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What’s at Stake for Apple, Disney, and HBO Max at the 2020 Emmys — Streaming Wars

Even Quibi is fighting for Emmys.

"The Morning Show," "The Mandalorian," and "Dummy" Apple TV+ Disney+ Quibi

“The Morning Show,” “The Mandalorian,” and “Dummy”

Apple TV+ / Disney+ / Quibi

With streaming dominating the industry, IndieWire is breaking down what really matters in the ongoing news cycle to provide a clear picture of what companies are winning the streaming wars — and how they’re pulling ahead. By looking at ongoing trends and curating daily developments, the Streaming Wars Report will offer a clear picture of what’s happening in streaming. This column will cover the major players, from Netflix to Disney+ to HBO Max, and be sure to check out our Indie Edition for thorough coverage of the boutique services.

On Tuesday, July 28, as professional sports start back up (sans fans) and theaters remain closed to the public (in America), it’s time to celebrate the entertainment that got us through the first of what appear to be many shutdowns: television. That’s right, it’s finally time to reveal the 2020 Emmy nominations, and among the many questions lingering over this year’s race, how the new streaming services will shake things up is near the top.

Awards titans like HBO and Netflix have to be wondering if their nomination counts will dip as Academy members make room for new programming from Apple TV+, Disney+, and HBO Max. (Yes, HBO and HBO Max are different.) Meanwhile, the nascent streamers (yes, including Quibi) are just curious what kind of welcome they’ll be given to television’s elite institution. For its part, the TV Academy has been accommodating. It enacted new rules that allow for expanded categories, recognizing that Emmy nominations can offer a stamp of approval to networks and studios, help court stars for future original programming, and give a much-needed positive PR bump to any show in need of another season — or a new service trying to prove its worth.

But the real value of awards varies on a network-by-network basis, so let’s look at each new service, the key races for each of them, and what’s at stake at the 2020 Emmys. And remember: There’s more TV than ever out there, and there’s no better time to stay inside and catch up.

Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Mark Duplass in "The Morning Show"

Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Mark Duplass in “The Morning Show”

Courtesy of Apple

Apple TV+

Best Bets: “The Morning Show,” “Beastie Boys Story”

Let’s be clear: “The Morning Show” is what matters for Apple TV+, and after a solid showing on the winter awards circuit, the streamer’s debut drama is in good shape to land major Emmy nominations: Best Drama Series isn’t out of reach, especially with eight slots to fill, while nods for Actress (Jennifer Aniston, not Reese Witherspoon) and Supporting Actor (Billy Crudup) are looking good. Golden Globe nominations and a SAG win for Aniston have countered the early, more negative narrative which began with less-than-favorable reviews and a less-than-stellar Apple TV+ launch in general. Now, the Emmys’ most coveted nominations seem feasible, if not outright likely — meanwhile, “Beastie Boys Story” is a favorite for Documentary Special. Pair these big ticket nominations with what should be a decent Creative Arts total and Apple TV+ could end up with a solid debut on TV’s grandest stage.

Dark Horses: “Defending Jacob,” “Central Park,” “Visible: Out on Television”

If “The Morning Show” was meant to kickstart Apple TV+ originals and carry it through the winter awards season, then “Defending Jacob” is the prestige limited series aimed directly at the Emmys. While there’s no way of verifying ratings, Apple has been telling anyone who will listen that the seven-part courtroom drama is one of its most-watched series yet; that may not mean much, but it could be enough to get it some Emmy love — especially considering it’s got the same attributes (star power and that prestige ambiance) that “The Morning Show” does (as well as its negatives, aka reviews).

What’s at Stake: Brand Identity and a Place in History

Apple is banking on star power to win the day, and it just might work. With a smaller slate than Netflix and HBO, the streamer isn’t looking to have the most nominations or the most wins; it’s looking for recognition, period. Any high-profile nominations will help establish the service as a place where stars can win awards (while still cashing fat checks), and if an Emmy is attached to shows like “The Morning Show,” “Defending Jacob,” or “Central Park,” then these programs will be seen as successful even if we never know how many people actually tuned in.

Still, movie stars don’t carry the same cachet they once did at the Emmys (and have never been as coveted as they are at the Globes), and, given the suspension of FYC events, folks like Chris Evans, Aniston, and Witherspoon haven’t been able to press the flesh this year. Will virtual appearances be enough to woo voters (or even get them to watch)? It’s worth noting that some voters have said Apple’s online screeners don’t work, so even if they wanted to watch, they’d have to find alternative means to do so.

