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Closing The Door on the 2017 Emmys – A Standout Year for TV

The 69th Primetime Emmy® Awards wrapped and produced the best group of winners in recent memory. In one final look at the 2017 Emmys, Jalal Haddad details the biggest takeaways from the past year of TV.

The 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards may very well be the best representation television has to offer in the entire history of the awards group. Stories about and by women won the top awards across all genres. There was an even mix of fresh voices and well deserved long-time workers finally getting their due. Their choices were political but also well-deserved on quality alone. In fact, just about every winner (with one exception) was a well-earned win. You may have been rooting for someone else, but there was no denying the crop of winners 2017 Emmys voters eventually chose.

Voters actually took the time to single out shows and performances they loved. Just from watching at home, you could sense in the auditorium an overall feeling of excitement for The Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies. There were a lot of firsts made last night whether it be Lena Waithe and Donald Glover being the first black storytellers to win their respected categories or Reed Morano becoming the first woman in decades to win in the Outstanding Director of a Drama Series race. I personally loved watching Reese Witherspoon win her first award for producing – an accomplishment that clearly meant a lot to her. That passion also showed up in awkward moments like when The Voice beat RuPaul’s Drag Race for Outstanding Reality Competition and half of the auditorium didn’t even clap.

2017 is also a rare year where the opinions of audiences and the television industry lined up. All but two of the winners from our very own Coolies prevailed at the Emmys.  As television continues to become the most innovative and expansive medium for pop culture, it will be interesting to see if passionate fans continue to have an impression on industry voters.

Overall this was a great year for the ADTV team in terms of predictions. Collectively we predicted the winners in all but one of the 27 categories, and we welcome the shock of Black Mirror: San Junipero winning a writing award. Jazz predicted Ann Dowd would win her first Emmy. I stuck with my gut and with The Handmaid’s Tale until the end. Clarence, Joey, and Megan knew the actors branch would eat up the Big Little Lies ensemble, even Alexander Skarsgard. Any other year, we would have complained about how predictable it all ended up, but we are simply shocked and elated that the Television Academy got their act together and rewarded the best television has to offer.

(Photo: CBS)
The Handmaid’s Tale and The Trump Era

After a tight race between five brand new shows, Emmy voters proved they can collectively make a thoughtful innovative choice when it came down to it. The biggest surprise of the night wasn’t a single win but instead the fact that across the board voters rallied behind The Handmaid’s Tale. It won every award it was eligible for tonight bringing its total number of wins for its first season to 8.

What’s astonishing about the success of The Handmaid’s Tale is just how relevant to 2017 it became. When Bruce Miller, Reed Morano, and the rest of the creative team came together, they had no idea just how essential Margaret Atwood’s story would become. On top of that, the end result had career defining work from Elisabeth Moss.

Heading into the main ceremony the popular opinion was that Stranger Things would prevail. It began as the early frontrunner with the guild awards and then was the big winner last week at the Creative Arts Ceremony. With all of that excitement behind the Netflix sci-fi adventure, it still didn’t feel like an essential awards contender.

In the end, there was a correlation to the end results at both the Emmys and the Oscars. Just like with La La Land and Moonlight, everyone seemed to focused on precursors and past patterns instead of taking a step back and looking at what was making an impact with voters. Yes there was excitement around the frivolity of Stranger Things, but in the end, there was no evidence of a voting contingency that would carry it all the way. Take a look at our Emmy Confidential pieces for example. Yes, their opinions were far from a consensus, but not one of them hinted that there was support for Stranger Things. Not all of them voted for The Handmaid’s Tale, but the ones that did were deeply passionate about the show. In the future when passion and excitement need to be one of the first elements we gauge when making our predictions.

On top of the big win for The Handmaid’s Tale politics clearly had a huge influence on the decisions of voters across many categories. Veep and Saturday Night Live had their most successful seasons yet with a lot of help from the last election. Even less obvious wins like those for Master of None and Atlanta had hints of political motivation if only because they represent voices that are often silenced – especially by this administration.

Black Mirror left the ceremony with two Emmys, one for Outstanding TV Movie and even beat out the major limited series contenders in the writing category. Besides San Junipero standing on its own as a brilliant hour of television, it should be celebrated as a biracial queer narrative.

HULU versus Netflix

Throughout the entire Emmy season, no other network garnered more attention than Netflix. The streaming service earned three nominations for Outstanding Drama Series as well as two for Outstanding Comedy Series. In fact many believed the drama race to be between two of its programs, Stranger Things and The Crown.

