Tonight, for the 66th time, Hollywood will hand out trophies to the actors, writers, directors and producers who make television great. The Emmys are one of Hollywood’s oldest parties and are as familiar as a rerun; but this year it’s hard to shake the feeling that the awards are simultaneously frozen in amber and on the cusp of something new.
Hollywood will be eager to show that it can still put on a tuxedo and exude the old school glamour that put the town and the industry on the map. It might not have the glitz of the Oscars, but with high profile actors increasingly taking roles on television there will still be plenty of star power. There will probably be musical numbers and montages (this will be the first major event following the passing of Robin Williams, for instance).
Of course, there is the old refrain that The Emmys reward middle-brow comfort over truly edgy and creative work. Just as the Grammys can be invalidated by The Beatles' lack of a win, The Emmys can be accused of never rewarding Jason Alexander for "Seinfeld." This year, "The Big Bang Theory" is expected to shut out arguably more deserving work by “Veep,” “Orange is the New Black” and “Louie,” while Jim Parsons will likely also defeat CK in the acting category.
The drama category is a bit tighter with Breaking Bad likely to be rewarded for its thrilling run, besting True Detective and Game of Thrones; but even that puts the Emmys on the safe side. As great as “Breaking Bad” was, it’s been off the air for a year and already enshrined as a classic. Jon Hamm will also continue his losing streak to either the monolithic Cranston or the winning streak of Matthew McConaughey.
While the ceremony and complaints will probably seem old fashioned, the shows being honored, and their networks, show how rapidly the landscape is changing. Most obviously, the networks are almost completely shut out. Only "Modern Family" and "The Big Bang Theory" represent the networks in any of the major categories (none in drama).
More incredibly are the number of nominations for upstart “network” Netflix. Where once it was a big deal for a cable show like "Sex and the City" or "The Sopranos" to get a nod, now almost no one bats an eye at the multiple nominations for both “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.” While neither is likely to win in any of their tough categories (Kate Mulgrew might have an outside chance for Best Supporting Actress in a comedy), it is in this case an honor just to be nominated. Even without the win, Netflix has proved that it can create content that is both popular and respected.
The Emmys have generally been considered a kind of low-rent version of the Oscars. The star power is lower, the pomp is a bit dialed down, and the memories are less dramatic. But as the movies lose steam and critical attention turns to the more nuanced work of television, perhaps it’s time to change the dial.
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