Jessell | Who The Heck Is This Person?

The kind of television that now enthralls the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is not the kind of television that broadcasters make — or that most people watch. Three-quarters of Americans never even heard of the Amazon show that won most of the comedy prizes Monday night. Broadcasters would be better off if they created their own awards. If nothing else, the ratings would be better.

Broadcasters need to break away from the Primetime Emmys and produce their own programming awards.

That none of the broadcasters’ primetime offerings earned a single prize Monday night in Los Angeles says it all.

Even the joke writers know the broadcasters don’t really belong anymore. In the opening monologue (duologue?), co-host Michael Che of Saturday Night Live noted that NBC had the most nominations among the broadcast networks, “which is kind of like being the sexiest person on life support.”

There would be no shame in breaking away. The kind of television that now enthralls the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is not the kind of television that the broadcasters make — or that most people watch.

Broadcasters play to a different audience than HBO, Showtime, Hulu, Netflix and Amazon. They have to consider the needs and whims of advertisers as well as Washington regulators, and they carry the traditional burden of having to maintain a PG-13 rating. These factors impact every development and scheduling decision they make.

In a column I did in 2014, I talked about the differences between broadcasting and pay TV networks like HBO and Showtime — the forerunners of the streaming services — by citing an answer that NBC entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt gave me in response to a question I asked during a panel session.


Keep in mind that before joining NBC, Greenblatt produced such shows as Six Feet Under for HBO, and then, as head of entertainment at Showtime, he shepherded the likes of DexterWeedsThe Tudors, The Big C and Nurse Jackie. So, he knows what he’s talking about.

The cable networks produce “wonderful niche shows” that appeal to a relatively small audience of well-heeled viewers and critics, Greenblatt said. “So, it’s a lovely, luxurious, kind of elite medium to work in.”

Sitting in their bubbles of New York and Los Angeles, this relatively small audience thinks the shows are “massive, cultural game changers,” he said. But, in fact, they aren’t. “My family in Indiana and Illinois have never heard of them …. They didn’t watch Showtime, they didn’t get it, they didn’t care.”

By contrast, broadcasters’ ad-supported business model requires the networks to create programs that appeal to the broadest possible audiences, he said.

Plus, he added: “You just need to be more mindful of language and subject matter, and what certain characters do because the entire country … does not want to see lots of sexuality.

“They do not want to hear language. They do not want to see serial killers running around being the centerpieces of shows. They don’t watch those kinds of shows.”

In other words, broadcasting and its rivals live in parallel universes. The wall between them is not impervious. Broadcasters have produced shows that would be right at home on Netflix, just as Netflix has created show that would be hits on any Big Four grid.

But, for the most part, broadcast and cable/streaming shows come from different places and so should be judged differently.

The Broadcast Primetime Emmys, as I will tentatively call them, will have benefits for broadcasting that go beyond Hollywood bragging rights.

Most of all, it will provide a tremendous promotional boost to broadcasting, which is badly in need of it. The annual broadcast will showcase the best of broadcasting and only broadcasting. It will drive viewers to broadcast shows, not to the competition.

And, I have no doubt, that the Broadcast Primetime Emmys telecast will draw a much bigger audience than the Emmys as it is now constituted.

The Emmys telecast is ratings challenged and the joke writers made sure everybody knew it. “We just want to say a quick hello to the thousands here in the audience tonight and the hundreds watching at home,” cracked co-host Colin Jost in the opening monologue.

The reason for the Nielsen trouble goes back to what Greenblatt said. Most people have not seen the shows or the actors that have been winning the statuettes of late. That takes all the fun out of watching.

The week before the Emmys, Katz Media came out with a survey that found that on average only 43% of the respondents were aware of the 13 cable and streaming shows that were nominated in the best drama and comedy series categories.

Most telling, only 24% were aware of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the Amazon show that would win the Emmy for best comedy series. So, three-quarters of Americans had no clue about the show that also took the comedy prizes for lead actress, supporting actress, writing and directing.

By contrast, awareness of the two broadcast shows nominated in the two categories was high. Eighty-five percent knew about ABC’s Black-ish, while 82% were hip to NBC’s This is Us and the many travails of the Pearson family.

Survey participants were also asked about what shows they actually watched. Most-watched, at 40%, was This is Us; least-watched, at 3%, was HBO’s Barry, whose Bill Hader and Henry Winkler won for actor and supporting actor in a comedy series.

