Given the nature of television these days, Emmy season often feels endless. But the 2019 Emmys could have an impact that actually lasts for years to come. With long-running winners like “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” submitting their final seasons, and a mass exodus of favorited dramas resulting in a slew of open slots, this is the year when shows with awards potential need to capitalize. And if young series get in now, they could hold down a spot for the foreseeable future.
Enter Netflix. With more than 40 programs on the ballot in the three major categories — drama, comedy, and limited series — the streaming giant has a blessing few competitors share: choice. Instead of backing the one or two obvious contenders in its slate, Netflix can choose which series have the best odds to get nominated — now, as well as in the future — and focus their energy accordingly.
That being said, the deep-pocketed company works overtime to highlight as many of its eligible programs as possible. The massive FYSee exhibition space housed at Raleigh Studios hosted its fair share of official and unofficial FYC events, including screenings at the 400-seat theater, curated panels with candidates from multiple Netflix original programs, and a huge reception space with Instagram-ready installations of prominent Emmy-eligible shows.
Still, there have to be priorities. By researching awards ads that ran in April through June print editions of the two most-read Hollywood trade publications, as well as assessing the FYC events held in Los Angeles and New York during that same period, IndieWire has gleaned a few insights into Netflix’s Emmy strategy. The programs given the most ad space and stage time highlight the streamer’s preference for younger series with high potential over former favorites that may have past their prime.
What does that mean for Tuesday’s nominations, as well as future Emmy seasons? Let’s break it down.
In Drama, One Show Exits… and Four Take Its Place?
Netflix has one of the better drama lineups in 2019, but that’s not saying much in 2019. Compared to the other categories, the drama options are relatively thin, with few networks offering more than one legitimate contender.
But Netflix has two, and they’re pushing them hard. “Ozark” and “Bodyguard” made up more than 80 percent of the streaming service’s drama ad buys, with the Jason Bateman-starrer tallying more print ads than any other program tracked — comedy or drama, across Netflix and HBO.
In its first season , “Ozark” missed out on an Outstanding Drama Series nomination, but it still snagged five nominations, including Bateman twice (for lead actor and director). That’s a decent start, but what’s inspiring even more confidence in Season 2 are the increased accolades at other awards shows. Season 1 got two SAG Awards nominations (for Bateman and Laura Linney), while Season 2 scored four and a win for Bateman; he also got his first DGA nomination for Season 2, and the series scored its first PGA nod, as well. Toss in a return trip to the Globes, plus the lessened competition across drama series at the Emmys, and things are suddenly looking far better for “Ozark” this year.
As for “Bodyguard,” Netflix is hoping Emmy voters spark to the British thriller as only international awards have so far. The HFPA gave it a boost with a trophy for Richard Madden and a nomination for Best Drama Series, but it didn’t spark with the guilds. It’s done well at the BAFTAs and a few other UK-based awards, though, and the sheer popularity of the series could work in its favor. Madden’s star has only risen, thanks to a supporting role in “Rocketman” and casting buzz in Marvel’s “The Eternals,” so betting big on “Bodyguard” seems like a smart spend.
Especially when Netflix’s other options are either aging and controversial or mis-categorized. Technically, “House of Cards” has been nominated for Outstanding Drama Series every year its been eligible, but Season 6 is the first following the Kevin Spacey fallout and it was not well-received. Netflix is pushing former nominee Robin Wright on billboards across Los Angeles and at various FYC events, but the show itself has gone from shoo-in to long-shot. Plus, it’s over.
None of these factors apply to “Sex Education,” a series heralded in its debut season and with plenty of appealing names attached, from Gillian Anderson to Asa Butterfield. But despite vigorous appeals from Netflix, the hourlong “Sex Education” was designated a drama by the TV Academy instead of a comedy. That made the series a tough sell for voters, and while Netflix still held events and interviews spotlighting the cast and behind-the-scenes talent, the ad buys were better spent elsewhere.
Looking toward the future is where things get really interesting. If Netflix is able to get “Ozark” into the field this year — which most experts expect to happen — that betters its chances of getting in next year. “Bodyguard” has lower odds this year, but it’s still a distinct possibility. So let’s say they both are nominated in 2019. That’s great and all, but it’s insanely great for 2020, where Netflix would be backing four dramas whose previous seasons were nominated for Best Drama Series: “Ozark” and “Bodyguard,” as well as the returning 2018 nominees “The Crown” and “Stranger Things.” There’s no reason to expect either of the former to fall out of favor, nor for “Ozark” and “Bodyguard” (whose detractors haven’t been able to stop the campaigns’ forward momentum as of yet). In 2020, Netflix could be looking at locking down four of the seven Best Drama slots — and that’s without even considering any new series coming out over the next year!
