While Academy Awards handicappers are preoccupied with the movie categories at The 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards, the most intriguing faceoff is occurring over on the television side: Netflix vs. Amazon. The two streaming services are going head to head for the first time in the best musical/comedy series category, where Amazon’s Transparent will be facing off against Netflix’s Orange is the New Black.
The nominations are a huge coup for Amazon, which received its first major award nominations ever for its first great series, Transparent: best musical/comedy series and best actor in a musical/comedy for Jeffrey Tambor. It represents an important step forward for the upstart content provider, in its quest to join the ranks of television’s most respected outlets.
While insisting that he wasn’t solely competing with Netflix, Amazon Studios director Roy Price told me last summer that receiving recognition from a major awards body (as Netflix had been doing since last year’s Emmys) was very important to the company. “It could be great for us, and it gives the part of the audience that hasn’t tried the shows yet an idea that people are responding well to these shows,” Price said. “So, we’d love to see some love from the Emmys or the [Golden] Globes.”
The significance of receiving a nomination from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association may seem silly on its surface. For decades, the press has been writing about the dubious stature of its 90-some members, many of them freelancers and hangers-on, who seem to be easily bribed and swayed by stardom (the Los Angeles Times once called the Golden Globes “a con on the viewing public”). These allegations seemed to be legitimized when the HFPA was sued in 2011 by a former publicist, who alleged fraud and payola on the part of the members. (A portion of the suit was settled two years later.)
Despite the controversy, Hollywood has agreed to look the other way for one night each year, to throw itself a lavish, highly-rated awards broadcast. January’s Globes telecast drew 20.9 million US viewers, a 10-year high for the show. (That ceremony’s hosts, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, will return for 2015.)
That’s a lot of potential new Amazon Prime members (there are an estimated 30-40 million Prime members in the US and 50 million worldwide) that will be tuning into the ceremony on Jan. 11 and watching Transparent and Tambor be recognized. It will also help put Transparent, and Amazon, on the radar of Emmy voters, as they consider nominees for next September’s ceremony.
And aside from the fact that it legitimately deserves to win, Transparent has a very strong shot at going home with at least one Golden Globe. For all the questions about its voting body, the Golden Globes historically rewards new shows out of the gate. Last year’s winners included then-newbies Brooklyn Nine-Nine and its star Andy Samberg, House of Cards actress Robin Wright, and Ray Donovan’s Jon Voight.
The other reason Transparent’s nomination today was so important: The show represents Amazon’s only serious awards contender for the foreseeable future. While Amazon has other promising prospects on tap from its last two rounds of pilots (including the comedy Red Oaks), nothing seems capable of coming close to Transparent’s buzz and critical acclaim.
It’s a problem that Netflix is also struggling with. Sure, its shows House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Derek nabbed seven Globes nominations today (an increase from its five nominations and one win last year). But the well has run dry since those shows were launched last year. Its latest new series, Marco Polo, is getting horrific reviews ahead of its Dec. 12 debut. (Still, Netflix does have lots of ambitious shows, and potential awards contenders, in the pipeline.)
In any case, that’s a problem for next year. Today, Amazon is content to celebrate something it has spent more than a year pursuing: a big award nomination. And whether or not it considers Netflix its competition, the two outlets will finally get to roll up their sleeves and duke it out for a Golden Globe on Jan. 11.