Over at Deadline today there’s a good long piece about the dominance of cable series at the Emmy awards the last few years. I’d encourage you all to read it, because what starts out as something that sounds like kind of a whine from broadcast TV representatives actually has some good points in their favor. Out of six series nominated for Best Drama, none of them are on commercial broadcast television*. All of these series ran short seasons, with Mad Men at seven episodes for the first half of their finale season, to House of Cards with 13. The Good Wife, the drama that most people would agree could earn a spot on that list, aired 22. Shorter seasons means more time spent on meaty central story lines and less on secondary plots, or stand-alone episodes.
The other thing that’s not touched on in the article is the way we’re getting spoiled in how we watch TV, and how that might have a disproportionate impact on commercial broadcasters. I hate commercials as much as the next person, but I also know how broadcast TV makes their money, and the move of people to DVR shows or watch them online or on demand to miss ads means those ads are worth less and the stations are getting less money for the advertising time. I have sympathy for broadcasters willing to pour money into strong performers like The Big Bang Theory as those ad revenues are likely to be very high, while they’d be more reluctant to take a chance on a fringe show like Almost Human that could take a while to find its feet and its audience. That’s no excuse for not pursuing excellent TV, but I understand that decisions behind some of their choices.
It’s a interesting issue, and I’ll be interested to see what happens. If they create new categories for “cable” versus “broadcast” or just start putting strict limits on what counts as a longform series versus a miniseries in terms of number of episodes or seasons. Or perhaps, as some joked in the article, they’ll bring back the CableACE awards and start segregating that way. The Primetime Emmys air next Monday night, hosted by Seth Meyers who works on a broadcast station and has expressed a distinct preference for cable series.
*Downton Abbey airs on PBS, but of course, PBS is viewer supported rather than commercially supported.