Facts are facts. At the announcement of nominations for the Primetime Emmy Awards on Tuesday, Netflix dominated with 160 nods, dwarfing the 107 nominations of HBO, its primary prestige TV competitor, and establishing itself conclusively as the morning’s big winner.
But while numbers are a narrative, they aren’t telling the entire story. So if you’re feeling like the streaming behemoth might not have that much heat heading into September’s ceremony, you’re not alone. Let’s look at why.
Like any high-achieving child, Netflix is burdened with outsized expectations. Of course, it should get the most Emmy nominations! It’s established itself as a modern utility, destined for a place in the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, just as soon as humanity rids itself of its ridiculous need for things like sleep and/or water.
While it’s great to be respected, it can upset the balance of what is reasonable and what is exceptional. Which is a long-winded way of saying HBO’s “Watchmen” got 26 nominations and the Netflix series garnering the most mentions was “Ozark” with 18 which, as it turns out, is the same amount as HBO’s next most celebrated series, “Succession.”
That takes us back to the idea of narratives. On its own, the slow expansion of success that “Ozark” has seen at the Primetime Emmys has been fascinating to watch, with five nominations for its first season, nine nominations — and two wins! — for its second season, and now 18 for its third season. But it also isn’t a huge surprise. Because of its continued growth (and, admittedly, the weakening of the drama category overall) the series seeing a huge jump in nominations is the furthest thing from a surprise. So much so that “Ozark” could only have been perceived as shocking if it did worse than expected at the nominations.
Compare that with the fervor for “Succession,” which, like “Ozark,” saw only five nominations for its first season. The differences begin with the fact that the HBO series produced a second season that was, according to critics, among the best TV had to offer in 2019, something that couldn’t be said about the second season of the dark Netflix drama. Plus, with “Game of Thrones” gone and the aforementioned weakened drama category, there was no telling just how high “Succession” could soar or, given its previous underperforming with the Screen Actors Guild, how short the Shakespearean farce might fall.
The same goes for overall nominations leader “Watchmen.” While it now seems like a foregone conclusion that the bittersweet timeliness of the Damon Lindelof-helmed adaptation would score big with the Television Academy, it was far from a sure thing, as there was always a chance that the overt racial and political explorations of the limited series would alienate voters and leave the project with little but a few token mentions in actress and below the line.
This idea of expectations is the same brush that paints so many of Netflix’s creative endeavors. Congratulations to “The Crown” for earning 13 Emmy nominations, the exact same amount of Emmy nominations earned in each of its prior seasons. Hooray for “Hollywood,” the high-profile Ryan Murphy historical limited series for garnering 12 nominations, a fine haul, but significantly fewer than similar Murphy projects have scored in previous years at FX.
While “Orthodox” and star Shira Haas were a big win for Netflix on Tuesday morning, with eight nominations for a limited series competing in the most cut-throat of categories, even that victory comes at a price, with critically-acclaimed “Unbelievable” garnering only four nominations, with egregious snubs of lead actresses Merritt Wever and Kaitlyn Dever.
A similar fate befalls Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which earned 20 nominations, the most for any series not named “Watchmen.” Yet, it’s no surprise that “Maisel” was a high-achiever, which is what makes Pop TV’s 15 nominations for comedy series “Schitt’s Creek” a more compelling story. While “Maisel” will assuredly go on to win roughly eight awards when the Emmys come to pass (as it has in every year of eligibility thus far), the uncertainty and underdog status of “Schitt’s Creek” is what, fairly or not, will drive conversations between now and September, not unlike Prime Video’s “Fleabag,” which bested its stablemate in Comedy Series last year.
But expectations aren’t the only thing derailing the Netflix hype train. There’s also the matter of quality over quantity. For all its 107 nominations, HBO had a few dozen series airing episodes during the eligibility window. Netflix had … more. A lot more. According to Variety, Netflix released 371 new TV shows and movies in 2019, more programming than the entire U.S. TV industry released in 2005. The streamer has a mind-boggling amount of content, to the extent that not only should it be unsurprising that they have the most Emmy nominations, but to the point that it’s honestly a little surprising that they don’t have more.
Further complicating the point is the fact that not all Netflix Originals are created equally. That is, while Netflix proper earned the most Emmy nominations, Netflix Original Production, did not.
When it comes to studios, it’s HBO Entertainment that reigns supreme, responsible for all 107 of HBO’s nominations. Warner Bros Television comes next with 50 nominations, what with its hand in “Watchmen” and “Westworld,” among others, followed by Disney Television Studios with 47, benefitting in a big way from the breadth of its dynasty earning nominations for series on FX (“Pose”), Hulu (“Little Fires Everywhere”), Netflix (“The Politician”), and NBC (“This Is Us”), just to name a few. Then it’s Sony Pictures Television (“The Crown”) with 41, Universal Studio Group (“Saturday Night Live”) with 37, and then, finally, Netflix, with a mere 33 nominations, 12 of which came for “Hollywood” and eight for “Stranger Things.”
And while none of this is to take away from Netflix’s history making day, it’s all worth keeping in mind as we traipse forward toward a Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony like never before seen. Because if there was ever a lesson learned the hard way, it’s that the popular vote doesn’t go as far as you’d think when the rubber meets the road.