Will Streaming Media Really Affect Emmy Voters?

Paula Bernstein is an AwardsLine contributor.

When House of Cards debuted on the streaming service Netflix in February, the series’ awards-laden cast and crew, high production values, and cinematic storylines worked awards prognosticators into a frenzy. Could the 13-episode series be the first nonbroadcast, noncable series to break through at the Emmys?
If House of Cards, its exec producer-director David Fincher, or its stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are nominated for an Emmy in a major category, it will represent a watershed moment for the television industry and a sign of things to come—when digital shows go head-to-head with broadcast and cable programs 
for Emmy Awards.
But while House of Cards represents a revolution in terms of how viewers consume programming, one indisputable fact remains: Emmy voters watch eligible series on DVD. In some ways, the old-media format of “For Your Consideration” DVD screeners might be the great equalizer for new streaming media.
As far as audiences are concerned—especially younger ones weaned on the Internet—there is no difference between shows that are streamed and cable and broadcast programs. A good show is a good show, whether it’s on broadcast, cable or the Internet. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences doesn’t see a distinction either—at least not since 2008 when a rule change expanded the Emmy eligibility requirements to include broadband programs. (However, no digital program has ever been nominated, aside from a handful of nominations and wins in the short-form and interactive categories.)

Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey play a scheming couple in House of Cards.
Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey play a scheming couple in House of Cards.

“For the TV Academy, the platform origination is secondary to the content in terms of our competition. They might be coming in the room through different doors, but once they come into the room, they’re all in the same category,” says John Leverence, the TV Academy’s senior vp of awards. “The content, rather than the delivery mode, is what counts.”
Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, has said that he doesn’t operate within the traditional Hollywood system—he doesn’t release ratings, doesn’t always require pilots, launches all episodes of a season at the same time, and allots movie-size budgets for television series. But when it comes to the Emmys, even Netflix has to send out screeners. Which begs the question: Even though streaming services are changing the rules of the game when it comes to creating quality programming, does it matter when voters generally view all of the shows—broadcast, cable and streaming—on DVD?
“Content is content. You don’t judge a show differently if you watch it on a 13-inch TV or 32-inch TV. It’s just a different way of getting it. When screeners go out, people watch it on DVD,” says House of Cards executive producer Dana Brunetti. “You’re supposed to be judging the content, not the way you view it.”
Intent on showing the industry that it didn’t have to play by the same rules, Netflix was, at one point, unsure of whether or not it would send DVDs  to voters. Wouldn’t that be sending mixed messages to the industry?
Nevertheless, when the streaming company eventually chose to send out mailers to Emmy voters, they gave TV Academy members two methods in which to watch and consider House of Cards and Arrested Development. In the House of Cards mailer, they provided a unique code that allows ATAS members to access Netflix and stream the series through the voting period. But, realizing that not all members are comfortable with technology, they also sent out the old-fashioned DVD screeners. “Leading up to nominations, we felt it was important to give viewers and voters different ways in which to watch—so they could pick what they preferred,” says Sarandos.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the question of how to reach voters with a new technology has arisen. Not so long ago, cable was the new kid on the block at the Emmys. Back in 1988, when the TV Academy first allowed cable networks to compete in the Primetime Emmy Awards, broadcast networks griped about the new edgier competition, which didn’t have to follow the same guidelines as network television—there were fewer content restrictions and fewer hours of programming to produce.

Portia de Rossi on the set of the newly resurrected comedy Arrested Development.
Portia de Rossi on the set of the newly resurrected comedy Arrested Development.