In the end however, Hulu became the first streaming platform to win a top program award when The Handmaid’s Tale won Outstanding Drama Series as well as statues for writing, directing, and acting. The entire awards season, Hulu focused on The Handmaid’s Tale, a story and creative team that truly deserved to go all the way. In an opposite strategy, Netflix chose to primarily push their own brand thinking it would in the end convince voters to award their shows. At the end of the night however, voters chose quality over quantity.

(Photo: CBS)
Feud, Westworld, and Stranger Things Go Home Empty Handed

In last Friday’s Awards Tracker, we entertained the idea that some big shows might go home empty handed. No one thought all three shows would suffer the same fate especially after Westworld and Stranger Things left the Creative Arts Ceremony with the most accolades.

Westworld was a solid show that in the end suffered from fading buzz, the lack of a strong Emmy campaign, and a struggling mid-season rewrite. Why didn’t HBO push Thandie Newton at every chance they got?

Throughout the Emmy season there were subtle hints that there wasn’t as much excitement behind Feud as initially believed. It missed out on a couple key nominations. It didn’t do as well at the Creative Arts Ceremony as it should have. Olivia De Havilland planned a well-executed lawsuit at the height of Emmy voting. In the end, awards prognosticators probably expected too much because of the assumption that it is obvious Hollywood bait instead of gauging how well it was actually received.

The biggest surprise was the fact that Stranger Things went home empty handed after being the big winner at last week’s Creative Arts Ceremony. The consensus was that it would win the top award or at least a statue for supporting actress or directing. Instead it lost all three awards to The Handmaid’s Tale proving that as exciting as nostalgia and pure entertainment can be it doesn’t necessarily translate to awards.

The Ceremony Itself   

Last night will be known for the outstanding group of winners from Donald Glover to Lena Waithe to Reed Morano, but the actual ceremony received mixed reactions. A lot of confusion came from the chosen order of the categories. The Emmys found their groove by organizing the night by genre, but this year it felt like they were literally drawing names out of a hat.

In all fairness, the Emmys are always harder to produce if only because there is little time to sprinkle in moments of levity. The Oscars and the Tonys have ample opportunities for musical numbers, but there is less time at the Emmys because of the vast amount of categories to get through. In the end, the producers should have gotten more creative. They had a missed opportunity to utilize the kids of Stranger Things. They could have gotten more creative with the tribute to Roots instead of absolutely trivializing the win for Big Little Lies.

The biggest missed opportunity was the fact that there was no special tribute to Mary Tyler Moore besides her inclusion in the In Memoriam segment. The year in television was dominated by women and there were plenty of moments to bring it all back to Moore herself. Especially since this is the 40th anniversary of the finale of the groundbreaking show.

Speaking of the In Memoriam segment there were plenty of mixed reactions to the way the tribute was designed. Some felt it was original, but personally, I found the frames to be hokey.

Overall, I am more than willing to overlook a lack of a clear vision from the producers because there were still plenty of organic moments that worked. Ann Dowd, Riz Ahmed, and Sterling K. Brown all gave memorable speeches. I also became emotional watching the team of The Handmaid’s Tale accept the award for Outstanding Drama Series. It was clear they knew how important this is, and I hope that emotion translated to the average viewer at home.

New Voting Patterns

In recent years, the Television Academy made a lot of changes to their voting system. They switched to an entirely online format, opened up the final round to the entire active membership, and replaced a ranked ballot with a simple popular vote.

There were concerns these changes would result in less than thoughtful choices by the voting body, but instead, they proved to be some of the best winners in recent years. Only two of the acting winners (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Kate McKinnon) were repeats from last year, and seven actors won their very first Emmys.

With the new voting system, there was concern that vote splitting would occur when actors were nominated against their own costars. We saw hints of this last year with the casts of Game of Thrones and Veep. This year however Kate McKinnon, Sterling K. Brown, Ann Dowd, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and Riz Ahmed were all able to overcome vote splitting proving that when the performance is good enough voters will rally behind it.

Still since voting has been opened up to the entire Television Academy there is one notable pattern. Shows are much more likely to sweep across their respected categories. Big Little Lies won three out of the four acting awards following in the footsteps of Olive Kitteridge and American Crime Story. On the drama and comedy sides, The Handmaid’s Tale, Veep, and Saturday Night Live had big nights. This might be more due to the fact that voters are industry professionals with full schedules that don’t often have time to watch the increasingly daunting amount of television. When they find a show they love they then go all in for it.

Readers, how do you feel about the past Emmy season? Was it a fitting end to such an exciting season or are you just killing time until Game of Thrones makes its return next year?