Summer was once a dead zone on television. In the pre-cable days, when broadcast networks ruled the small screen, the season was a video wasteland filled with “replacement series,” usually short-lived variety shows designed as airtime placeholders until later. until school resumed, everyone went back inside, and regular programming resumed in September.
Some spectacular, mostly forgotten schlocks emerged from those fallow months – “Dean Martin Presents The Golddiggers,” “The Shields and Yarnell Show,” “Tony Orlando and Dawn,” “The Jerry Reed When You’re Hot, You’re Hot Hour” – but nothing remotely considered prestige TV. Even in the 1990s, as the networks began to grasp the potential of summer viewership – with Fox releasing a mini-season special of “Beverly Hills 90210” in July 1992 and ABC releasing “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in August 1999 — never the time of year to unveil a lineup with even a modicum of Emmy potential.
One notable exception was NBC’s “Seinfeld,” which debuted July 5, 1989, then aired four more episodes the following summer — and earned just one Emmy nomination, in multicam editing, for that abbreviated season before to become a juggernaut of rankings and rewards.
These days, of course, there’s no TV season – just a year of endless content pumped onto the tube, not just by old-school networks, but by dozens of cable outlets and now a growing number of streamers.
And yet, somehow, the summer still sucks for Emmy-seeking shows.
Thanks to the TV Academy’s odd eligibility window — which begins in June and ends at the end of May — a slew of otherwise-nominate-worthy programs and performances that came out last summer have been all but forgotten. Do you remember “Nine Perfect Strangers”? The Hulu series in which Nicole Kidman stammered with an unrecognizable accent long before Julia Garner made it trendy with “Inventing Anna”?
Or Sandra Oh’s terrific turn in Netflix’s academic parody “The Chair”?
Or FX’s “Reservation Dogs,” the sitcom about four Oklahoma Native teens that has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes?
Sadly, they now seem like news of yesteryear, especially for Emmys tipsters, who aren’t giving a lot of these programs much love right now.
Of course, there are exceptions. “Loki” appears on some shortlists, despite the Marvel spin-off premiering on Disney+ over a year ago. Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building,” which premiered in August, is a strong contender. And “The White Lotus,” which began airing on HBO last July, still has plenty of heat in the Outstanding Limited Series category, perhaps because the show resurfaced in the news recently when HBO announced a second season (which technically should kick “Lotus” out of the limited series category, if not for the loophole that the new season will have an entirely different cast, but whatever). The announcement of a second season gave Academy voters such a timely reminder of what a work of genius Mike White’s satirical denunciation of contemporary social mores really was, even though it was created in the middle of 2021.
In many ways, the problem that early TV shows struggle with is the same problem that first big-screen outings face during Oscar season – the earlier in the year a movie comes out, the less it is. likely to be remembered for an application. The movie studios’ workaround has been to postpone the premieres of its most Oscar-worthy movies to late in the calendar year, when voters are most likely to pay attention, and there are signs that television might attempt a similar strategy.
Last April and May, just before the Emmy eligibility deadline, a slew of new seasons debuted, including HBO’s ‘Barry’, Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ and AMC’s ‘Better Call Saul’ – all serious Emmy contenders. And there’s also been plenty of new late content, like Starz’s “Gaslit,” Hulu’s “Candy,” and Apple TV’s “Slow Horses” and “Shining Girls.”
In other words, if TV follows cinema’s lead, spring could become the new fall as networks and streamers push their fanciest projects to the end of the Emmy eligibility cycle. Of course, that still leaves summer shows at a distinct disadvantage. But there’s some hope: remember, “The Captain and Tennille Special” (an August release) ended up earning an Emmy nomination in 1977, for Outstanding Achievement in Video Tape Editing.