Thanks to the Golden Globes, it seems the big four networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX) have been put on notice.
Not one shiny statue went to the veteran networks that ruled the airwaves for decades. Instead, streaming television services, like Amazon and Netflix, were in the spotlight. In fact the only “major” network to score a win was the CW, a typically overlooked network best known for offering the sort of trope that appeals to tweens and high school lonely hearts clubs.
So what does this mean for the future of television, not to mention the future landscape of awards shows? It looks like the people who decide who and what is good enough to be honored are starting to pay attention to what we’re really watching. This is especially comforting in a television world where treacle like “The McCarthys” continues to assault the airwaves while shows like “Community” get the axe.
Content Means More than Ratings
This year, for the first time in a long time, it seemed like the Hollywood Foreign Press actually sought out original shows with engaging storylines regardless of the numbers and dollar signs that went along with them. Anyone who watches TV knows the preferences of the masses are often mindboggling (“Two and a Half Men,” anyone?) and ratings don’t equal quality.
Having shaken off the golden handcuffs of viewership to generate revenue, Amazon and Netflix have more freedom to dedicate their efforts to shows with a meaningful and engaging premise. And due to the nature of streaming television, these shows aren’t at risk of being cancelled halfway through.
Viewers get to see a complete season and make their judgments based on the show as a whole rather than a disjointed collection of episodes hoping to snag enough attention to let the rest of the story be told. As a viewer, you are free to fall in love with Maura Pfefferman (“Transparent”) without fear that you will lose her before getting to see the last episode.
There’s a sort of liberation in being able to get carried away and lost in the journey, knowing that you will get a satisfying end. That hasn’t been the way of television. You are often left stranded in the middle of the highway with the big lights of cancellation ready to run you down.
This also gives more power to writers. They can write the story that needs to be told instead of writing the episodes that will (hopefully) goad the public into watching. Forget beefing up the content for “sweeps week” – there’s no such thing in the streaming world. The story and the performances truly reign supreme, and it’s nice to see an awards show sit up and take notice.
Streaming is the Answer to an On-Demand World
More and more we live in a world that gives us what we want, when we want it. TV hasn’t traditionally been wired that way. Shows aired when they aired and you needed to clear your schedule (school plays and after-hours meetings be damned!) or suffer the consequences of missing out.
It got better when we were able to tape our show on the newfangled VCR. And our minds were blown with the invention of the DVR, but there were always potential problems or wacky limitations – all designed to keep us tuning in at the same “Bat Time” to the same “Bat Channel.”
And not only did you risk missing an important development, but you also had to wait a whole week (or until after the Super Bowl) to get to the next episode. It’s a cruel and unusual way to entertain the masses. Especially when the livelihood of your show depends on people tuning in.
Streaming has ended that vicious viewing cycle for good. Shows like “Orange is the New Black,” “Transparent,” and “House of Cards” are released all at once as a complete season. You can black out the windows, snuggle under a blanket, and devote an entire weekend to nothing but gorging on your favorite show and catching up with beloved characters. Or, you can watch one episode every night after dinner until you reach the end. Or, if you’re some kind of masochist, you can watch your show the old-fashioned way – one episode a week until it’s over.
You can do whatever you want. That’s the point.
And then you can start all over again if you feel like it. Compressed and repeated viewings might not seem like something that could sway an award show judge, but I think they can.
It’s not uncommon for the conclusion of a story to spark new questions about what was really going on in the first few episodes. All those sneaky, little clues that writers and directors like to give us and we never notice until it’s been laid out for us at the end.
Re-watching an episode or the entire season can give you a new depth of understanding that one viewing simply can’t provide. The fact that these shows are complete before they are released and that the viewer can watch when, how, and as often as they want adds a richness to the storytelling. And gives the viewer an unparalleled experience that traditional network television just can’t compete with.
Whatever the reason, there’s no doubt that the face of television just changed and networks need to take heed. The viewing public – and the group handing out the accolades – is looking for more than a gimmick that pulls in ratings. A new age of telling real stories that matter, delivering performances that take our breath away, and taking our entertainment as we please has arrived. And it’s walking down the red carpet in a gorgeous designer ensemble, with plenty of bling.