Variety’s exec editor of TV Debra Birnbaum looks back on a rich TV season.
fifth year I’ve been overseeing Variety’s Emmy issues, and in that time, the television business — and therefore the awards race — has changed in nearly every conceivable way.
Back then, Netflix’s slate of contenders was just “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” (how quaint!); Amazon had just introduced the world to the Pfefferman family of “Transparent”; and Hulu’s original content strategy was a work in progress.
Five years later, the number of series has exploded by every measure, fundamentally reshaping the Emmy race. With the historic win for “The Handmaid’s Tale” last year — the first series trophy for a streaming service — Hulu and its sisters firmly established themselves as awards contenders.
Campaigning has gotten ever more competitive, with rival studios vying to outdo each other with increasingly elaborate stunts, screeners and parties. The traditional network calendar — with shows premiering in September and airing finales in May — has given way to a year-round strategy, with a glut now debuting in March and April, and even as late as May, just to be as of-the-moment as possible in the final days before the eligibility window closes.
And the migration of creators from film to television shows no sign of abating. The best and brightest in the business are now clamoring to make their own series — Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Meryl Streep all have television projects in the works, as do top filmmakers including Damien Chazelle, Guillermo del Toro and Patty Jenkins, among others.
It’s a boon for TV fans, to be sure. And while those of us who cover TV struggle to watch it all, I always say I couldn’t do this job if I didn’t truly believe that the best rises to the top. There have been heartbreaking exceptions, I know (“Rectify” ranks as an unsung hero), but for the most part, viewers — and voters — do find those hidden gems that deserve attention.
Over the past five years, these issues have evolved, too. While our mission has remained the same — highlighting the race’s top contenders, and handicapping them for voters — our strategy has been reinvented. In the coming weeks, we’ll pub- lish eight extra editions — each geared to a different high-profile category, from actors to series to reality. We’ve added new features to highlight not only the talent above the line, but also below the line, with our in- depth coverage of the gifted artisans who pour their efforts into bringing the stories we love to life.
Our own Emmy-winning “Actors on Actors” series — airing June 19 and 21 on PBS Socal — pairs the top acting contenders for intimate, in- depth conversations about their own paths to their roles. This year’s lineup is as compelling as ever, with the likes of Claire Foy (“The Crown”) and Benedict Cumberbatch (“Patrick Melrose”) opening up about their reluctant path to fame, and Bill Hader (“Barry”) and Jason Bateman (“Ozark”) exploring their transition to behind-the- camera roles. And leave it to Tiffany Haddish (“The Last O.G.”) — who sat down with John Legend (“Jesus Christ Superstar Live”) — to bring her own hilarious spin to our stages.
And this year, we’ve introduced “Page to Page” — a new feature looking at how a given novel or play gets reimagined for the small-screen version.
But the biggest change of all is with our design. We’ve got a new artistic team at Variety, headed up by creative director Robert Festino and photo director Jennifer Dorn. They’ve brought a fresh approach to the presentation of these issues, and the results are simply stunning. I hope you’ll agree.
Yet it’s not just me celebrating a milestone this year — September will mark the 70th anniversary of the Emmy Awards themselves.
I can’t think of a better excuse for a celebration! Happy Emmys!
“WHILE THOSE OF US WHO COVER TV STRUGGLE TO WATCH IT ALL, I ALWAYS SAY I COULDN’T DO THIS JOB IF I DIDN’T TRULY BELIEVE THAT THE BEST RISES TO THE TOP.”