Late Show with Stephen Colbert, starring “that guy from CBS.”
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A really good piece, Alex.
Jul 18, 2018   |  Reply
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