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Why the Emmys are more important than ever—cutting through the TV clutter

Family watching television, c. 1958
Family watching television, c. 1958

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On September 18th, stars of the small screen will gather to toast themselves and the television industry which has taken over the town– and in some ways eclipsed the movie business.

It's the the 68th annual Prime-Time Emmy Awards. But what does an Emmy nomination mean? And what lengths will networks, cable channels and streaming services go to win one? Finally, compared to the Oscars, why do so few people actually watch the Emmy telecast?

To break it all down, we invited two TV reporters on The Frame: Whitney Friedlander, who writes for Esquire, Variety and Vulture and Stephen Battaglio, who covers TV and the media business for the Los Angeles Times. 

You can hear the full conversation by clicking the play button at the top of the page or read highlights below.

Roundtable Highlights:

On why Emmys are more valuable than ever:

BATTAGLIO: Years ago, a show could win an Emmy and that was nice, but it was really more important that show was in the top ten in the Nielsen ratings. It has completely changed. The Emmys are more important than ever for the television business. And I'll tell you why: the business has changed so much. It's so fragmented. We have all these new platforms now. You need awards, and you need the biggest award of all – the Emmy– to sustain your program, to get it in front of the public. There are going to be so many shows that get exposure on the Emmys Sunday night that people have never heard of.

On how networks woo Emmy voters:

FRIEDLANDER: My husband happens to be an Emmy voter... The amount of screeners that come to our house in Emmys season is staggering. He actually got a box set of all the Netflix new shows that came out. And it was five boxes that actually spelled out N-E-T-F-L-I-X, and it took over our table.

On how streaming services give critically-loved but little-watched shows a shot at an Emmy:

FRIEDLANDER: Vince Gilligan always famously said that he owed a lot of the success [of] "Breaking Bad" to Netflix because it started streaming that show and it started getting a lot of attention. A show like "The Americans," which has been a fan favorite, although sadly not very high-rated, is finally getting the recognition this year after so many seasons dying on FX, but getting more attention on streaming services.

BATTAGLIO: It's not like, "Ok, I saw that show won an Emmy. I'll watch it when the new season comes on in September." That's not it. What happens now is that you can find that show immediately. You can go to Netflix or you can go to iTunes or Hulu or all these streaming services and immerse yourself in that show immediately.

To make your Emmy watching more fun, The Frame has created an interactive Emmy bingo card:

On why the Emmy telecast isn't as popular as other awards shows:

FRIEDLANDER: It's possible they're sick of TV!

BATTAGLIO: The ratings are not as big as the Grammys or the Oscars or some of the other major live trophy shows, but relatively, it's pretty large. If I have a show that's streaming on Amazon that maybe people haven't heard of, and yet it's getting 12 to 15 million people watching [about it on the Emmys] on ABC. That's a lot bigger than I had before my show was nominated for an Emmy.

The Emmys air Sunday, September 18th on ABC 7pm EST, 4pm PST. To get more of The Frame, subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.


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