Commentary

Netflix at the Emmys: A Victory for Platform, Not Just Content.

The Emmy nominations  “House of Cards” and “Arrested Development”  received must cheer Netflix, which has spent heavily to create original content for their Web-based content delivery sites.  But it can be a stretch to suggest it is going to help hasten a stampede by consumer to online video services.

I’m going to assume you know the basic story—once Emmy’s governors allowed cable to compete, it was just a short while before HBO and then Showtime began asserting themselves.  

That led to the predictable outcry that Emmy pits commercially-supported content against subscriber-supported content, and that in that game, subscriber-supported content wins because producers don’t have to worry about satisfying the craven, base instincts of stupid, careful, risk-averse, everybody-in-the-big-tent  advertisers.

Back when HBO began hijacking the Oscars, TV could-- and did, sort of –react by taking more risks, less at first on broadcast networks and more on basic cable.

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 The Netflix effect is not so much about content, though—“Arrested Development,” after all was born on Fox.

It’s about platform, and it will take a bigger leap to see “House of Cards” make the kind of difference that premium cable channels did.  But that could change, radically, when and if more OTT devices and smart TVs begin making inroads. Within months.  And so it’s not about platform, too, because a lot of people think online video will finally flower when people will mostly watch it on a big flatscreen TV.   

Back to the beginning of the TV medium, just about, there was a TV Code created by the National Association of Braodcasters that more or less decreed that bad guys should be presented as bad guys.  To pick off the most relevant-to-the-‘Sopranos’ portion of the code.  “Criminality shall be presented as undesirable and unsympathetic,” one portion began.  The code was undone in 1983 but after a few decades of “Father Knows Best” and “Dragnet,” network TV was what it was.  Broadcast TV to this day could do a lot of things it doesn’t do because it’s sure viewers would go crazy if they did.

Back in 2001 when the “Sopranos” was a big hit, NBC CEO  Bob Wright sent out DVDs of an episode to Hollywood producers and some NBC executives, inviting a dialogue about how network TV should respond.  "As we move ahead making plans for our new season, I believe we need to give serious thought to this issue," Wright's letter said. By then, the show had already won a Peabody. The New York Times had run out of ways of figuring its place in the constellation of great dramas of all time.

And back then, I wrote to Wright;  

Let's forget the R-rated stuff and pretend that That's Tony's Life was proposed to NBC. Here's the pitch: That's Tony's Life is a dramatic series about a guy's family business, his eccentric partners, his unrelenting mother, his wise children and his long-suffering wife in suburbia.

That's The Sopranos—except on NBC and other networks, Tony would be handsome and in his late 30s. His wife would be gorgeous and working (architect? pediatrician?), the kids would be wise-crackers (and the daughter would be a sexpot), and Tony's mom would be annoying mainly by doting on him, not by psychologically torturing him...Tony's family business would be a law firm or a fashion magazine.

pj@mediapost.com
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