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Netflix, HBO Get Ready to Rumble as Emmy Nominations and Phase 2 of Voting Loom

Last year, Netflix ended HBO’s 17-year Emmy-nomination domination, posting 112 nods overall (to HBO’s 108), continuing the service’s miraculous rise. Now comes the next goal, which may be in reach this year: Surpassing HBO’s all-time record.

HBO earned 126 nominations in 2015, its all-time best and a number that Netflix could hit this year. It’s all about volume, and Netflix has it. In virtually every major category, the streamer has multiple contenders — so much so that in several cases it will be competing with itself.

But when the Emmy ceremony rolls around in September, it may be a night to remember for HBO — which may not have the volume of Netflix, but is coming locked and loaded with perhaps its most aggressive stable of contenders in years. This should be a battle worth watching when the second phase of Emmy voting gets under way in August.

But first, let’s talk nominations. The rise of Netflix has been staggering, as it took just five years for the streamer to go from being a small entrant in the race to leading it.

In 2013, the service landed 13 nominations and won three — including one for “House of Cards” director David Fincher, who secured the first major Emmy (directing for a drama series) for a streamer. By 2016, that number was 54 noms, and then things really took off, with 91 nominations (and 20 wins) in 2017, and 112 noms last year.

With so many entrants, Netflix is expected to continue to do well across every genre. Don’t forget: Most categories are in crafts and below-the-line fields, where Netflix’s sheer tonnage will serve it well when it comes time to tally nominations on July 16.

The Emmys have become a bit of a two-network race, with Netflix and HBO battling for bragging rights and everyone else behind them. Last year, the results
were a bit of a draw, with both outlets ultimately landing 23 wins. Now it’s time for the rematch, and in what may have been the most aggressive (and expensive) Emmy campaign in memory, Netflix definitely pulled out all the stops with an effort that centered on a massive installation at Raleigh Studios.

Of course, the fact that we’re talking about Emmy nominations as a horse race is what frustrates networks that aren’t Netflix. Among those who would argue the streaming giant is in a different game are HBO execs, who ironically were long the subject of competitors’ ire. HBO was once the only contender boasting the kind of big budgets that everyone else could only dream of.

“HBO has been a very formidable 500-pound gorilla for a very long time,” one network chief tells me. “For 20 years, they have consistently had 100 or more Emmy nominations. Not every year, but most. What is new is just the sheer number of at-bats that a streaming service can take. It seems very overwhelming at times.”

That’s why even HBO brass can’t help grumbling at what they say is an apples-and-oranges comparison. “Netflix [last year] submitted 41 shows for Emmy nominations, and we submitted 20,” one exec told me earlier this year. “We got four less noms. If ‘Sharp Objects’ had aired a month or two earlier, we would have had the most nominations, and it wouldn’t be a story. Why did ‘Sharp Objects’ air later? Because we have budgets to manage. So it is a different currency. They have Monopoly money.”

Major series wins have eluded Netflix, however. While Hulu has scored an outstanding drama nod (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) and Amazon won comedy last year (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), Netflix’s only program wins have been for TV movie — in 2017 and 2018, for “Black Mirror” installments.

And HBO might play spoiler again this year, as it is expected to be a front-runner in key categories with contenders such as “Game of Thrones,” “Veep,” “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” “Chernobyl” and “Deadwood: The Movie.” Brace yourself: The second half of this year’s Emmy campaign promises to get even more rowdy. 

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