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Emmys 2016: Streaming Surprises (‘Comedians in Cars’) and Snubs (‘Orange Is the New Black’) Show New Status Quo

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee Obama
Courtesy of Crackle

We long ago passed the point where it felt at all strange for a show on a streaming service to grab Emmy love. Instead, the Academy now refers to distributors as “platforms” rather than “networks,” and we consider a paucity of nominations for “Orange Is the New Black” to be a snub.

Netflix weighed in with 54 nominations in total, up quite a bit from 2015’s 34. But that might seem a natural consequence of Netflix’s massive push toward more original programming. The streaming service has more than doubled the amount of originals it submitted, and many of these new series were the ones that helped make up for shortfalls from series that mysteriously fell out of favor.

To wit: The number of comedies Netflix submitted for consideration more than quadrupled, from two to nine. Newcomer “Master of None” came in like a wrecking ball, picking up three big category nods, including best comedy and lead comedy actor for Aziz Ansari.

Perhaps most curious was the case of “Orange Is the New Black.” The hourlong was reclassified as a drama for 2015’s ceremony after flooding the comedy field the prior year (thanks to the change in the Emmy rules), but still garnered four big nominations, including eventual best supporting actress winner Uzo Aduba. Yet this third season — the one eligible for kudos this year — only garnered one nod for casting.

It wasn’t as though Netflix had a massive increase in drama asks this year: In 2015, the streamer had nine submissions; in 2016, it had 10. Others point to a creatively weaker third season, yet it had a higher Metacritic score than the first season, for whatever that measure is worth.

The answer to this mystery might lie in the “Peak TV” narrative. Voters eventually get used to the novelty of nominating streaming series, and the sudden attention heaped on FX’s “The Americans,” which wrapped its fourth season this year, may have pushed “Orange” out.

Admittedly, that doesn’t jibe with voters’ sudden interest in Crackle, Sony’s ad-supported streaming service, which earned three nominations. Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” now in its eighth season and just renewed for a ninth, was the surprise recipient of a variety talk series nod. The series had been nominated before for Emmys, but in the short format category that favors digital series. “We felt it was misplaced,” says Crackle general manager Eric Berger. “We felt it was worthy of a great variety talk show you might see on TV, so this year we made a decision to move it into the variety category.”

What’s more, stop-motion animated comedy “SuperMansion” weighed in with two nominations in the voice acting category for Keegan-Michael Key and Chris Pine (not, a little weirdly, Emmy catnip Bryan Cranston, who voices the main character).

On its own, that’s not a surprise, but it’s a little odd after taking into account the snubbing of Netflix’s two animated comedies, “Bojack Horseman”—which is stacked with voice talent, including “Breaking Bad” alum Aaron Paul—and “F Is for Family.”  “It’s not a hype thing as much as recognition of the quality,” Berger says.” The Stoopid Buddy guys, along with Bryan Cranston, know a lot about quality in this area, and they know a lot about funny.” That said, Berger points out, “I think this really is one of those cases where the quality broke through.”

Another puzzle is why voters were so disinterested in Hulu’s originals. Though several series drew critical acclaim, particularly comedies “Casual” and “Difficult People,” the Disney-NBC Universal-Fox-owned service only received two noms, for special effects (James Franco time-travel drama “11.22.63”) and writing for a variety special (“Triumph’s Election Special 2016”).

But this was also the first year Hulu had any real contenders, and consensus is it might simply take more time for them to achieve the critical mass required to break into the major categories.

Amazon, which has a slightly more established awards-show record in comedy, was also up in total nominations from 12 last year, to 16, as “Transparent” garnered 10 nods, including big category ones like best comedy and lead comedy actor (Jeffrey Tambor). What helped swell its total, though, were four more minor nominations for dystopian drama “Man in the High Castle,” and a comedy writing nod for U.K.-set comedy “Catastrophe” (from which Amazon presciently picked up two more seasons a couple hours before the nominations were announced). Golden Globe winner for best comedy or musical series “Mozart in the Jungle” even managed to pick up a nomination, for sound mixing.