Last night, the unknown, anonymous district of Hollywood, in Los Angeles saw the 2018 Emmy Awards ceremony unfold once more. The 1949 ceremony, seventy long editions ago, saw the very first recognition of those first television shows that united families and projected America’s powerful image to distant lands. Seventy years later, we find ourselves in front of a highly confused television industry (and country), looking for concrete direction in the awards carefully held between the fingers of cohosts Michael Che and Colin Jost. The pair, best known for their extensive tenure as writers on Saturday Night Live, host the glamorous affair within the modern, lustrous digs of a recently renovated Microsoft Arena. As with every year, the “Oscars of television” will primarily revolve around the names of the three sister: the winners for best comedy series, best drama series, and best miniseries. Their names, and more importantly those of the production companies attached to them, ought to provide some insight as to who, within the American TV industry, produces the highest quality content.
Game of Thrones returns to winning best drama, snatching back the crown ceded to The Handmaid’s Tale last year, and beating the streaming culture giants Stranger Things and Westworld. Holding the absolute record of 47 individual Emmy awards, HBO’s enticing portrait of carnal humanity in its bewitching world of dragons, politics and betrayals, returns to the comfort of its immense success. The massive cable network conglomerate, which generally produces a small number of extremely high budget projects, has found itself constantly revered as the Queen of the Emmys, generally topping all other producers’ award counts. In 2018, HBO adds, along with twenty minor awards, Bill Hader and Henry Winkler’s victories as protagonist and supporting actor in the comedy series “Barry”, to its already massive trophy cabinet.
Turning to the happier of theatre’s two faces, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” takes home the prize for best comedy series. Amazon’s original production introduces to a woman who, in navigating the uncertain waters of a messy divorce, finds an elegant life raft in the art of stand-up comedy. Played with effervescent spirit by best lead actress in a comedy Rachel Brosnahan, its irreverent protagonist finds her face constantly pressed against the New York city’s concrete walls of sexism and misogyny. The remarkably curated late 50’s period piece, in combination with a distinctly witty and insightful writing team, turns “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” into the Bezos tagged streaming service’s crown jewel.
The award for best miniseries, on the other hand, goes to FX produced “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: An American Crime Story”. Should the bottles of champagne at the Netflix after party going back in the fridge, then? Maybe only if the wine reserves hadn’t been run dry after the nomination announcements. Among all production houses represented at the 2018 Emmys, the digital giant boasts the greatest total number of nominations, beating even HBO in what is perhaps the most relevant race to the industry executives. As a matter of fact, even without a “best series” win, Netflix, for the first time in history, with a total of 23 golden statues, among which Claire Foy’s for her lead performance in “The Crown” shines brightest, ties HBO as the most successful producers in 2018. This ocean of nominations and victories reflects the success Netflix’s expansive model of production. In engaging with relatively low cost endeavors, streaming services like Netflix allow for greater content variety, greater opportunity for creative exploration. Explorations which classic giants like HBO, whose creative output is limited by the immense costs of fewer productions, are generally entirely unable to explore. On the other hand, Netflix’s eight-billion-dollar investment towards original productions in 2018 alone, provides its users with the ability of choosing between an infinity of different forms of televised entertainment. From the humorous to the thrilling, from the short to the long, the tech giant proposes an incredible range of options without a palpable discrepancy in overall quality. The infinite choice it provides in entertainment selection erases the “best series defeat” and the conceptual grounds upon which it rests.
In this digital age, after all, unconstrained choice is, and must be, the standard. We exist in constant contact with an immensity of information, and the second we desire to, we have the magical ability to conjure virtually any image, story or content that may strike our fancy. For some, that has been the way of the last twenty years, for other, younger individuals, no other reality has every existed. Such absolute freedom in intellectual movement fuels our desire to jump from one topic to the next. As soon as something is done ticking our interests, we jump automatically onto the next. After all, despite the intellectual loitering the youth is often condemned for, the platforms onto which we can jump shine a glittering light of boundlessness. In stowing towards them, we embark on the enticing exploration of new concepts and perspectives. As we digest these, they push us yet again towards novel realms of understanding. Technology makes our interests fluid, thaws our passion and creates new archetypes for our cognition of the world.
The classic television industry, and the concept of the Emmy awards with it, do the opposite – they divide, rank, and categorize. Despite enormous budgets, HBO produces only a handful of series, too similar in form and narrative scope to quench this digital thirst for variety. Netflix and its streaming streaming colleagues offer, on top of immediacy of use, a concept of creative variety much, much closer to infinity. In essence, they cater to the whimsy of our interests, offering them the possibility of finding their entertaining counterpart in an ocean of productions. It is no coincidence, then, that the 2018 Emmy Awards registered the lowest ever ratings in the award ceremony’s history. Only south of 11 million people followed the Emmys on television, a figure close to 50% lower than its ratings in the early 2000’s. After all, in the age of the varied and immediate, what’s more enticing than a premeditated three-hour broadcast to announce the best in each category?
Silent and effortless, the immense variety of content this digital reality offers us swallows even the notion of declaring winners, as it swallows the categories themselves whole. The ceremony itself, live proposal and all, becomes a futile, inconsequential outcry of an exhausted, despaired and outdated concept of televised entertainment. That being said, while the world still seems to want relax in front of the freshest episode of the newest series, the contempt and loneliness that surround the tiny golden statues in 2018 illustrate the massive discrepancy between what tv is and what tv could be. The deafening chaos of spotlights and flash photography hence fades into a lazy fog of infinite indifference.