In a Tight Comedy Category, Even Keeping the Status Quo Is Fantastic
Over the past three years, Netflix has had two comedies up for Outstanding Comedy Series. Last year, it was “GLOW” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and the years prior were Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s comedy alongside Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None.” While Ansari’s return seems more likely after his recent stand-up special received mostly positive feedback, both “GLOW” and “Kimmy” are still eligible in 2019.
But are they still favorites? “GLOW” did everything it could to reinforce its position, while “Kimmy’s” final season went out with more of a whimper than a bang, and the Netflix awards push mimics that reception. Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch’s series got the second-most print ads of any Netflix comedy, as well as two FYC events (one in New York and the other in Los Angeles), not to mention inclusion on a number of joint panels with other Netflix series and prominent placement in the FYSee space. It got the kind of push you’d expect for a critically hailed sophomore season, though it doesn’t have one advantage its first seasons did: Season 3 won’t premiere until August, whereas Season 2 debuted in late June — when the marketing campaign, review rollout, and general buzz coincided with the awards cycle. Without a new season driving fresh conversation, will voters remember “GLOW”?
Whether they do or not, they’re bound to recall “Russian Doll.” With the highest Metacritic score of any Netflix comedy, Natasha Lyonne’s new series also scored the biggest awards push of any half-hour Netflix series on the ballot. Two FYC events, front and back-page ads in the trades, and a heavy dose of Lyonne and Poehler on the campaign circuit kept the February breakout top-of-mind. While virtually everyone predicts “The Kominsky Method” to be Netflix’s awards favorite, “Russian Doll” could surprise some people.
For now, there’s some uncertainty on the comedy slate. Freshman entries are always risky, while “GLOW” and “Kimmy” are facing stiff competition. If Netflix only ends up with one nominee, that could be a disappointment, but if they get two, they’re in a good position for 2020 — especially if those two are “GLOW” and “Kominsky.” “Russian Doll” has been picked up for a second season, but critics are concerned whether the close-ended story can recapture the same magic as Season 1. There’s also no timeline on when Season 2 will arrive, so for the sake of Emmy consistency, Netflix could be marching into the future armed with two more returning nominees, even after losing its long-time veteran.
Going All in on ‘When They See Us’
There’s no pie chart needed for Netflix’s limited series. While “Maniac” held an FYC event in New York (with Justin Theroux, Emma Stone, and Patrick Somerville) and “What/If” snagged some promotion (more for its May release than awards recognition), Netflix went all in on Ava DuVernay’s critically hailed “hit,” “When They See Us,” giving it more than 81 percent of the in-season print ads as well two FYC events — one of which was hosted by executive producer Oprah Winfrey and released on Netflix for all to see.
The quotes are needed since the lofty numbers Netflix reported are unverifiable (and the timing of their release makes them even more questionable), but “When They See Us” still passes the eye test. Since its release on the last day of eligibility (May 31), the four-part drama about the so-called Central Park Five has nevertheless sparked quite a bit of conversation, and the impressive ensemble in front of the camera as well as the film-friendly talent behind it make this limited series a serious contender no matter what.
It also represents Netflix’s best chance to win. Though everything will change after the nominations come out, and frontrunner statuses are more firmly defined, Netflix will have an uphill fight in the drama and comedy categories (barring widespread snubs for “Game of Thrones,” “Veep,” “Barry,” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”). But here in limited series, it could be the frontrunner. “Sharp Objects” is fading. “Escape at Dannemora” came out a long time ago. “Chernobyl” is picking up steam, but “When They See Us” has a stronger cause behind it than all three, which often helps in a tight race, as voters break ties based on which is more “important.”
Netflix isn’t resting on these laurels, though. There are plenty of other movie stars in the race, and while most networks covet a release date close to May 31, others argue a spring debut allows voters more time to see the series. But even if “Fosse/Verdon” has an edge right now, Netflix has plenty of time post-nominations to make up the ground, and it needs to lock down a win. Last year marked the first time a Netflix original was nominated in the limited series category (“Godless”), and the first streaming network to bust into the Emmys is now the last to win one of its top three categories. Hulu snagged a Best Drama Series trophy for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Amazon won Best Comedy last year for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and with Netflix still facing long odds in those categories, a limited series win could get the monkey off its back this year.
What may seem like superficial bragging rights could turn out to mean slightly more than that. With a win, especially a win for a prominent filmmaker making the move to streaming, Netflix could attract even more top-level talent looking to try out TV and win awards while doing it. Disney and Apple will be competitors soon enough, so Netflix’s deep pockets won’t be as much of an advantage any longer. There are more options than ever, and having an Emmy on its shelf could help the original streaming giant beat out the unproven opposition.
No matter where you look, 2019 is a big year for Netflix at the Emmys. Snubs and losses don’t spell doom, but the opportunity for a long, dominant reign should have Netflix excited — and opponents working overtime to keep the giant at bay.