It took another five years for a cable network to win its first major award (HBO’s Stalin and Barbarians at the Gate tied for outstanding made-for-television movie).
In recent years, cable networks have largely dominated the major Emmy categories—particularly drama series—with critically acclaimed shows such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Homeland, among many others. What was once considered edgy fare is now mainstream.
Now cable networks are the ones facing upstart competition in the form of digital programmers, such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other online companies investing in original series—and some cable execs are leveling the same complaints against streaming services that the broadcasters lobbed at them: They’re playing by a different set of rules.
But whether or not it takes streaming series as long as it took cable to break through at the Emmys is anyone’s guess. “Internet became eligible in 2008,” Leverence says. “Five years later, we have House of Cards. The rampup period could be similar.”
In addition to House of Cards and Arrested Development, Netflix has a full slate of programs in production and development, including the horror-thriller Hemlock Grove; Orange Is the New Black, based on the book of the same name; Derek from Ricky Gervais; and Lilyhammer, which will return for its second season in the fall.
Amazon let viewers decide which of its 14 pilots would be picked up, ultimately settling on six that were announced in May, and Hulu is producing original series, the first of which is set to debut this summer. YouTube is also a potential contender.
“In the future, I think a large portion of the nominees will come from different methods of distribution, simply because there will be more content distributed,” says Brunetti. “It’s simple math.”

Some broadcast and cable executives grouse about the fact that the press gives undue attention to digital shows like House of Cards because they’re a novelty. “When you hear people talking about it, they are talking about the platform and the mode of delivery rather than the quality,” says one veteran cable executive.
Interestingly, Sarandos points out that most of the people who watched House of Cards watched on their TVs, rather than their mobile devices or laptops. “I hope our content is judged at the same high level as anything on television, regardless of how it gets to the television,” he says.
And not all executives see the digital influx as a threat. “It took a long time for cable shows to get the recognition from the TV Academy. It would be a little bit disingenuous to complain about allowing these streaming guys to allow their best programming to be considered,” says Robert DeBitetto, president of brand strategy and business development at A&E Studios.
The nomination process still slightly favors broadcast and cable over streaming because those shows are more easily accessible to viewers—you just turn on the TV to see it.
“We tell people to vote for those shows you have seen and feel are worthy of nominations. So with a show that has 18 to 20 million people watching a week, there’s a statistical advantage since you may have a larger pool of potential voters,” explains Leverence.
But when screeners go out to members of the TV Academy, everyone judges the shows on the DVD they receive in the mail.
“It’s the great leveler of the screeners,” Leverence explains. “We tell people to respond to what they receive in the package.”
Regardless, streaming content is changing the Emmys, says Chris Long, senior vp of entertainment at DirecTV. “If you create content that is compelling, it should be allowed in,” says Long. “More content means more competition, which raises the quality of content. The more, the merrier!”
Besides, broadcast and cable networks are streaming more and more content as well, so the distinction between broadcast, cable and digital will continue to blur. “I think we are past segmenting shows by the way in which they are delivered to the TV,” says Sarandos. “If we are fortunate enough to have a show nominated or—knock on wood—win, it would be a great symbol of relevance for the distribution model,” says Sarandos.

Emmys Q&A: Robin Wright

Cari Lynn is an AwardsLine contributor.

With her early iconic roles of Buttercup (The Princess Bride) and Jenny (Forrest Gump) nestled into filmgoers’ collective consciousness, it’s easy to forget that Robin Wright’s roots were in TV, where she garnered three Daytime Emmy noms in the mid-1980s for her role on the soap Santa Barbara. Now, after a couple decades of a lauded but intermittent film career, Wright is back on the small-screen in Netflix’s House of Cards, where she’s generating Emmy buzz for her deftly nuanced role as Congressman Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) formidable wife, Claire, a cold-blooded schemer with hot flashes.

You started in TV, but did you ever think you’d be back on a series?

No. Never. Never imagined. The other thing is, I never watched TV—well that’s not true, I did watch Friends with my kids, but that was about it. But David Fincher said to me, “This is a new medium; it’s not television. No one’s ever done this revolutionary format. This is where the future is heading.” We’d done Girl with the Dragon Tattoo together, and I wanted to be in business with him. I’ve been in this business nearly 30 years, and you get to a point where you know who you want to work with. I wanted to work with David and Kevin and (writer) Beau Willimon. It’s a true collaboration.

