LOS ANGELES — In what many are calling the new golden age of television, the Emmy Awards are glistening more radiantly than ever. The winged statuette recognizing excellence in the TV business used to pale in comparison to the movie industry’s Oscars. But as traditional and digital networks ramp up their original productions and attract some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, the Emmys are soaring to new levels of artistic — and for some networks, financial — importance.
“Television is no longer the creative backwater,” said Michael Lombardo, president of programming for Time Warner’s HBO. “Accordingly, the Emmys mean more.” Competition for this year’s awards, to be handed out here on Monday night, ranks among the fiercest to date amid a deluge of original, scripted programming, television executives said. In 2013, cable networks alone televised 144 original series, up from 29 a decade earlier, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
It used to be that the big broadcasters dominated the awards year after year. NBC’s sitcom “Frasier,” which ran from 1993 to 2004, for instance, won 37 awards during its run, the most ever for any series. Now, however, the Emmys are anybody’s game.
HBO, which racked up 99 nominations this year, the most of any network, will face off against a lineup of broadcasters, cable networks and the subscription streaming service Netflix during the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theater here. The show, hosted by Seth Meyers, will be televised on NBC, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern time.
Netflix made history last year when its “House of Cards” series was nominated for outstanding drama, the first time that a program distributed via the web competed against programs on traditional television. This year, Netflix is back with 31 nominations, including for its “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” series.
Netflix scored more nominations than long-established Fox, which had just 18. (Fox said that one of its shows, “Cosmos,” received 12 nominations but was listed separately as a Fox/National Geographic nomination because the program ran on two networks.)
“To be able to create programming that is at the level and in some cases exceeding the level of existing content on television is a really strong validation for Netflix in our place in TV history,” said Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix.
The big broadcasters, meanwhile, have the potential to be shut out of the top series categories. In the competition for best drama, the only broadcast nominee is PBS with its “Downton Abbey” British costume drama. The website Golden Derby, which predicts show business awards, has pegged AMC’s “Breaking Bad” as the front-runner.
Predictions for the best comedy winner are mixed. ABC has “Modern Family,” which has won that award for the past four years. CBS has “The Big Bang Theory,” which ranks as television’s biggest comedy, topping others for total viewers since the 2010-11 season. Netflix is a strong contender with “Orange Is the New Black,” HBO with “Veep” and “Silicon Valley,” and FX with “Louie.”
Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story
“During the last several years, there have been aggressive new entrants into the quality game,” said David Nevins, president of CBS’s Showtime Networks. “Being good isn’t good enough. You have to be outstanding and be somebody’s favorite.”
Driving the rivalry is an Emmy Award’s potential to change the trajectory of even the least established networks. AMC was relatively unknown before it started taking home awards for its “Mad Men” and then “Breaking Bad” dramas. This year is the seventh in a row that “Mad Men” has been nominated for best drama, a record for any cable network.
“There’s no doubt the early critical acclaim and Emmy Awards for ‘Broken Trail’, ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Breaking Bad’ helped establish AMC as a serious new player in scripted drama,” Charlie Collier, president of AMC, said. “These originals helped build the network and open an important door to talent and projects that are continuing to define us.”
Winning awards also has helped executives to convince big actors to consider television roles and to redefine TV as a career enhancer instead of a step down from film. “It is a great talent magnet,” said Sarah Barnett, president of SundanceTV, which scored one nomination this year. “It is great for actors to know that on our network, we do get outside attention on the awards side for what we do.”
One of the biggest Hollywood stars up for an Emmy this year is Matthew McConaughey for his performance in HBO’s “True Detective.” Already this year, Mr. McConaughey won the Academy Award for best actor for his performance in “Dallas Buyers Club.”
While television executives are split on whether winning awards leads to better ratings, some said the awards certainly didn’t hurt in an increasingly crowded world in which shows compete for attention not only against what runs in the same time slot but also against entire libraries of shows available via video-on-demand streaming services. An Emmy win for a show, Mr. Sarandos of Netflix said, “signals to people who haven’t tried it yet that this is something you should take a look at.”