The 2013 Primetime Emmy Awards were announced this morning by “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul (who was nominated for best supporting actor in a drama) and host-with-the-most Neil Patrick Harris (who received a nod for the Tony Awards). The expected titles were there: “Downton Abbey” got 12 nominations, as did “Mad Men,” including best drama series. They’ll go up against last year’s big winner “Homeland,” which scored 11 noms overall, while “Breaking Bad” got 13 and “Game of Thrones” 16. On the funny side, “Girls” scored five nods, while “Louie” got six — including, for the first time, best comedy series.
But the big story is Netflix, which thundered into the world of original programming this year with a varied, ambitious slate of shows that served as a proclamation not only of the streaming site’s intentions to be looked at alongside the likes of HBO and other premium networks but to prove that you needn’t be a television channel to make quality TV. It’s a gambit that paid off — at least in terms of this year’s Emmy Awards. “House of Cards” and season four of “Arrested Development” became the first digital series to receive major nominations today.
“House Of Cards” is up for outstanding drama series and for casting, with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright up for lead actor and actress, David Fincher up for directing the pilot and a slew of other tech noms. Meanwhile, “Arrested Development” earned a nod for Jason Bateman as lead actor in a comedy. In getting these nominations, Netflix has officially broken the barrier between traditional TV and digital platforms, though its success in this arena should come as a surprise really only to people who still consume the majority of their TV in a linear fashion, and for whom the line between what comes in via a cable box versus the internet remains meaningful.
For many others, particularly the much-discussed cord-cutters who choose Netflix, Hulu and/or Bittorrent in lieu of a cable subscription, “House of Cards” never looked that different from the selection of network and cable series already on offer on those sites. And — no puns intended — Netflix stacked the deck with its D.C. drama, which felt like the TV series equivalent of a dish composed only of foie gras, truffles and caviar: $100 million budget, two major movie stars as leads, one of the greatest filmmakers working today as an executive producer and director and an acclaimed playwright as writer and showrunner. How could it not get nominated?
Awards, especially in a medium that’s finally getting taken seriously, stick to projects like “House of Cards” like magnets to a fridge — though the series seems unlikely to walk away with the top drama prize in an intensely competitive field. And “Arrested Development” was, similarly, a safe(ish) bet — a critically acclaimed cult favorite whose stars have gone on to bigger things, it was a known quantity, and if the fourth season turned out to be darker and more experimental in format than the network run, it’s still no wild gambit to give a nod to Bateman.
No, the real test will be next year, when “Orange is the New Black” is eligible (the Emmy eligibility period is June 1 and May 31). In its new women in prison series, Netflix has a show that’s not a continuation of an established franchise or built around big stars. It’s also the company’s finest work to date, a drama that’s indisputably one of the best shows of the year. If “Orange is the New Black” can get an outstanding drama series nod next year, that’ll be the true sign that Netflix has arrived and that TV, as a medium, is also ready to consider cutting the cord.