House of Cards is based on a British series, only your character was a minor role—a wife in her husband’s shadow, merely enduring his behavior. Did Claire always have such a prominent role in the U.S. version?

David brought that point to my attention in the beginning and said I could watch the British series to get a sense of where we’re going, but that I was not going to gather anything about the wife and that we were going to expand that role tremendously. He said she will build and evolve as we go—and I love that, that’s why I get up and want to go to work each day.

Claire has been described as an uber-bitch. How do you see her?

I see her as a professional calculator, as in, she’s very calculated in what their moral code is and what their standards are. There’s an agreement between her and her husband: This is what we accept, this is what we don’t. Is she evil? No. It’s more Machiavellian, more like, whatever it takes to achieve what we want. And yet, they’re human and those beautiful moments come up. They get hurt. They react. They retaliate.

At first, Frank and Claire seem like the ultimate power couple. But then it’s deftly revealed that they have a rather nontraditional marriage bargain. Did you know at the outset how the season was to develop?

Yes, I was aware of this part. It was described as: they are business partners but have a love and respect for each other. She is Lady Macbeth to his Richard III. They have an empire they need to hold up. I did know they would look the other way if they had to have dalliances to further their throne.

Your character is one of the most layered in the series, and one of the most reserved. Yet you convey a lot with silence and a seemingly content, yet chilling, smile. Did you toy with Claire’s disposition? She could easily have been as hot-tempered as her husband.

David helped me so much with that. I didn’t really know what to do in the beginning. I thought, this character is just Robin dressed in more grown-up clothes—not the real-life me who’s always in Levis and a T-shirt. She has a sophisticated manner with sophisticated makeup and hair. And then David gave me a basic but great piece of advice. He said, ‘Don’t move so much. I want you to be very still. She’s like a bust, the strength, the pillar next to Francis. She can crack a little with emotion, but it will never break her.’ I thought, Oh this I can relate to in a sense memory way. So I played her very contained.

Your pixie cut made news. I’ve worked on Capitol Hill and can vouch that practical cuts are all the rage. Was this style specifically for the show?

My hair was fried from doing three movies with different hair colors, so I’d already chopped it off and had an asymmetrical cut. But there was a little concern that it was not a conventional D.C. haircut, so we had to add pieces to make it longer and more traditional.

Some of the most revealing scenes come at the windowsill when Claire and Frank share their allotted cigarette—yet I was surprised to learn you only recently quit smoking. How did you approach the frequent smoking scenes?

It could have been that the characters take a walk or play backgammon, but the smoking thing is such a rebellion. It’s like two teenagers doing their secret, coveted thing together. Because a congressman and his wife would never smoke publicly! You know how the press blew up over Obama having a cigarette. Actually, both Kevin and I quit smoking halfway through the season, unbeknownst to each other at the time. But we both switched to smoking herbal cigarettes in the scenes. Although he’s much stronger than I am, he truly quit. I cheat every now and then.

Drama Race Handicap

Nellie Andreeva is Deadline’s TV editor. Michael Ausiello is founder and editor in chief of TVLine. This story appeared in the June 19 issue of AwardsLine.

The shows that have won the best drama Emmy for the past five years, AMC’s Mad Men and Showtime’s Homeland, both have been going through up-and-down seasons recently. That is not expected to affect each show’s nomination chances, but it does open the door to an upset. Will AMC’s Breaking Bad finally land a series nom? Or will PBS’ Downton Abbey accomplish the rare feat of winning two top Emmy categories after earning the movie/miniseries trophy two years ago? HBO’s red-hot Game of Thrones also appears likely to get another nom. And then there is Netflix’s newcomer, House of Cards. Here’s a look at each show’s chances for gold come September.