Broadcasting is the TV medium of the common folk. It’s everywhere and, if you want it to be, it’s still absolutely free. It’s not what it once was, but it still produces stars that might get recognized walking down the streets of, say, Rockford, Ill.

The best TV show ever may be AMC’s Breaking Bad, but I bet Bryan Cranston is better remembered for sporting his tighty whities in Malcolm in the Middle, which enjoyed a modest six-and-a-half-season-run on Fox in the aughts.

So, don’t worry, the Broadcast Primetime Emmys will have plenty of star power to fill the red carpet and drive viewership.

And the nominees are:

Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley, Anthony Anderson, Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, Jim Parsons, Sara Gilbert, Lain Armitage, Annie Potts, Ellen Pompeo, Freddie Highmore, Ed O’Neill, Sofia Vergara, Terrence Howard, Taraji Henson, Allison Janey, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laurie Metcalf, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson, Tom Bergeron, Jeff Probst.

These are people that people know. These are people that people might tune in to root for — or against.

Wait a second…. I may have this all wrong.

Instead of quitting the Emmys, perhaps the broadcast networks should be thinking about forcing out the TV entities that take no advertising and charge a monthly fee — HBO, Showtime and the streaming services.

Broadcaster came first. They built the television industry. They actually still produce programming meant to air in primetime and that millions still watch at the appointed hour just as they did 70 years ago.

The broadcasters might allow the basic cable networks to hang with them. Although the cablers have more creative liberty, they at least have to work around advertisers and they know what a daypart is. What’s more, the same companies that own the broadcast networks own many of the cable networks.

But those others with seemingly unlimited programming budgets have to go. They don’t program for primetime. They program for anytime.

Let them go off and cook up their own on-demand television awards. I wish them well.

Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. He can be contacted at 973-701-1067 or here. You can read earlier columns here.




Comments (4)

Leave a Reply

hummingbird says:

September 21, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Very good column,

RustbeltAlumnus2 says:

September 21, 2018 at 3:40 pm

And you kids get out of my yard!

HopeUMakeit says:

September 21, 2018 at 4:37 pm

Bout time somebody brought this up. These channels have nothing in common with broadcast programming. As a matter of fact, many of these “subscriber” based networks hide behind nudity and foul language. Creativity is not that big a deal on a screen full of good looking half dressed women. I was also amazed by sane people talking about the incest scene in G.O.T. like it was no big deal.
Rupert Murdoch has decided that basic cable (FX) can be every bit as vulgar as higher tier movie nets like HBO. This season will be remembered as the season when FX dropped F-bombs, N-words and nudity (SNOWFALL) like it was nothing. Broadcasters cannot compete in this space and should not have to.

AIMTV says:

September 21, 2018 at 5:11 pm

Great article. I’d like to submit that “Washington Regulators” are certainly NOT why broadcast TV is not winning awards. The reality is that awards & critical acclaim have very little to do with the commercial success of a show. Netflix has so much money they are throwing $ at every A or B list actor or producer in Hollywood with an idea in hopes that something sticks (and alas some actually does), but the vast majority of their content is an “uncurated mess” with way more misses than hits. Yet the critics reward Netflix because most of the critics and folks who judge awards really, really want a deal with Netflix or Amazon but the reality is most of the content it is just plain unwatchable. The viewers are watching these “uncurated messes” because it’s uncluttered by inane commercial interruptions of broadcast TV and basic cable who have tested the limits of sanity by cramming in more and more commercials. Also for young people, they are a viable entertainment alternative to the high cost of pay TV. With the proliferation of content, there are more choices than ever but unfortunately, that means way more garbage to sift through before finding something watchable. It’s like Serena Williams playing tennis on a tennis court filled with 100 other players… It’s hard to distinguish the truly good from the average and downright terrible. Don’t get me wrong, if the broadcast nets could load up primetime with sex, profanity, and violence, even more, they’d do it, falsely thinking they were being edgy and just giving the viewer what they want. But we’d still be rewarded with only the occasional strokes of genius like Modern Family and other notable shows over the years. I watch SNL because it’s (mostly) funny and current despite its dive into the gutter NOT because of it. Washington is not the boogie man here. Intellectual laziness, derivative ideas, desperation to get noticed and a general lack of creativity are.

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