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Can Broadcast Pave a Road Back to Emmy Glory?

The Big Four broadcasters are in the final stages of negotiating an eight-year renewal of the deal through which they share rights to televise the Primetime Emmy Awards. For their trouble, they will get to continue broadcasting for nearly a decade what is effectively a commercial for HBO, FX, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. (Coming soon: Apple!)

The nominees from broadcasters this year were predictably paltry. The lone bright spot was NBC, which ranked third behind Netflix and HBO among networks and platforms with 78 nominations — up 22% from its tally last year. The network’s fortunes were buoyed by “Saturday Night Live,” which tied HBO’s “Westworld” for the second most nominations of any show with 21, only one back from the pack leader, the pay cabler’s “Game of Thrones.”

ABC, CBS and Fox, however, each drew fewer than half the nominations that NBC did. At 16 nominations, Fox was bested by not one but two cable cousins — for now, anyway — FX and National Geographic. The network that will be relied on through its owned and operated local stations to drive earnings for Rupert Murdoch’s post-Disney deal empire managed only four more nominations than VH1 (soon to be a subsidiary of the CBS Corp. — or not).

What the broadcasters need to do to get back in the Emmy game is simple: start spending $10 million-$15 million per episode on their dramas, just like HBO does with “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld.” Or they could take all creative restrictions off their comedy creators and encourage them to drift into genre-defying weirdness, as FX did with “Atlanta.” Or they could spend $8 billion a year on content in a volume game designed to destroy the television ecosystem as John Landgraf knows it. Hi, Netflix.

Aside from all that, the broadcasters have few options. In the main acting and series categories, they boast few nominations now and for the foreseeable future. When the freshman season of NBC’s “This Is Us” failed to best Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” in the drama series race last year, the hurt was felt not only by Peacocks. Marketers at rival networks privately expressed disappointment that what many perceived as the best shot at a series Emmy for a broadcast show in years had failed to take the trophy.

NBC’s big tally, however, does offer a path to Emmy riches for other broadcasters, should they choose to take it. Many of the network’s nominations came in categories that are less competitive — variety, specials and movies. Aside from “Saturday Night Live,” NBC’s biggest player was “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert.” NBC campaigned aggressively on behalf of the live musical, and landed star John Legend a nomination for best miniseries or movie actor.

As broadcasters continue to look to event programming to drive live ratings, it makes sense that they should turn more and more to those shows for awards emphasis. Campaigns for unscripted series, specials and movies — if invested in — could be more likely to yield returns than those mounted on behalf of dramas and comedies designed to appeal to broad audiences in an era where voters like that which is big, expensive and bespoke.

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