You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Emmys: Amazon, Netflix Break Into the Mix for Comedy Prize

This could be the first year an Internet distributor harvests an Emmy from the funny farm.

Both freshmen shows competing for the comedy series prize — Amazon Studios’ “Transparent” and Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” — hail from digital outlets. Regardless of whether they take home any trophies, the noms reflect the heightened competitive field for unique and compelling laffers.

And raise the question: Have digital players changed the rules for what’s considered a top-tier TV comedy?

Opinions vary. According to some industryites, any show created for Netflix or Amazon could just as easily run on premium or basic cable — or even broadcast. Indeed, it’s worth pointing out that “Kimmy,” from the “30 Rock” tag team of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, was in production for NBC before Netflix struck the deal to save it from an uncertain future.

“As much as (‘Kimmy’) was written for NBC, obviously NBC and we agreed that it wasn’t for broadcast TV really and never was,” Carlock says. “It is creatively different (to work for Netflix), but we wrote the show creatively different to begin with. Because we’re obnoxious, I guess.”

Others, though, say digital challengers are less likely to refashion a showrunner’s creative vision than television nets, which typically try to hew to a certain tone and style. And that freer rein can be a critical ingredient when it comes to comedy.

For Netflix, “What’s important to them is keeping the voice of the artist intact, rather than approaching it as, ‘How do we help the creator change their voice to fit the network?’” says Principato-Young Entertainment partner Peter Principato.

Principato, an exec producer on Netflix’s original series “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp,” adds that the No. 1 subscription VOD provider has a relatively small team running the development process. At studios and networks, he says, “There are more layers, more decision-makers.”

Jill Soloway, creator of transgender dramedy “Transparent,” has been vocal about wanting to do her show for Amazon and no one else. Of course, that was after several TV networks gave the Jeffrey Tambor starrer a thumbs down, and she concedes the show could have worked on a channel like HBO, Showtime or FX.

However, Soloway, who’s in contention for directing and writing Emmys for “Transparent,” believes digital distributors have altered the formula for comedy success. “There’s a shift in the culture about what comedy is,” she says. “I think there’s something about the democratization of the Internet and the removal of gatekeepers that’s behind that.”

TV network execs, in Soloway’s experience, have preconceived ideas of what’s funny and acceptable to audiences (and advertisers). That’s a mindset she hasn’t encountered with Amazon, she claims: “I feel very lucky to have this creative palette.”

Needless to say, not everyone agrees. To HBO exec VP of programming Casey Bloys, the Internet arrivistes have the same advantages as premium cable in terms of not being beholden to advertising or time constraints.

“With more people getting into the business of comedy — whether that’s basic cable, pay cable or digital — the proliferation has given creators a lot more freedom,” he says. “The distinction is not digital versus everybody else. It’s subscription services versus broadcast, and we’ve enjoyed that for years.”

In fact, none of the other Emmy comedy contenders this year conforms to the old-style three-camera sitcom model. HBO has two horses in the race, “Silicon Valley” and “Veep,” alongside FX’s “Louie,” ABC’s “Modern Family” and the final season of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.”

Plus, Bloys points out, the two Emmy-nommed digital series are from creators with TV pedigrees. They’re not diamonds in the rough that were discovered, say, from hilarious homegrown sketches posted on YouTube. (Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” was up for a comedy Emmy in 2014; many felt it was more of a drama, and the TV Academy this year classified it as such.)

Ultimately, the disruption that Netflix, Amazon and others are causing in the TV industry boils down to one thing: the presence of aggressive new buyers, says Adam Berkowitz, co-head of CAA’s TV department. Hulu and Yahoo, for example, have planted flags in comedy by picking up shows nixed by networks. Hulu rescued “The Mindy Project,” the Fox laffer from Mindy Kaling, for a fourth season set to debut Sept. 15, and Yahoo brought season six of Dan Harmon’s cult-fave “Community” to the Internet after NBC axed it.

“The digital foray into comedy has been great for the TV business,” Berkowitz says. “It has opened up a new marketplace for high-end comedy, which has traditionally been dominated by premium cable networks like Showtime and HBO.”

Though more parties are now shooting for the Emmy prize, the fundamentals of great comedy remain the same, says Kent Alterman, Comedy Central’s president of content development and original programming. The best shows aren’t necessarily trying to appeal to the broadest possible audience.

“Anything that’s any good,” Alterman says, “is going to offend to someone.”

More TV

  • ABC Renews Full Summer Game Show

    ABC Renews Full Summer Game Show Slate, Including 'Pyramid,' 'Match Game,' 'Family Feud'

    The weather outside may be frightful, but ABC is already planning another summer of fun and games. The network announced Wednesday that its primetime gamers “The $100,000 Pyramid,” “Card Sharks,” “Celebrity Family Feud,” “Match Game,” “Press Your Luck” and “To Tell the Truth” have all been renewed for another season, joining the previously announced second [...]

  • David Cross

    'Genius: Aretha' at Nat Geo Casts David Cross (EXCLUSIVE)

    David Cross has joined the cast of the upcoming third season of “Genius” at Nat Geo, which will focus on music legend Aretha Franklin. Cross will star as music producer Jerry Wexler. Cynthia Erivo is set to play Franklin, with Courtney B. Vance, Malcolm Barrett, Patrice Covington, Kimberly Hébert Gregory, Rebecca Naomi Jones, and Sanai [...]

  • Jennifer Williams, Special Advisor for Europe

    TV Ratings: Impeachment Hearings Day 3 Draws 12 Million Average Viewers

    Day 3 of the impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump drew big numbers yet again across the major broadcast and news networks. An average of around 12 million total viewers tuned in across the morning and afternoon sessions, with 11.4 million watching in the morning and roughly 13 million in the afternoon. Fox News drew [...]

  • Black Summer

    'Black Summer' Renewed for Season 2 at Netflix

    Netflix has renewed the zombie thriller series “Black Summer” for a second season, Variety has learned. The second season will consist of eight episodes and will begin production next year in Alberta, Canada. Jamie King will return to star in the second season and will also serve as a producer. Cast members Justin Chu Cary and [...]

  • Anita Hill

    Anita Hill's Commission Launches Entertainment Industry Survey on Sexual Harassment

    The Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality, led by Anita Hill, has launched a survey of the entertainment industry. Hill accused U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his Senate confirmation hearings in 1991. Since then, in addition to teaching law and policy at Brandeis University, Hill has been [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez, Scarlett Johansson to Host

    Jennifer Lopez, Scarlett Johansson to Host 'SNL' in December, Lizzo Set as Musical Guest

    Jennifer Lopez and Scarlett Johansson are set to host episodes of “Saturday Night Live” in December. Lopez, who will headline the 2020 Super Bowl Halftime Show with Shakira and whose performance in the movie “Hustlers” is generating Oscar buzz, will host the Dec. 7 episode with DaBaby making his first appearance on the show as [...]

  • Pierluigi Gazzolo Juan Acosta

    Pierluigi Gazzolo to Head Viacom International Studios, OTT International

    Viacom International Media Networks has named Pierluigi Gazzolo president of OTT International and Viacom International Studios. Gazzolo, who will report to VIMN president and CEO David Lynn, was most recently president of VIMN Americas and executive vice president of Nickelodeon International. As the streaming landscape becomes increasingly competitive, the move marks an increased focus on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content