Because FX’s 1980s-set spy yarn is still in its freshman season—and still suffering from comparisons to Showtime’s Homeland—its best bets for nominations are probably in the lead acting categories for Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, and supporting for Noah Emmerich, though their chances might be hampered by their lack of Emmy history.

A&E’s moody Psycho prequel stands its best Emmy chance with Oscar-nominated star Vera Farmiga.

Because this category is more crowded than a Game of Thrones cast party—and HBO’s Prohibition-era drama has never generated much heat—it might not be able to eke out a third consecutive nomination. On the other hand, Bobby Cannavale—so good as the year’s big bad, Gyp Rosetti—might have a chance for a supporting actor nom. (He won in 2005 for Will & Grace and earned a second nom for Nurse Jackie in 2012.)

AMC's Breaking Bad returns for its final handful of episodes Aug. 11.
AMC’s Breaking Bad returns for its final handful of episodes Aug. 11.

Nominations for AMC’s meth-fueled hit and its stars—three-time lead actor winner Bryan Cranston and two-time supporting actor winner Aaron Paul—should be no-brainers. The fact that the series’ last season was an abbreviated eight episodes long—and those episodes aired a summer ago—might, if only slightly, diminish its chances. However, the launch of the final eight-episode installment will coincide with the kickoff of the second phase of Emmy voting, likely keeping the show on voters’ minds.

Passed over for the Emmy twice already, DirecTV’s now-dead-and-buried legal thriller has virtually no shot at being nominated this year. The same can’t be said of star Glenn Close, who’s already taken home the lead actress prize in 2008 and 2009.

Showtime’s serial-killer thriller finally played its trump card last season—by revealing the title character’s deadly pastime to sorta-sister Deb. But its time might have passed: 2012 marked the first year that it wasn’t nominated since 2007. So it will probably have to settle for a nom for five-time nominee Michael C. Hall or, if it’s really lucky, a first for Jennifer Carpenter.

PBS’ acclaimed period piece rebounded from a shaky second season with a more warmly reviewed third. And it kept people talking by killing off two major characters (RIP, Matthew and Sybil). If nothing else, count on a supporting actress nomination for Dame Maggie Smith, who already won twice (once when the show was nominated as a miniseries, and again when it entered drama).

CBS’ modern-day take on Sherlock Holmes is about as likely to be nominated as its lead detective is to miss a clue. Its only chances are noms for Jonny Lee Miller or Lucy Liu (a contender for Ally McBeal all the way back in 1999).

Kevin Bacon stars in Fox's The Following.
Kevin Bacon stars in Fox’s The Following.

If there’s one thing the Emmys love, it’s movie stars doing television. So although Fox’s Kevin Williamson chiller probably won’t scare up a nom, matinee idol Kevin Bacon could.

No longer a niche hit, HBO’s mainstream breakout is a lock for a third consecutive nomination. Unfortunately, the cast is so large that it’s nearly impossible for voters to single out any performer, with the exception of two-time nominee and 2011 supporting actor victor Peter Dinklage

Though passed over for a nomination in 2012, CBS’ law-office drama-procedural hybrid could break back into the race this year—first, because it had a solid season, and second, because it’s one of the very few broadcast dramas to have any shot. Julianna Margulies (2011’s lead actress victor) is also a safe bet to receive a nom.

NBC’s well-reviewed Silence of the Lambs prequel probably needn’t set an extra place at dinner for Emmy. But, if for no other reason than making us forget Sir Anthony Hopkins’ version of Dr. Lecter for a moment, Mads Mikkelsen deserves to be a contender.

In spite of complaints that, in its second season, the Showtime smash became a soap opera, it remains a lock for a second nomination. Mandy Patinkin might also sneak into the supporting actor race on the heels of last year’s lead wins for Damian Lewis and Claire Danes.

Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey play a scheming couple in House of Cards.
Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey play a scheming couple in House of Cards.

