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Is Netflix the new TV?

July 10, 2014 at 8:12 PM EDT
Netflix, an online streaming service, netted 31 Emmy nominations this year, while traditional over-the-air broadcast networks were shut out of the nominations for best drama almost entirely. Hari Sreenivasan talks to Meredith Blake of The Los Angeles Times about the growing shift toward consumer entertainment television online.
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GWEN IFILL: “Breaking Bad,” “True Detective,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Downton Abbey,” critics frequently refer to this era as a new golden age of television.

But many of you are consuming it online, making this perhaps more of a golden age of video. Today’s Emmy nominations reflected that.

The most prominent example, Netflix, an online streaming service, netted 31 nominations, most of them for “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black.”  Aside from “Downton,” traditional over-the-air broadcast networks were shut out of the nominations for best drama entirely. Instead, cable and premium channels like FX, AMC, and HBO once again ruled the day.

Have our viewing habits changed forever?

Hari Sreenivasan has more from our New York studios.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Meredith Blake covers television for The L.A. Times. She joins me now.

So, how significant is this shift that we’re seeing from traditional broadcast networks to not just cable networks, but now these streaming players?

MEREDITH BLAKE, The Los Angeles Times: I think it’s pretty massive.

It really started last year. Well, technically, I suppose it started back with “The Sopranos” and HBO. And you have seen it incrementally move away from traditional broadcast networks, increasingly toward basic and premium cable. And now you’re seeing it move towards streaming services like Netflix, which first entered the race last year with “House of Cards” and now is an even bigger competitor with “Orange Is the New Black.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: Considering the amount of money that the CBS/NBC/ABCs of the world put into their dramas, how do you feel about Netflix coming in and picking up 31 nominations and probably lots and lots of viewers?

MEREDITH BLAKE: I’m sure it’s incredibly frustrating, because not only do they have tons of subscribers who pay for the privilege of watching their shows. They also have the creative freedom and the formal freedom to make the kinds of shows that they want, to have the kind of content, the kind of language, the kind of violence that you can’t have on broadcast network television, and to roll it out whenever they want.

Netflix’s big thing is the binge watching model, which means they put all 12, 13 episodes out at once, unlike traditional TV, which rolls them out once a week.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And they also don’t have to make as many episodes as traditional TV does for a full season, right?

MEREDITH BLAKE: That’s right. Yes, the standard is now sort of 10 to 12. But you’re seeing seasons as short as seven for “Mad Men” this year, which I suppose was a half-season. That’s how they are billing it. But it was really a seven-episode season but it was also nominated.

A show like “Game of Thrones” only has 10 episodes, as opposed to something like “The Good Wife,” which was overlooked this season, is 22 episodes, and that’s a lot of TV to have to create year after year, week after week.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And, inevitably, out of 22 episodes, you have a better chance of getting a not so great one vs. in 10 you can really focus on quality.

MEREDITH BLAKE: Yes. Even if you have a wonderful batting average, you are going to have a fewer slower episodes that just aren’t as engaging.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And we’re also seeing — we saw Kevin Spacey for “House of Cards” and Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson for “True Detective.”

These are big screen actors choosing for these many series or small projects. Why?

MEREDITH BLAKE: I think you will see this everywhere. You will see it. You’re also seeing directors like Steven Soderbergh moving away from feature film. He’s a big Oscar-winning director. He’s given up on movies and he’s doing TV now because of the creative freedom that it affords.

And you’re also seeing richer roles than you would necessarily see in the movies these days. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of great roles still out there in the film world, but increasingly the movie business is driven by tentpole things like comic book movies and projects like that.

In the film world — or — sorry — the TV world, there’s a lot richer kind of diversity of parts available.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Are we going to see that big split where basically Hollywood is left with the big blockbuster that I go see in the summer on the big screen, it’s Iron Man 16, vs. maybe Netflix or another streaming option might be the thing where I consume it at my own pace and I really get into it because I love this actor or I love this director?

MEREDITH BLAKE: I don’t think you can ever say that the movies — people are going to stop going to see the movies. This year, we actually had a really great reward season in terms of the quality of pictures that were out.

But I do think it is harder and harder to find adult fare at the cinema. You can find it everywhere on TV, almost too much of it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Any surprises today, any big snubs?

MEREDITH BLAKE: I think there was probably two noteworthy snubs were “Orphan Black” star Tatiana Maslany, who plays close to a dozen different parts on that show and is a critical favorite for the past two seasons. I think people thought she was going to get it this year. She was once again overlooked.

The other big one is “The Good Wife,” which had a really strong — it is in its fifths season, but it had a really strong kind of creative resurgence this year. And I think most people thought it was a given, but it didn’t make the cut.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, those didn’t make the cut. What about the ones that did? Were you shocked at all?

MEREDITH BLAKE: Any surprises?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.

MEREDITH BLAKE: There were a few one.

The Emmys tend to have this kind of institutional inertia that keeps too many surprises from happening. But there were a few kind of surprising one. “Silicon Valley” I don’t think a lot people thought was…

HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s a comedy show.

MEREDITH BLAKE: Yes, the tech kind of satire on HBO. It’s very funny, but I don’t think it was seen as a given.

Another one was Ricky Gervais, who is on the Netflix series “Derek,” which received kind of mixed reviews, and I think people were surprised by his nomination.

HARI SREENIVASAN: With the number of shows that Netflix is producing, does the television industry now take it seriously as a legitimate content avenue for directors and actors to go to when they’re shopping around?

MEREDITH BLAKE: I think absolutely.

I mean, you are seeing huge names go that way. And I think, given the number of awards that it’s already racked up and nominations that it continues to rack up, I think you will see even more people flocking that way, especially because of the creative freedom that they’re allowed.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Meredith Blake of The L.A. Times, thanks so much.

MEREDITH BLAKE: Thanks.