Remember when the “Saturday Night Live” cast touted itself as the Not Ready for Primetime Players? These days, the long-running NBC sketch comedy series appears to be almost the only broadcast show ready for the Primetime Emmys.
“SNL” landed 15 nominations this year, easily the most of anything in broadcast. The second-most-nominated broadcast program was ABC’s coverage of the Oscars, which landed nine. Scroll down further: NBC’s “The Good Place” and “The Voice” were the most-nominated primetime series this year among broadcaster shows, with six each.
The broadcast networks’ Emmy woes are not new; you can call them part of an “anyone but Netflix and HBO is suffering” story. All told — including PBS but not The CW, which I’m not sure Emmy voters know exists — broadcasters landed 127 noms this year, down from 151 in 2019. Cable received 246, down from 299.
Keep in mind these reductions are despite an increase in nominees this year, thanks to the new rule that expands the number of competitors in several categories (starting with comedy and drama, which grew to eight apiece). Where did all of those additional nominations go? You know already: Netflix, with 160 noms, the most for any outlet in history (and up from 118 last year), as well as new streamers Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus and Quibi, which earned a combined 47 their first time out.
Overall, online platforms scored 269 nominations, up from 199 — making it the first time that streamers lead the Emmy race. Times, they have changed.
“It is frustrating, and I think it’s a narrative we don’t want to accept,” ABC entertainment president Karey Burke says of broadcast’s continued Emmy declines. “I don’t know whether it’s networks just slashing those marketing budgets in the last few years and kind of playing into the narrative that they weren’t going to be able to compete — I think that contributed to it somewhat. But we’re going to fight that tide.”
Indeed, thanks to the Oscars broadcast, “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” as well as lead acting nods for “Black-ish” and a handful of other contenders, ABC bucked the trend and saw its tally rise to 36 nominations, up from 26 in 2019. And overall, NBC is still the No. 3 most-honored outlet, with 47 noms, followed by ABC.
But that’s a far cry from even a decade ago, when broadcast at least still showed up to play, even if cable was carrying the ball more often. Now “SNL” is the only consistent winner in the series categories. The last lead acting Emmy for broadcast: Sterling K. Brown’s victory in 2017 for “This Is Us.”
Burke says she’s not giving up on the Emmys — after all, her network is airing the show this year, as part of a wheel deal with the other Big 4 nets that doesn’t expire until 2026.
“It was really important to me that we try, and that we focus on winning Emmys for our shows, that we support them and our talent and that we put more marketing efforts behind campaigns and the shows themselves,” she says. “This is show business. We owe it to our talent to make a big deal out of the good work they’re doing, and do what we can to jump up and down and make sure people are paying attention. That’s our job. And our obligation to them.”
At the very least, the categories where broadcast continues to shine at the Emmys are live events like awards shows, specials and, yes, “SNL.” “Not that other people can’t play,” Burke says, “but we can really make a lot of noise and draw a lot of attention and reach millions and millions of people with these events.”
At some point, however, there needs to be a conversation about what to do with recognizing broadcast fare. I often hear jokes about bringing back the CableACE Awards, but this time for everything not streaming. And maybe there should be categories for good ol’ fashioned 22-episode full-season broadcast series, which come with a different degree of difficulty than shorter-order cable and streaming entries.
“I think the question of whether or not there should be a separate category is really a good one,” Burke says. “The yardstick is different, and so I would love to see different considerations. I think the more the awards categories evolve to reflect our changing business, the more relevant they’re going to be.”