Any series or acting nominations would mean Apple is keeping pace with Netflix’s first year of Emmy competition, when “House of Cards” nabbed nods for Best Drama Series, Best Actor, Best Actress, and more. “HoC” did win three Creative Arts Emmys, which “The Morning Show” may struggle to replicate, but if it could somehow pull off a Drama Series win, Apple would accomplish a feat Netflix has yet to pull off.

Willem Dafoe in "Togo"

Willem Dafoe in “Togo”

Disney+

Disney+

Best Bets: “Togo”

Yes, the Willem Dafoe dog movie is Disney’s best bet at a major Emmy nod. Debuting to decent reviews in December, “Togo” went on to build itself a nice little awards resume during the winter season. The straight-to-service film snagged a win from the Sound Editors society and surprised plenty of prognosticators by landing a WGA nod for Long-Form Original, right alongside powerhouse awards players “Chernobyl” and “True Detective.” Now, it’s in the relatively weak TV Movie category, where it will have to beat out fellow Disney+ titles, like “Lady & the Tramp,” as well as Lifetime’s “Patsy and Lorraine” and Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” movie. But hey, “Togo” has already gone toe to toe with giants. It’s in good shape.

Dark Horses: “The Mandalorian,” “Lady and the Tramp,” “The Imagineering Story,” “Forky Asks a Question”

There are two groups of thought when it comes to this year’s Emmys: those that believe they’ll be the same as they’ve always been, and those that believe we’re in for a sea change. Supporting the latter belief is everything from “Fleabag’s” unprecedented success in 2019, to the coronavirus’ effect on Hollywood, to the addition of all these new streaming services. Meanwhile, all the latter position has to support its case is 71 years of history. The Emmys, despite an extreme eagerness to adapt (when compared to the stodgy old Oscars), are extremely slow to shift course, which makes sense considering its massive voter base. Imagine trying to change one person’s mind; to get them to vote for a new show over an old favorite. It’s hard, right? They like what they like and they’re going to keep voting for it. Now imagine trying to change 24,000 minds. It’s going to take some time, no?

Yes, if you haven’t guessed, I’m in the “expect more of the same” camp for 2020, but I’m still very, very worried about one dark horse in particular: “The Mandalorian.” What Disney+ did with its launch was nothing short of astonishing, building up nearly 60 million subscribers in seven months and doing so without any notable original programs… save one. The “Star Wars” launch title arguably helped Disney+ surpass projections and undoubtedly benefitted from all those fans exploring their new service. Now, it could very well cash in again at the Emmys thanks to that (perceived) high viewership, which is more critical than ever in the era of too much TV. Big ratings were one way “Game of Thrones” entrenched itself at the Emmys, in addition to its high production values and good enough reviews. The HBO hit is out this year, but there is a new, glossy, fantasy smash powered by a well-funded studio. “The Mandalorian” is not among TV’s best, but it’s certainly among the medium’s most popular shows, and that may be enough to fight its way into directing, writing, and even the Drama Series race. (Guest star will be competitive, too, given Disney submitted four performers, including Werner Herzog.) How many of those 24,000 voters were charmed by Baby Yoda? Come Tuesday, we’ll find out.

What’s at Stake: …nothing?

What was at stake when “Avengers: Endgame” made a run at the Oscars? The billion-dollar juggernaut was already well-received by critics and flat-out worshipped by audiences, cementing its place in movie history — but did the ultimate popcorn flick really need further recognition for its work? When it comes to the crafts, sure. What was done behind-the-scenes to bring that film to life deserves as much praise as it does study by future filmmakers, and the same can be said for “The Mandalorian.” But the movie did its primary job (make bank), just like the series helped to launch a successful new streaming platform. To rank it among the best dramas on television feels like a stretch akin to putting “Avengers: Endgame” on par with “The Irishman.” Having “Star Wars” at the Emmys is might help attract a wider audience (well, that’s what ABC producers might think), but it’s not going to expand the show’s reach, and it’s not going to benefit Disney+, specifically. Disney would much rather see its prestigious brands like Hulu and FX rake in high-profile nominations than its new streamer; winning awards is what they’re built to do. Disney+ is the crowd-pleaser, and it’s already getting that job done far better than anticipated.

