Villanelle is going to have to use all her crafty skills to pull off the mission that lies in front of BBC America/AMC’s “Killing Eve.”
The stylish espionage thriller scored its second consecutive Emmy nomination for best drama series, a feat that is all the more impressive given that it is one of only a handful of scripted drama series airing on ad-supported networks to score five or more Emmy bids. “Killing Eve” joins AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” Hulu’s “Handmaid’s Tale,” FX on Hulu’s “Mrs. America” and “Pose” and NBC’s “This Is Us” as the major representatives of “brought to you by” TV in the 2020 Emmy derby.
The ratio of ad-supported scripted comedies in the TV trophy hunt is equally small: NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and PopTV’s “Schitt’s Creek” lead that pack with 15 bids apiece. The late-night institution — which competes in the variety-sketch series category — and the little comedy that could are joined by FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows,” NBC’s “The Good Place” and “Will & Grace” as commercial-TV scripted comedy contenders.
The ad-supported shows have an obvious handicap at a time when viewers are inundated with programs and new platforms offering a wide menu of on-demand and blurb-free programs. There are content restrictions for “Better Call Saul” and “This Is Us” that the scribes behind HBO’s “Succession,” Netflix’s “Ozark” and other highly nommed premium shows don’t have to consider when plotting their fictional worlds.
Even more than the tighter content guardrails, producers of ad-supported shows lament that visibility is a bigger problem. Scribes working in ad-supported cable have more leeway than ever with sponsors to push boundaries, which explains why so few broadcast TV dramas have grabbed noms over the past 16 years, since 2006 when Fox’s “24” bagged the top series prize.
It’s tough to get industry pros to sit still these days for programs that air on linear schedules with commercials. Producers may send pristine screener links during the crunch of Emmy voting season. But that’s a crap shoot amid a tidal wave of FYC material vying for voters’ attention. Shows that find their fan bases, however small or large, in real time are the ones that tend to rack up the Emmy nominations. Binge watching and commercial breaks just don’t mix.
Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and FX on Hulu’s “Mrs. America” offer a possible third-rail solution for the ad-supported set. Both shows air in limited-interruption format with spots that also break from the 30-second pitch tradition, in form and in their placement within the program. It’s probably not a coincidence that “Handmaid’s” and “Mrs. America” were the most-nommed drama series and limited series, respectively, to air with commercials.
The bifurcation of viewing habits between on-demand and linear platforms is starkly demonstrated by the nominees for late-night variety-talk series, sketch series and competition program — topical shows that drive weekly check-in viewing rather than make-a-date-with-the-remote nights. In those three categories, shows from commercial TV dominated.
Among late-night talkers, HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” was the only ad-free show nominated alongside Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah,” TBS’ “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” Of course, “Last Week Tonight” is gunning for a five-peat to continue a winning streak that began in 2016.
In sketch, HBO newcomer “A Black Lady Sketch Show” will contend with NBC’s “SNL” and Comedy Central’s”Drunk History.” Among competition programs, Netflix’s “Nailed It!” will try to knock off reigning champ, VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race” plus Fox’s “The Masked Singer,” NBC’s “The Voice” and Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
The Primetime Emmy Awards are an annual mile-marker for the industry. The message from this year’s batch of noms is clear. The pause that once refreshed is an extra burden for those seeking Emmy glory, particularly in the scripted realm.
(Pictured: “Schitt’s Creek” and “Killing Eve”)