Schitt’s Creek is the ultimate Canadian TV show: kind-hearted, goofy, and generally content to fly under the international radar. The show, a riches-to-rags tale of a family of four who lose their fortune and are forced to build new lives in a small and decidedly unglamorous town, was always a hit in Canada, and has several Canadian Screen Awards under its belt. But in the US, the comedy series airs on cable channel with little name recognition—the CBS-owned Pop TV. A critically-adored cult hit, it’s often referred to in the states as the “best show you’re not watching.”
And so even the show’s most devoted fans fully expected Schitt’s Creek to passed over by the TV establishment with this year’s Emmy nominations, as it’s been every year since the show was first eligible for the awards in 2015. But in a plot twist that would warm the heart of the show’s lovably melodramatic former soap-opera queen, played by Catherine O’Hara, the Emmys finally came through.
The show’s fifth season received four nominations in the 2019 Emmy awards announced Tuesday, including outstanding comedy series and nods for its lead actors, O’Hara and Eugene Levy. It’s also nominated for costume design, no doubt with credit to O’Hara’s outrageous couture fashion, which typically looks like someone has bedazzled a large crow.
Nobody saw the nominations coming: Not Pop TV; not O’Hara and Levy, who sounded about as excited as two humble Canadians can be in an interview with New York Magazine; not the show’s co-creator and co-star Dan Levy, who told the Los Angeles Times, “I had no expectations when it comes to awards because we are so small.” Schitt’s Creek also had statistics working against it: Typically, a show that doesn’t receive an Emmy nomination by its second season can expect to continue getting snubbed throughout its run. Of the 15 shows nominated for best comedy or drama series this year, Schitt’s Creek is the only one to pull off such a feat.
So how did Schitt’s Creek manage to worm its way into the hearts of Emmy voters? It’s impossible to give a definitive answer. But it’s a safe bet that Netflix had something to do with it.
Since the show first became available on Netflix in January 2017, what we’ll refer to as Schitt’s Creek Awareness has skyrocketed. While Netflix doesn’t share viewership numbers for its shows, a New York Magazine article earlier this year suggests that the show’s debut on the streaming service marked a turning point in its reach:
The impact on linear ratings was immediate: Season three’s Pop audience surged 28 percent (to 423,000 viewers), while season four’s audience jumped another 11 percent to a best-yet 470,000 weekly viewers. Counting nonlinear viewers, Pop estimates Schitt’s Creek reached 3.3 million viewers on the network’s various platforms last season.
Netflix’s power to boost a TV show’s pop-culture profile is well established. As the New York Magazine article notes, AMC’s Breaking Bad, The CW’s Riverdale, and Lifetime’s You all gained die-hard fandoms after making it onto the streaming site.
Google search data for the US offers further evidence that Netflix played a key role in helping Schitt’s Creek catch on. Its first big spike coincides with the show’s arrival on the service in 2017, and it’s kept gaining steam ever since.
Of course, Emmy voters don’t base their decisions on what’s popular on Netflix—and the show’s fifth season isn’t even available on the site yet. But the fact that the show now occupies a bigger place in the cultural landscape may well have encouraged voters to consider it more seriously.
In this sense, Schitt’s Creek‘s Emmy recognition is also a win for Netflix. The company just announced disappointing results from the second quarter, during which it lost paid subscribers in the US for the first time in its history. Meanwhile, it’s bracing to deal with competitors, including Walt Disney, WarnerMedia, and Discover, that are launching or beefing up their online video service. As a result, it has lost streaming rights to massively popular shows like Friends and The Office.
But this week’s Emmy announcements, in which Netflix landed a company record of 117 nominations, are a reminder that Netflix remains a powerhouse. In addition to original programming like Russian Doll, Bodyguard, and Ozark, each of which landed nominations for best comedy or drama series, it’s partly responsible for the success of Schitt’s Creek, too. Perhaps that will give Netflix a bit more bargaining power the next time it’s negotiating a streaming deal.