The biggest winners at this year’s Emmys didn’t win the biggest awards

September 23, 2013
September 23, 2013

Breaking Bad, Modern Family and Behind the Candelabra picked up the top prizes at last night’s 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, but some of the night’s biggest winners didn’t take home any (or at least, many) statues.

Take Netflix, which made a huge splash this year with 14 Emmy nominations, nine of which were for its signature original series, House of Cards. No, the political drama didn’t receive best drama or best actor for star Kevin Spacey, as many had predicted. But the awards it did win—best director for David Fincher, and two other technical awards (for casting and cinematography) at last week’s Creative Arts Emmy ceremony—legitimized the streaming video service in the same way that early Emmy wins once did for then-interlopers HBO, AMC and FX.

Remember HBO’s famous slogan: “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.”? Well, Netflix truly isn’t TV in many ways, yet with those wins it’s now rightfully earned its place alongside television’s other titans. (And look for even more accolades next year when its newest critically-acclaimed series, Orange is the New Black, is eligible for nominations.) “This is just the beginning,” Academy of Television Arts and Sciences chairman Bruce Rosenblum told the New York Times last week. “If you look at the quantity of product being developed at Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and Xbox, it’s certainly reasonable to expect that this evolution will accelerate.”

Even Breaking Bad’s best drama win was also a victory of sorts for Netflix. The streaming site has been credited for driving the ratings spike in the AMC drama’s final season, which almost doubled its ratings from the previous season premiere. While meeting with reporters backstage last night after his Emmy victory, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan praised Netflix for helping keep his show on the air. Netflix even took out a splashy ad in the ceremony’s third hour to tout its recent achievements to Emmy viewers. The message was clear: whether creating original programming or streaming past seasons of shows, Netflix has solidified its reputation as an integral component of TV’s continued vitality.

On the comedy side, while Modern Family’s usual Emmy dominance was somewhat tempered this year (it was shut out of the supporting actor and actress categories, which it has won five out of six times since the show premiered), the ABC sitcom still won its most important category: best comedy.

The timing couldn’t be better: this week, USA Network rolls out Modern Family in syndication, with an ambitious $10 million marketing push usually used to launch a new series. The cable network paid close to $1.8 million per episode for the sitcom, which it will air nearly 20 times a week. Additional Emmy validation on the eve of its USA debut will drive even more viewers to USA to catch up on episodes. (Ultimately, USA hopes it will generate the same ratings boon that Big Bang Theory repeats sparked on TBS.)

Two other cable channels won as well on Emmy night. Both Showtime and HBO got recognition for their “secondary” shows. On Showtime, Homeland usually gets the biggest Emmy accolades, but Nurse Jackie and The Big C also nabbed big awards last night. Meanwhile on HBO, ratings juggernaut Game of Thrones took a backseat to Veep, Boardwalk Empire and in the night’s biggest upset, The Newsroom (Jeff Daniels received the best drama actor award that most saw going to Bryan Cranston, Jon Hamm or Kevin Spacey). For both premium cable networks, those surprise Emmy wins could prompt the casual viewer to give those shows another look.

While CBS only had one win last night (Jim Parsons as best comedy actor for The Big Bang Theory), it enjoyed a built-in promotional platform of its new and returning fall shows, just as the season kicks off in earnest this week. As the network airing the Emmy ceremony this year (which rotates between ABC, FOX, CBS and NBC), CBS was able to stuff the presenter lineup with actors blatantly plugging their new or returning shows on the network. Promotional advantage: CBS.

And yes, Breaking Bad finally grabbed the best drama Emmy, its first in five seasons. (And if its final season’s superbly-crafted episodes are any indication, the show will likely return to the Emmy stage next year as well.) But the drama also benefitted in another unexpected way: at 9 p.m. ET, just as viewers were debating whether or not to stick with the ceremony or watch the show’s penultimate episode on AMC, Emmy producers chose that moment to turn the ceremony over to an interminable musical number from Elton John. The singer performed “Home Again,” which he claimed was a tribute to Liberace (the focus of the HBO movie Behind the Candelabra, which ultimately won 11 Emmys), but not so coincidentally is also the singer’s newest single, and Breaking Bad fans suddenly had all the incentive they needed to switch over to AMC and inflate that show’s ratings. (Adding insult to injury, last night’s Emmy winners were played off the stage after a mere 45 seconds, while John’s segment lasted an unbelievable eight minutes. Or, roughly the Emmy-approved length of 11 acceptance speeches.)

Other big non-award winners from last night:

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. Before the ceremony, Tina Fey revealed that the duo had been asked to host next year’s Golden Globe Awards after their universally-lauded turn last year, and that they’d be discussing it that very evening. Their hilarious appearance in the Emmy opening number—heckling host Neil Patrick Harris, and asking him to twerk for them (“It might be degrading, but we would be de-grateful!” cackled Poehler)—was the best thing about the ceremony’s rocky start, and probably convinced NBC to up their Globes offer for the pair.

Speaking of NBC, it was the night’s surprise final winner. Not only did it nab a reality competition Emmy for The Voice, the one bright spot on its schedule (aside from Sunday Night Football), but the network also has the good fortune to be airing next year’s Emmy telecast. On the heels of last night’s morose and critically-derided affair—where the proceedings screeched to a grim halt every few minutes to honor yet another deceased actor (prompting Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan to quip after his show’s best comedy win, “This may be the saddest Emmys of all time, but we could not be happier!”)—the bar has been lowered significantly for next year’s Emmys. If Jimmy Fallon, who hosted the last time the Emmys aired on NBC, takes the reins again in 2014, he’ll have nowhere to go but up.

Follow Jason on Twitter @jasonlynch. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com

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