Speaking of how Emmy loves movie stars doing television, it definitely applies to two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey and his political drama. The only question is, will voters recognize the actor—a 2008 Emmy nominee for HBO’s Recount—or the series? If the answer turns out to be both, leading lady Robin Wright—herself no stranger to the multiplex—could also get lucky.

Thanks to Margo Martindale’s star turn two years ago as mommie dearest Mags Bennett, FX’s modern-day western was able to break into the Emmy derby. Now, buoyed by a well-reviewed fourth season, the show seems well-positioned to do so again.

AMC's Mad Men has won best drama four times during its run.
AMC’s Mad Men has won best drama four times during its run.

The good news for AMC’s signature hour: Nicotine-stained though it may be, it still is the network’s prestige crown jewel. Therefore, a sixth consecutive nomination is a foregone conclusion. The bad news: So far, this season has had viewers and critics alike crying “been there, done that.” Worse, it’s yet to provide a showcase for any actor that might break 
the cast’s stunning losing streak. (To date, not even Jon Hamm has won an Emmy.) Its record: 0 for 25.

Just about any project that Connie Britton takes on becomes a contender (Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story). But even if three-time Emmy nominee Britton’s track record isn’t enough to get voters to recognize ABC’s backstage soap opera, it’s undoubtedly enough to bag her a fourth nod. And Britton’s colead, Hayden Panettiere, also had many more chances to shine this season, which elevates her chances.

Though this HBO property is a freshman series, its creator is the ultimate Emmy catnip: Six-time winner Aaron Sorkin. Add to that mix the two Golden Globe nods the show received in December, and both it and leading man Jeff Daniels are looking pretty good to be nominated.

NBC’s sleeper is coming off its strongest season yet, but it’s still a longshot for a nomination. (To date, only guest actor Jason Ritter has been recognized.) Its great white hope: Monica Potter, who shone in the storyline that found her character, Kristina Braverman, battling cancer.

Watercooler buzz doesn’t get much louder than the fandemonium that surrounds this Shonda Rhimes sudser. If voters are willing to look past some of the D.C. drama’s over-the-top plot twisting, not only the ABC hit but leading lady Kerry Washington—and supporting players Jeff Perry and Bellamy Young—could be on the receiving end of nominations.

Though TNT’s gritty (and now canceled) LAPD drama has long had critics behind it, the only Emmy love it’s ever been shown was for stunt coordination. Its last chance to change that for Michael Cudlitz, who gave the performance of his life as Officer John Cooper.

William H. Macy’s boozy Frank Gallagher has about as much of a chance of getting his hands on a top-shelf drink as his Showtime sleeper does of being nominated. However, the actor—as well as costar Emmy Rossum—might have a chance.

As much as Emmy loves movie stars doing television, that’s how much it hates bikers. That’s the only way to explain how—even coming off its highest-rated season to date—FX’s fringe hit still won’t get a nomination. (Odds are, it won’t—even badass Katey Sagal has been snubbed!)

After a promising first season that earned star Patrick J. Adams a SAG nomination, USA’s legal drama Suits upped its game in Season 2. While it is a longshot, it could break into the acting categories with stars Adams and Gabriel Macht, scene-stealing supporting actor Rick Hoffman and recurring guest star Rachael Harris.

Now that AMC’s zombie smash is cable’s top drama, voters might not be able to look down their noses at it. So even if the genre series itself doesn’t break in, perhaps Andrew Lincoln will earn a nom.

Andy Patrick contributed to this report.

Emmys Q&A: Corey Stoll

Cari Lynn is an AwardsLine contributor.

Although Oberlin and Tisch-grad Corey Stoll received accolades for his 2004 stage performance opposite Viola Davis in Intimate Apparel and was a series regular on Law and Order: LA, his breakout came in 2011 playing Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. But it’s his role as Peter Russo in David Fincher’s lauded House of Cards that is now generating Emmy buzz. Stoll plays a well-meaning U.S. Representative from Philadelphia, whose dalliances with debauchery land him beholden to the Machiavellian congressman from South Carolina played by Kevin Spacey.

