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With ‘The Crown,’ Netflix finally takes the Emmys throne

  • >> John Koblin, The New York Times
    Published: 2021-09-20 21:45:38 BdST

At long last, the streaming platforms were triumphant at the Emmys, with Netflix and AppleTV+ taking major awards in drama, comedy and limited series as Television Academy voters acknowledged a profound shift in entertainment, from the channel-flipping days of traditional TV to the 21st-century mode of click-and-watch binge viewing.

“The Crown,” the lush Netflix chronicle of the ups and downs of the British royal family, won the prize for best drama at the 73rd Emmy Awards on Sunday, propelling the tech giant to its first victory in one of television’s biggest prizes.

The drama won on the strength of its fourth season, which took viewers into the 1980s as it portrayed the relationship of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. “The Crown” also dominated the acting categories. Olivia Colman, in the role of Queen Elizabeth II, took the award for best actress in a drama. She was the second actress to win for a portrayal of Queen Elizabeth on “The Crown,” with Claire Foy having taken the honour in 2018.

On Sunday, Josh O’Connor (Prince Charles), Gillian Anderson (Margaret Thatcher) and Tobias Menzies (Prince Philip) also won Emmys for their performances on the period drama.

“I’m very proud, I’m very grateful, we’re going to party,” said Peter Morgan, creator of “The Crown,” offering his remarks from a viewing party attended by the show’s cast in London, after winning for best writing.

“The Queen’s Gambit,” Netflix’s seven-episode show about a chess prodigy, won best limited series, another first for the platform. The limited series category has become a must-see genre among viewers, with its big-budget productions often featuring A-list stars, and the Television Academy, which organizes the Emmys, seemed to agree: The limited series category was the last award of the night, a designation formerly reserved for best drama.

For Netflix, the wins in best drama and best limited series were a long time coming. From 2013 to 2020, the streaming service earned a whopping 30 nominations in best drama, comedy and limited series, but had never pulled off a win in those categories, often losing out to HBO, the perennial Emmys heavyweight.

Before the best drama win for “The Crown,” only one streaming service, Hulu, had won in that category, when “The Handmaid’s Tale” took the award four years ago. And before the win for “The Queen’s Gambit,” no streaming show had ever taken the best limited series statuette.

Gillian Anderson poses with her Emmy award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, backstage at the Netflix UK Primetime Emmy for

Gillian Anderson poses with her Emmy award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, backstage at the Netflix UK Primetime Emmy for "The Crown", in London, Britain, September 20, 2021. Reuters

By the end of the ceremony, Netflix had received more awards than HBO for the first time, taking 44 Emmys, compared with 19 for HBO and its streaming platform, HBO Max.

And Netflix was hardly the only streaming service to have a big night.

“Ted Lasso,” the feel-good show about an aphorism-spouting, fish-out-of-water soccer coach that has struck a chord with viewers, took the Emmy for best comedy, a major triumph for Apple TV+, a streaming service that is not quite 2 years old.

Jason Sudeikis, the former “Saturday Night Live” stalwart who plays the show’s title character, won his first Emmy for best actor in a comedy, and his fellow cast members Brett Goldstein and Hannah Waddingham won in the supporting categories.

“Jason, you’ve changed my life with this,” an exuberant Waddingham said, paying tribute to Sudeikis, who is also a creator and executive producer of the show, amid screams of joy.

“Hacks” also scored well in the comedy categories, winning awards in writing and directing, and for best actress in a comedy for Jean Smart’s role as a Joan Rivers-like comedian on the show. The series was made not for cable, but exclusively for HBO’s streaming service, HBO Max.

The wins were fitting for a ceremony that recognized the best shows that impressed critics and hooked viewers amid the coronavirus pandemic. During the stay-at-home months last year and early this year, people increasingly turned away from cable and embraced streaming video entertainment, accelerating a yearslong trend.

Cable TV wasn’t completely out of the picture Sunday.

“Mare of Easttown,” HBO’s gritty whodunit limited series, tore through the acting categories, with Julianne Nicholson and her castmate Evan Peters taking best supporting actor honours. Kate Winslet, for her role as a weary detective, won best actress in a limited series, besting Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”) and Michaela Coel (“I May Destroy You”) in one of the night’s most competitive categories.

“‘Mare of Easttown’ was this cultural moment and it brought people together and gave them something to talk about other than a global pandemic,” said Winslet, after accepting her Emmy.

Another score for cable: “RuPaul Drag’s Race,” the winner of the best competition series for a fourth straight year. With the win, RuPaul Charles brought his career tally to 11 Emmys.

Michaela Coel won for best writing in a limited series for HBO’s “I May Destroy You.” And John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight,” an HBO series, won a sixth straight Emmy in best variety talk series. In his speech, Oliver paid tribute to Norm Macdonald, the comedian who died of cancer last week at 61. Lorne Michaels, the main creator of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” also honoured Macdonald, a onetime anchor of the show’s Weekend Update segment, when accepting the Emmy for best variety sketch series.

“‘Weekend Update’ has been part of ‘SNL’ for 46 seasons,” Michaels said. “And here I’d like to pay tribute to one of the best we ever had — Norm Macdonald.”

Cedric the Entertainer, the stand-up comedian and star of the CBS sitcom “The Neighborhood” who hosted the show, gave the ceremony a jolt in its opening moments with an exuberant song-and-dance number.

Actor Jason Sudeikis poses with the award for outstanding lead actor in comedy series, for

Actor Jason Sudeikis poses with the award for outstanding lead actor in comedy series, for "Ted Lasso", at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, US, September 19, 2021. Reuters

In a riff of “Just a Friend,” the 1989 hit by Biz Markie, the beloved rapper who died over the summer, Cedric led the crowd in a paean to television: “TV — you got what I need.” Rappers LL Cool J and Lil Dicky and, in a surprise cameo, Rita Wilson each took a verse and soon had the celebrity guests out of their seats and dancing.

After the opening number, Cedric delivered a four-minute monologue that avoided the kind of lacerating commentary that figured in the onstage comments made by recent Emmys hosts Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Michael Che and Colin Jost.

With a number of casually delivered jokes on subjects far from the realm of politics, Cedric started with a reference to the botched search for a replacement for Alex Trebek as the host of “Jeopardy!”

“Lock the doors,” he told the crowd. “We’re not leaving until we find a new host for ‘Jeopardy!’ in here somewhere.”

He went on to riff on the various COVID-19 vaccines, calling the Pfizer shot “bougie” and comparing it to Neiman Marcus. In that scheme, Moderna was Macy’s and the Johnson & Johnson was likened to TJ Maxx.

Cedric’s warm approach, with the opening number and cheerful remarks, provided a fitting start to a ceremony that was an in-person event for the first time in two years. Still, it wasn’t quite up to the crowd size and Hollywood spectacle of the Before Time. Instead of taking place at the 7,100-seat Microsoft Theater, the Emmys were handed out in a tent in downtown Los Angeles, with a few hundred people gathered cosily together.

Nominees were seated at tables, with food and drink, à la the Golden Globes, a dash of glamour that the show’s producers hoped would goose the ratings, which last year hit a new low. Some casts and production staffs plan to gather remotely.

The downsized ceremony matches the reduced circumstance of the TV industry over the last year. Because of production delays during the pandemic, the number of shows submitted for the best drama and comedy races was down 30%.