HBO has come a long way from its nascent years as a hub for bigscreen movies, where viewers tuned in to watch box office hits they’d missed in the theater. With 99 noms, HBO is not only one of the prolific cablers in television, but also a heavyweight champ in terms of cranking out such critically acclaimed, nominations-netting fare as “Game of Thrones” and “True Detective,” both favorites in this year’s Emmy race.
One could easily argue that HBO has paved a trail for other cablers and broadband platforms to succeed both commercially and critically, from AMC’s “Breaking Bad” to Netflix’s first original series “House of Cards.” Netflix, Starz and Lifetime have all become viable contenders in the Emmy race, something few would have thought possible even two years ago.
Netflix’s success began with 14 nominations last year, including nine for “House of Cards.” This year the number has more than doubled.
“It’s amazing that only a year in, Netflix has racked up 31 nominations,” says “House of Cards” exec producer Beau Willimon. “They knocked it out of the ballpark in their rookie and sophomore years. We’re all pretty proud to be part of that team.”
Now that the novelty is wearing off the binge-worthy Netflix model of releasing full seasons at once, Willimon says the success comes from the strength of the show itself, which nabbed 13 nominations this year, and not its method of distribution.
“The very same thing can be said for ‘Orange Is the New Black,’” says Willimon of Netflix’s other hit, which fielded 12 Emmy nominations. “By the time ‘Orange Is the New Black’ came out it was their fourth show delivered in this way. People loved bingeing it, but the news at that point wasn’t about the binge so much as it was about the quality of that show.”
A mission to improve quality is also behind Lifetime’s push to turn the phrase “Lifetime movie” from a pejorative to a plus.
“This is a real breakthrough year for us. It’s not just that we broke our nomination record (with 17),” says Lifetime exec veep/g.m. Rob Sharenow. “We really broke through in major categories this year. We never got that kind of attention in the past.”
Sharenow singles out Cicely Tyson and Minnie Driver’s nominations for lead actress in a miniseries or a movie for “The Trip to Bountiful” and “Return to Zero,” respectively, plus miniseries and movie nods for “Bountiful” and “Bonnie and Clyde” as points of pride.
“Even better, he says, “We had eight individual productions get nominations. When people read headlines about nominations, they’re usually for one or two projects that are critical darlings.”
While Starz’s CEO Chris Albrecht is thrilled with 11 nominations, including a miniseries nom for “The White Queen,” he’s also pleased with technical and creative arts nominations for “Black Sails,” “Magic City,” “Da Vinci’s Demons” and “The White Queen.”
“The Emmy award is a peer acknowledgement, and we’re very proud of the work that’s on the shows we’re involved with, both in front of and behind the camera. It’s nice to see a lot of those really talented people behind the camera be acknowledged,” he says. “A lot of people spend a lot of money campaigning for these nominations, but we just let the work speak for itself.”