Broadcast networks haven’t dominated the Emmys for a good long while. And as pilot-season casting gets started, some contend that a lack of critical recognition is driving actors away from the Big Four.
“It’s just really a frustrating thing,” Dawn Steinberg, Sony Pictures Television’s executive vice president of worldwide talent and casting, told Variety. “Actors want to work and they want to go where the good writing is, [but you could] have a network show with good writing and their agent says to them, ‘Oh, but then you’ll never be recognized, and that’ll never further your career.’”
A number of producers and industry insiders echo the sentiment that sought-after talent is less willing to commit to network shows.
“You definitely hear about people’s frustration with actors not wanting to do broadcast,” said “Superstore” creator Justin Spitzer. Having landed his first choices, he “couldn’t be happier” with the cast of his America Ferrera-led NBC comedy, now in its fourth season, but he imagines that casting now is more difficult than it once was.
The recent growth of streaming platforms — and the critical acclaim they’ve garnered — is nothing to sneeze at. Netflix elbowed aside HBO to nab the most Emmy nominations in 2018; each brought home 23 wins. Amazon tidied up with eight wins, quadrupling its total from the year before.
Contrast that with 2014, when CBS, NBC and ABC were among the top five networks that brought home trophies. Last year, the only broadcast network to have that distinction was NBC — and half of its trophies came from “Saturday Night Live.”
“More cinematic” material is helping to draw major movie stars to premium streaming services, said Dar Rollins, partner and co-head of ICM Partners’ talent department.
Steinberg is an advocate of overhauling awards categories to take the new playing field into account. “I think the time has come for the TV Academy to have a network category and a cable-streaming category,” she said. “We have to be respectful to our actors, our writers, our directors, our producers that still remain loyal to network television.”
Sarah Fain, co-creator of ABC legal drama “The Fix,” embraces the notion. “Honestly, I think it’s a good idea,” she said, “because doing that would bring attention to broadcast shows.”
Fain’s producing and writing partner Liz Craft, another co-creator of “The Fix,” also argued that the number of Emmy wins for cable and streaming shows can impact where A-list talent chooses to land.
“Drew Barrymore — is she going to want to come do a show on ABC or NBC, where she feels like her chances of getting an Emmy are low? Or is she going to want to do a show on AMC, because she [believes] they’re going to be more predisposed to getting Emmy nominations?” mused Craft. “People think those are the prestige shows, and it really doesn’t have anything to do with the show itself, necessarily, but the perception [broadcast] couldn’t possibly be as prestigious as cable. That’s frustrating for us, because we feel like we strive to do shows that are just as good as anything on cable.”
But the reticence of some actors to grace primetime network screens may have less to do with awards than with everyday issues that many an office dweller or contract worker can empathize with. For instance: For how long do I have commit to this job? Will I have to move for work?
“On cable and streaming, actors don’t have to sign up for seven seasons,” said Craft. “I think that’s the biggest thing that’s impacting network casting, because it feels like [they’re saying], ‘Well, I could go do a show for two years; I don’t have to sign away seven.’”