Thirty years ago, all the best TV was free.
Cagney & Lacey
Murder, She Wrote
The Golden Girls
The Cosby Show
By “best,” we mean the TV shows prestigious enough to earn best series nominations at the Emmy Awards. All the nominees then aired on broadcast TV. (For comedy, ever single nominated show was on NBC!) Cable TV wasn’t even eligible to compete at the Emmy’s until 1988; it wasn’t until 1993 that HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show landed a first best series nomination. Since then, broadcast TV has taken a back seat.
Let’s take a look at this year’s nominees:
Better Call Saul
The Handmaid’s Tale
House of Cards
This Is Us
Master of None
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
To watch all 14 of them, you’d need ABC, NBC, AMC, FX, HBO, Netflix, and Hulu. That is, free terrestrial TV, basic cable, premium cable (which you can now subscribe to as a cord-cutter), and two of the newer streaming services.
This Is Us, Black-ish, and Modern Family won’t cost you a thing. All you need is a TV antenna. Yeah, that’s still a thing (paywall). Incidentally, CBS, which is broadcasting the Emmy’s this year, is also free over the air. But if you live in an area with poor TV signals, you may have to spring for a pay-TV package or Hulu to tune in. You’ll need those anyway to watch some of the other nominees. Stay tuned.
Atlanta and Better Call Saul are on the basic-cable channels FX and AMC, respectively, which makes them a bit more complicated to calculate given how many pay-TV providers exist in the US today. There are traditional operators like Comcast, pay-TV packages from telecommunications companies like Verizon, satellite offerings like DirecTV, and new internet-TV options like SlingTV, Playstation Vue, and Hulu’s live service. SlingTV’s $25-a-month package is one of the cheapest out there that includes both AMC and FX, so let’s go with that one.
For Westworld, it would cost $15 another a month to add HBO to that SlingTV package, which puts us at $40 a month. That’s on par with DirecTV Now’s offering, which is $35 a month for basic cable and $5 a month for HBO. And it’d cost about the same—$14.99 a month—to subscribe to HBO through the streaming service HBO Now or Amazon Channels.
Then, for the most hyped shows of the year—The Handmaid’s Tale and Stranger Things—Netflix and Hulu each start at $7.99 a month in the US.
That brings us to a grand total of about $56 a month to stream the season’s 14 best TV shows, as judged by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Fortunately, none of these offerings tie you into a contract, so you could sign up for each of these services and cancel when you get your full of Emmy’s viewing. The thrifty among us could also sign up for free trials, which vary in length but usually last at least seven days, and watch them all in one epic binge session.