Megan Thee Stallion

Megan Thee Stallion on “Legendary”

HBO Max

HBO Max

Best Bets: “The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo”

In all honesty, I’m not sure there’s a good bet — let alone a best bet — when it comes to HBO Max at the Emmys. But “The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo” is competing in a toss-up category — Short-Form Variety Series — and did manage to put three Emmy nominees on the ballot. I’m talking about voice-over actors Ryan Dillon, Eric Jacobson, and David Rudman, two of whom are Daytime Emmy nominees but all of whom have been recognized specifically for their work with “Sesame Street.” That gives them (and “Elmo”) a slight edge in these Creative Arts categories, and makes “Not-Too-Late” the odds on favorite for HBO Max.

Dark Horses: “Legendary,” “Love Life”

Despite their marquee branding as HBO Max’s most notable launch titles, neither “Legendary” nor “Love Life” have gained any traction over the course of their weekly rollouts. The poorly reviewed Anna Kendrick rom-com did earn a Season 2 renewal, but that’s as much as can be said about the (rightfully) ignored wannabe prestige TV player. To say it’s got a shot in the comedy or acting races would be going out on the most treacherous of limbs. “Legendary,” meanwhile, is on the ballot for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program and Reality Host, where it will face the likes of RuPaul and “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Nicole Byer and “Nailed It,” as well as “The Voice” and whoever is spinning those big red chairs these days. Could “Legendary” really box out “The Masked Singer”? Don’t bet on it.

What’s at Stake: Brand Unity

Even though HBO Max will forever be tied to the gold standard of awards players, its goals are far different than HBO’s. In fact, Max originals don’t really need to perform that well at all at the Emmys, considering subscribers will still use the service to access all of HBO’s Emmy-nominated programming. Would it be nice for WarnerMedia to have another name-brand awards player, housed ever so conveniently next to its MVP? Sure. Would it be helpful if both HBO-titled originals departments were associated with high-level content? Absolutely. But give HBO Max a little time. The new service only debuted in May, and many of its shows have been delayed, either because they can’t be completed during a production shut-down or because it’s more important to space out new releases in order to keep subscribers happy. Right now, there are simply more important issues to address than Emmys.

Anna Kendrick in the Quibi series "Dummy"

Anna Kendrick in the Quibi series “Dummy”

Photo by: Nicole Wilder

Quibi

Best Bets: “Dummy,” “Royalties,” “Nikki Fre$h,” “#FreeRayshawn”

Anna Kendrick shouldn’t expect a Tuesday morning phone call for “Love Life,” but she may be woken up to a nomination nonetheless. The actress is one of Quibi’s many short-form submissions, and her role in “Dummy” has a decent shot of nabbing a spot in Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Drama or Comedy Series. Big-name talent is relatively new to the short-form field, but Emmy favorites like Darren Criss (“Royalties”) and Laurence Fishburne (“#FreeRayshawn”) could help the struggling streamer find a ray of hope in its rough launch year. Last year saw higher profile series like “State of the Union” (with Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd) rack up wins, while Netflix’s “Special” scored key nominations, as well. The short-form categories are getting more competitive, and Quibi would love to stake an early reputation for dominance in its only competitive options.

Dark Horses: “Punk’d,” “I Promise,” “Dishmantled,” “Murder House Flip”

Still, it’s a bit of coin flip as to who or what can expect a nomination. Yes, big names gained ground in 2019, but prior to that year, independent productions (and stars) thrived as often as studio-driven series. In 2018, Megan Amram and her indie show “An Emmy For Megan” went up against offerings from James Corden, “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “The Walking Dead.” And in short-form categories like Variety Series and Nonfiction or Reality Series, well-known programs have always had the edge. NBC and FX have dominated the nonfiction race for the last five years, while Apple’s “Carpool Karaoke” franchise has won the last two Variety Series titles. That could be good news for Quibi’s heavily touted offerings like “Punk’d” and “Dishmantled,” but it could just as well mean they’re going up against stiffer competition.

What’s at Stake: Quibi’s First Win

To put it plainly: Quibi needs a win. Between reports that Quibi has lost nearly 92 percent of its initial subscribers and embarrassing revelations about its leaders, the nascent streamer could really use a bit of positive PR. Even if very few people care about short-form Emmy contenders — or, at least, very few people care enough to consider it when subscribing to a service — the good press from a respectable Emmy haul could be enough to cast Quibi in a positive light for a little bit. And who knows? Maybe a few people will actually want to check out the lucky shows.

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