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Emmy Nominations: Digital Contenders Expand Boundaries of Television

With Amazon muscling into the Emmy race in a big way this year, the digital tide has turned. The boundaries and definition of television have been expanded by the rise of the SVOD heavyweights, stirring a creative explosion in the same way that cable began to broaden the horizons of the medium a generation ago.

The prominence of digital series in key races this year demonstrates that Emmy voters are making an effort to survey the landscape of original programming that has become almost overwhelming, with more than 300 scripted original series in active production during the past few years.

Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” managed to hold its own with a nom in the insanely competitive drama series race even after an Emmy rule change forced it out of the comedy series heat. Amazon Instant Video’s “Transparent” was as close to a sure thing as there was going into Thursday’s nominations. But nobody expected it to land 11 bids to rank as the most-nommed comedy series overall.

Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” was a big surprise in breaking through into the comedy series race in its first season. Equally unexpected were the two acting noms (Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn) for Netflix’s well received but low-profile drama “Bloodline.” Same goes for Lily Tomlin’s bid for lead comedy actress for Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie.”

Emmy voters even ventured into the DIY world of LouisCK.net to recognize the comedian’s “Live at the Comedy Store” special. The noms for digital series also go deep into the craft categories, with everything from main title design for Amazon’s “Bosch” to visual effects for Netflix’s “Marvel’s Daredevil.”

The blossoming of SVOD players as full-fledged contenders alongside broadcast and cable nets has added more fuel to the fire of television’s renaissance as a storytelling medium. Where there are more platforms, there are more opportunities for new and distinct voices to shine. Exhibit A — look how the dawn of “Transparent” coincided with the groundswell in the nation’s discussion and understanding of transgender issues.

Amazon couldn’t have known at the time it greenlit “Transparent” that Caitlyn Jenner and other factors would bring the transgender community into the spotlight. But it’s also no accident that the show was there because the immediacy of television allows it to be both mirror and leader of the cultural conversation.

Television Academy chief Bruce Rosenblum wasn’t exaggerating when he opened Thursday’s announcement with the matter-of-fact statement that “television’s creativity, influence and impact continue to grow and have never been stronger.”

And Rosenblum, who has a good vantage point on the TV marketplace in his day job as president of Legendary TV and Digital, could be forgiven for adding a touch of hyperbole: “Television is now widely recognized as the preeminent entertainment platform with extraordinarily rich and varied storytelling,” he said. “Television dominates the cultural discussion and ignites the passion of viewers around the world.”

(Pictured: “Transparent”)

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