Peter Russo is such a richly nuanced character. How did this role come to you?

It happened before all the pilot season craziness. I read the script and fell in love instantly. I put (my audition) on tape, but then didn’t hear anything for months. When they did come back to me, it was to meet with David Fincher. The irony is that when I first auditioned, I thought it was a part that could go on for years. It’s a high bar when you’re looking at a pilot, and you want a character that you could play for a while, a character where you can see all the iterations. It was in this initial meeting when David gave me the basic character arc, and there was part of me that was holding some sort of hope they would change their mind (about the character’s demise). But then I began to see it as more like doing a film role, and I could really dig in in that way.  

I had an overall eye-opening experience when I interned on Capitol Hill. Was there anything about politics and D.C. that you were surprised to learn?

I was shocked at how young the city is! Interns and young staffers are the people who make the city function. I’m not the first person to point out the parallels between Hollywood and D.C.—the intersection of image-making, power and money. I saw that the reason some people originally went into politics and where they wind up can get mixed up very easily. The game can be so intoxicating.

You’ve had more TV experience than David Fincher, Kevin Spacey and showrunner Beau Willimon combined. What was it like to be the veteran TV actor on set?

(Laughs.) It didn’t give me an advantage that’s for sure. We all seemed to approach this as, we are just telling stories. It wasn’t typical in that every episode has to come in at a slated time. Some episodes were 42 minutes, others closer to an hour. The way Beau and the other writers told this story was on their own terms. It wasn’t about this is a certain form and you need to know the form. I would sometimes look at the way shots were being composed and marvel at how filmic it was. They made the form come to them.

Netflix slated two seasons, 13 episodes each, from the get-go. Did shooting this way differ from other series?

It wasn’t an easy shoot. The hours were long; we were away from our homes (shooting in Baltimore). There were definite challenges, but it did feel more filmic. That said, there was still a TV aspect where you’re getting scripts as you’re going along. But there was an intensity and focus that certainly felt different from any other TV I’ve done.

Your character is an addict with deep-rooted pain, yet he really wants to do the right thing politically. What’s it like to play someone who’s his own worst enemy?

That’s what was exciting to me about the part. Over the past couple of years I’ve played a lot of incredibly self-confident, high-status, alpha men, which were fun, but this was great to be able to show a much more vulnerable side. There’s something liberating about that. I think we all understand disappointing yourself. Especially in the acting profession, which is probably similar to a political career, even the most stable, head-on-straight person is still going to be confronted with doing something that they shouldn’t, that could affect their job or cause them not to be at their best—even if it’s something as simple as taking a red eye for an audition at 6 a.m. the next morning and you know you’ll be dragging. It’s a discipline that’s relentless and I don’t know an actor who hasn’t let himself down at some point. I imagine it’s the same in politics. There’s always the potential to self sabotage.

Peter goes on several benders throughout the show. How did you achieve the red-eyed, hopped-up look?

Good makeup definitely helps. But in general, I’m trying to go in an opposite direction. It’s sort of cliché, but when you’re playing drunk, your character is trying to appear sober. Peter, for the most part, is pretty good at it. He’s had a lot of experience with just getting by. Beau and I talked a lot about Peter, and it was exciting that as the episodes went by I really had the feeling of being able to participate in creating who this character was.

We leave the season with Francis Underwood (Spacey) feeling haunting by Peter’s spirit. Will you return for any cameos?

Unfortunately, I can’t comment on that.

It was headline news recently that you’ve had your pick of roles. How did you decide upon FX’s The Strain?

When you meet Guillermo del Toro, the second you walk into the room you want to work with this guy. He has such insight and enthusiasm for telling stories and for characters. To feel like you’re in good hands in the big picture and in the day to day is really exciting. And FX is a great place to be. Also, we’ll be doing 13 episodes, so that still allows me time to explore other projects.