Tuned In

It’s Not TV, It’s the Emmys; Online Video Comes of Age, But Not Everything Has Changed

As far as the Emmys are concerned, Netflix is in fact TV. But some of the old rules about publicity and star power still apply when it comes to getting nominated.

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I watched Aaron Paul and Neil Patrick Harris announce the 2013 Emmy nominations this morning by streaming video over the Internet, which was only appropriate. Among the usual Emmy-nom themes–this snub and that pleasant surprise, more dominance for cable over broadcast TV–this year confirmed that, where Emmy is concerned, online video is indeed TV. Netflix streamed its way into the top tier of the awards list, with best-drama and acting nominations for its debut series House of Cards.

Netflix’s arrival was not complete and overwhelming; despite an avalanche of attention, its Arrested Development season 4 revival got only one major nomination, for Jason Bateman as best actor in a comedy. (One provisional theory: many people I know, critics and civilian fans alike, felt the season got better as it went along and needed to be appreciated as a whole. It’s possible that too many Emmy voters, deluged with screeners, simply bailed on the season a few episodes in.)

As for House of Cards, that a show made outside the channels of TV was nominated for nine of TV’s most prestigious awards is new. But the way it did so is not so much. Star power counts with the Emmys, whatever the medium, and movie stars like Kevin Spacey tend to get recognized–as do marquee directors like David Fincher, and high-gloss, high-budget productions that have the hallmarks and subject matter of Serious Quality Drama. That sort of situation would describe, say, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire (Buscemi, Scorsese, the Mob), and indeed, it almost looks like Emmy simply erased Boardwalk from a previous year’s list and gave its slots wholesale to HOC.

But the show’s success still means something: as with the rise of basic cable, then HBO, then Showtime and FX and AMC, it’s an example of how there is so much more good TV to nominate in part because there are so many more outlets making it. A year from now I’d hope for a slew of deserved nominations for Orange Is the New Black, for instance, though I worry its chances will be hurt by the long lag until next year’s awards.

So while like every year there are plenty of snubs I could point to–give me a second–the big picture is that there are fewer absolute outrages than there used to be, at least in terms of utterly deserving nominees being snubbed in favor of the utterly undeserving. If there are injustices and omissions, it seems to be less because good stuff is being outright ignored than that there are only so many slots. (One side effect of Netflix’s arrival this morning: we’re no longer even talking about the fact that, outside the odd acting nomination for Nashville or Scandal, broadcast TV scarcely competes in the drama category anymore.)

That said, as I suggested in a Twitter convo with New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum this morning, in a way it’s easier to be disappointed by the Emmys now than in the days when you just assumed The Wire would get bupkes. Now that it’s conceivable a show like Sundance’s Top of the Lake can win nominations, say, it’s easier to hope your other longshot favorites will get nominated, and to be let down when they don’t. That said, I think Emmy outrage is still proportional to the hope that a show might actually get in. I thought Rectify was one of the best dramas of the year, but did I really think it had a shot?

So–there’s no point going over the vast Emmy list line by line, but here are just a few nominations I’m happy with:

* Though Louie is still a boutique TV show ratings-wise, Louis CK has apparently reached the level where Emmy is willing to remember him as a writer and an actor, and I’m delighted with that.

* Enlightened’s cancellation was a heartbreaker, after a fabulous second season, but at least this year Laura Dern got recognized for one of the best performances on television, period. (Indeed, the acting nominations in general are testament to how many great roles there are for women in TV right now.)

* And while Game of Thrones is not exactly ignored in general, its strongest season rightly deserved its best nominations haul–16, including one for outstanding casting, where the vast ensemble drama regularly kills it.

And a few choice snubs (I’m sure you’ll have more):

* Tatiana Maslany’s performance in Orphan Black–in which she played multiple clones, often playing one character imitating another–was simply a tour de force. But being a sci-fi genre show on basic-cable BBC America may have been too many strikes against it. (Of course, having caught up on it late myself, after its original run, I’m part of the problem.)

* Recognition for Orphan Black may have been wishful thinking all along, but I’m truly surprised that the brilliantly written, acted, and produced The Americans was all but ignored (though at least Margo Martindale got a guest-actress nomination).

* File under go figure: New Girl has a mixed but buzzy first season, gets plenty of nominations. Has a terrific second season, gets the cold shoulder.

I could go on, and that’s without even getting into the many usual-suspects nominees still filling the list (looking at you, Modern Family). But look at it this way–if a lot of good TV gets snubbed, it’s because there’s more good TV to watch. Not all of it, it turns out, on TV.