'House of Cards' Challenges Emmy Tradition

Netflix Series Assumes Role Once Played by Cable

Is Tinseltown tradition about to fall like a House of Cards?

Entering the 65th Primetime Emmys ceremony, Netflix’s political drama, starring Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, a conniving Democratic Rep. from South Carolina, has already taken home a pair of creative statues for outstanding casting and cinematography for a single-camera series.

Tonight, attendees at Nokia Theater at L.A. Live in Los Angeles and those watching on CBS (more on that in a bit) will find out whether Netflix’s streaming series can take home the Emmy as outstanding drama and if Spacey and Robin Wright, who plays his wife Claire, will be honored as the outstanding lead actor and actress.

It was only in September 2008, that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences made streaming series eligible to compete for Emmys. Should House of Cards triumph in the major categories it will rock the TV establishment, now embodied by cable, which took far longer to break broadcast’s strangehold on the Emmys.

Cable wasn't allowed in the game until 1988, the Emmy Awards' 40th anniversary, when it received 15 nominations, six apiece for premium players HBO and Showtime. As wider recognition and its Emmy tally rose, the cable industry scrapped its own programming statuefest, the CableACE Awards, a decade later. HBO’s The Sopranos earned the industry’s first best drama nod in 1999, while its Sex and the City won cable’s first outstanding comedy Emmy in 2001. Three years later, David Chase’s mob masterpiece scored cable’s first drama statue.

Major wins by House of Cards will only let more genies out of the streaming bottle.  The Spacey show -- production on the sophomore season is underway -- bypassed the pilot process and Netflix made its entire 13-episode first campaign available at once. It was binge-viewers’ delight – although just how many have actually seen House of Cards remains elusive.

Viewers for CBS’s coverage of the 65th Emmy ceremony may also prove hard to come by, as there is no shortage of options. NBC’s Sunday Night Football matches two of  America’s most popular clubs, the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers. Showtime’s serial killer saga Dexter – the show has been nominated for 25 Emmys over the years, winning four, albeit shut out in the outstanding drama and actor categories (Michael C. Hall was favored from 2008 to 2011) – finally comes to its conclusion, while its new hit, Ray Donovan, ends its first season.

AMC’s Breaking Bad -- nominated for best drama, while Bryan Cranston looks to add a fourth lead actor Emmy for his Walter White portrayal, Aaron Paul a third supporting actor statue for his Jesse Pinkman and Anna Gunn’her first supporting actress win for Skylar White -- is airing its penultimate episode. Will fans, a growing legion during its final run, DVR the episode and see if Breaking Bad(ders) win Emmys? Or vice versa?

Those tuning in could see Emmy history: HBO’s Behind The Candelabra grabbed eight of the nine Creative awards it was nominated for. With 15 noms overall, HBO’s Liberace miniseries could end up with as many as 13 wins, matching the haul by the premium programmer’s John Adams in 2008.