Not even the Emmys could break the TV business’ dark mood. Sexual assault and harassment allegations against high-ranking figures, mega-acquisition deals that have created massive uncertainty, and continued struggles to represent diversity on screen — all combined to create an atmosphere in which celebrating TV proved too difficult a task (one made no easier by a pair of curiously low-energy hosts). But the key takeaways from Sept. 17’s Primetime Emmy Awards did at least provide an accurate reflection of an unsettled industry.
The Big Four in August renewed their deal with the TV Academy to share telecast rights for the Emmys through 2026 — ensuring that, for the next eight years, at least, one of broadcast’s biggest programming events will be a three-hour commercial for shows that are not available on broadcast. Of the 26 Emmys given out on the night, Netflix, Amazon, HBO and FX accounted for all but three. When accepting the award for variety-sketch series on behalf of “Saturday Night Live,” Lorne Michaels, who produced the Emmy’s telecast, offered a defense of broadcast. Michaels noted that when “Saturday Night Live” premiered in 1975, “There were a lot of articles about how the networks wouldn’t be here much longer. But here we are, it’s 2018, we’re at the Emmys, and we’re on NBC.” Michaels’ case, however, was undermined by the fact that the Emmy he held was one of only two won by a broadcast show. The other went to the newly engaged Glenn Weiss, director of ABC’s Oscar’s telecast.
Diversity’s Incomplete Grade
As with most awards shows in the post-#OscarsSoWhite world, diversity and inclusion were touchstones at the Emmys, starting with Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson’s opening musical number, “We Solved It.” Black women were well represented on stage, thanks to wins by Thandie Newton (“Westworld”) and Regina King (“Seven Seconds”). And the victory by “RuPaul’s Drag Race” for reality-competition series was historic — the first time a reality program took awards for series and host, with RuPaul Charles having won at the Creative Arts Emmys a week earlier. But “Killing Eve” star Sandra Oh, the first woman of Asian descent nominated for drama actress, lost to Claire Foy of “The Crown.” And speaking to Variety ahead of the ceremony, John Leguizamo, one of the night’s only Latino nominees (supporting actor in a limited series for his role on “Waco”), offered a scathing appraisal of the industry’s inclusion efforts. “There’s a bit of a culture of apartheid in Hollywood,” he said. “I feel like Latin people are something like 50% of the population of L.A., and we’re less than 3% of the faces on camera.”
Hosts With the Least
When Michaels was announced as executive producer for this year’s Emmys, the stage was set for a show chock full of “Saturday Night Live” talent. Front and center would be “Weekend Update” anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che, set to host. But Variety chief TV critic Daniel D’Addario channeled most critical reaction when he wrote that “‘SNL’ came to seem diminished” with Che and Jost, “whose low-key shtick is familiar from ‘Weekend Update,’ failing to raise the energy of the room or even to claim the room as their own.” A year after “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert swung and missed with big gambits such as bringing former Trump flack Sean Spicer onstage, Che and Jost played things safe, sticking largely to a structure reminiscent of ‘Update’ (including a much-groaned-about recurring bit in which the two hosts interacted with clueless Emmy “experts” Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen). Though director Hamish Hamilton and a few format tweaks — particularly having the announcer read the nominees’ names before the presenters took the stage — kept the show moving, Che and Jost were a drag.
Heading into these Emmys, the rise of Netflix was primed (cough, cough) to be a dominant narrative. That story played out, but didn’t follow script. After drawing more nominations than HBO — the first time in 18 years another network or platform had done that — Netflix tied the premium cabler for the most wins with 23. But Netflix failed once again to land an award for best drama or comedy series, with its Emmys distributed over 11 shows. More surprising than Netflix’s diffuse haul was the performance of Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which dominated the comedy categories in a way that no drama or limited series did in its field. “Maisel” won five awards Monday night, making it the evening’s top winner. The show netted eight Emmys overall, including three Creative Arts awards handed out a week earlier, putting it only one behind field leader “Game of Thrones,” which won the bulk of its awards in the below-the-line categories. Amazon’s new entertainment chief Jennifer Salke identified “Maisel” as a standout in the company’s current slate shortly after joining the tech giant from NBC earlier this year. Now the series has become a standard-bearer for the brand as Salke looks to compete with Netflix for high-profile talent.
The mood at the Fox post-Emmys party was buoyed by wins for “The Americans,” “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” and “Seven Seconds.” But uncertainty also infused the gathering at Vibiana. With Disney’s pending acquisition of the bulk of 21st Century Fox set to split Fox Broadcasting from studio 20th Century Fox Television, and the fates of top execs such as Peter Rice, Dana Walden and Gary Newman still not officially resolved, most people working at Fox don’t know for sure whether they will have jobs next year. Leslie Moonves’ ouster from CBS in the wake of assault and harassment allegations was not mentioned in the Emmys telecast, but it was far and away the top conversation topic in the week of parties leading up to the show. AT&T’s recent acquisition of the former Time Warner companies promises to change HBO and Turner Broadcasting, as well as Warner Bros. Television — and reshape the Emmy landscape in the process. In an industry roiled by change, not even its biggest celebration promises to stay the same.