Over-the-top video provider Netflix’s historic 14 Emmy nominations may have driven the lion’s share of headlines, but it was cable’s continued dominance of the major Emmy Awards categories that highlighted the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ July 18 announcement.
Overall, 22 cable networks earned Emmy nominations, including an industry high 108 for HBO — up from 81 last year. Cable shows were also the most nominated, with FX miniseries American Horror Story: Asylum leading the way for the second year in a row with 17, followed by HBO’s Game of Thrones with 16 and HBO’s Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, with 15.
FX also made history by placing the first-ever basic-cable series in the best comedy category with Louie.
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Several networks set records for Emmy nominations including stalwarts Showtime, with 27, and Lifetime with 12. And several smaller networks broke through with impressive Emmy nomination showings.
Oprah Winfrey’s OWN earned its first Emmy nod for a series when Oprah’s Life Class was recognized in the Outstanding Informational Series or Special category, while Sundance Channel earned a record 10 nominations after getting shut out last year.
Network executives said cable’s continued Emmy-nomination success can be attributed to a commitment to develop quality scripted programming that’s being watched by viewers and critics alike.
“Clearly cable is having its moment,” Rob Sharenow, Lifetime’s executive vice president and general manager, said. “I do think that creatives are finding cable is the best place they can go do to their best and most original work.”
While Netflix’s 14 primetime Emmy award nominations — the most for an online content distributor — mirrors the ascension of cable into Emmy consideration more than a decade ago, cable executives said Netflix and its over-the-top brethren still have a long way to go to match the critical success of today’s cable offerings.
“I think television is a series of disruptions,” Sundance Channel president and GM Sarah Barnett said. “When cable stated to be recognized it was a really big moment, and now we’re in a moment where good content can come from anywhere, whether it’s a new mode of delivery or a new platform attached to a TV screen like Netflix, or a small network like Sundance.”
Among Sundance Channel’s nominations was a surprise best miniseries nod for drama Top of the Lake.
“The great attention that we’ve received from critics and audiences is really, for us, a pleasing way of just continuing that narrative of Sundance really moving toward an energized and vital place,” Barnett said.
Cable will have little or no competition in several major Emmy categories. The top miniseries series category is a virtual shutout for cable, although perennial winner HBO will have competition this year from several basic-cable entries.
Sundance’s Top of the Lake, FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum, USA Network’s Political Animals and History’s The Bible will battle HBO’s original telepics Behind the Candelabra and Phil Spector in the category.
The children’s category is also a clean sweep for cable, with HBO’s YoungArts Masterclass and The Weight of the Nation competing in the same playpen as Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie, Nickelodeon’s iCarly and Nick News With Linda Ellerbee: Forgotten but Not Gone: Kids, HIV & AIDS.
Supporting actor in a drama series will also have a heavy cable tinge with last year’s winner Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad competing against co-star Jonathan Banks, as well as Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones, Mandy Patinkin of Homeland and Bobby Cannavale of Boardwalk Empire. Jim Carter of PBS’s Downton Abbey rounds out the category.
Along with Paul, cable will also have a number of shows and actors/ actresses defending titles this September. Showtime’s Homeland faces challenges from Netflix’s political drama House of Cards; AMC’s Breaking Bad and Mad Men; PBS’s Downton Abbey; and HBO’s Game of Thrones. Homeland actors will also defend titles in best male and female drama performance.
Damian Lewis (Homeland) will vie against House of Cards star Kevin Spacey, Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and Jeff Daniels (HBO’s The Newsroom).
Claire Danes will have her hands full defending her best female drama performance statue from a formidable lineup featuring Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Connie Britton (ABC’s Nashville), Vera Farmiga (A&E’s Bates Motel), Kerry Washington (ABC’s Scandal) and Robin Wright (Netflix’s House of Cards).
Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus will look to make it two straight wins in the best comedy lead actress category against Lena Durham (HBO’s Girls), Tina Fey (NBC’s 30 Rock), Laura Dern (HBO’s Enlightened), Edie Falco (Showtime’s Nurse Jackie) and Amy Poehler (NBC’s Parks and Recreation).
Comedy Central’s Daily Show With Jon Stewart will look to make it 11 straight wins in the best variety series category against such seasoned competition as ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live; NBC’s Late Night With Jimmy Fallon; HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher; NBC’s Saturday Night Live; and Comedy’s The Colbert Report.
Cable’s strong Emmy showing will continue to draw more attention to the industry’s original comedy and drama from all cable networks, Lifetime’s Sharenow said.
“It really signals that Lifetime and the industry are going after future film and TV talent,” he said. “We do want our actors, directors, musicians and camera people to get their awards here.”
Despite the buzz earned by Netflix with its first set of nominations, cable networks are still Emmy’s big winners.