Sunday night at the 75th annual Golden Globes, something significant happened. Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel took home the award for Best Television Series, Musical or Comedy, while Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale won for Best Series, Drama. It was the first time streaming services won both the top television categories at the show, but the roll didn’t stop there. Stars Rachel Brosnahan and Elisabeth Moss both won for their lead performances in the two shows, and Aziz Ansari won the Golden Globe for Best Performance in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy for his work on Netflix’s Master of None.
By the time host Seth Meyers mercifully announced that the Golden Globes had come to an end, streaming services had won five of the 11 television categories, though viewers might not have realized it from the ceremony itself. Aside from a quip during the show from Mrs. Maisel creator Amy Sherman-Palladino about how Amazon had been extremely supportive and “every check cleared,” there was almost no acknowledgement that some of the biggest winners were tech companies that weren’t even making original programming just a few years ago. In 2018, the commercial and critical standing of the shows created by online streaming services isn’t novel, nor particularly innovative. It’s just the new Hollywood status quo.
It’s hard to appreciate just how swiftly the landscape has shifted
It can be hard to appreciate just how swiftly the landscape has shifted. With the blur of Peak TV, it’s easy to forget that Netflix — the first, and still biggest, player in original television production for a streaming service — didn’t prove itself until February 2013, with the release of the first season of House of Cards. The show was an immediate critical darling, and that September, it made history by winning three Emmys — including Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for David Fincher.
In a story about it at the time, my colleague T.C. Sottek likened the accomplishment to HBO’s feat nearly 15 years prior, when The Sopranos became the first cable series to be nominated for Outstanding Drama Series. HBO’s nomination was a creative validation for the network, and a bellwether for the imminent rise of cable programming. Sure enough, the same thing has proven true for the explosion of creative output coming from services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. Little more than three years after those first House of Cards wins, shows like Transparent, The Handmaid’s Tale, Black Mirror, and Master of None have won Emmys and Golden Globes, as the variety and quality of streaming service content has increased.
Given the sheer volume of programs being produced, it’s almost unavoidable. During the Television Critics Association winter press tour, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf pointed out that 487 scripted television shows were produced in 2017, with 117 of them coming from online services. (By comparison, the entirety of basic cable accounted for 175 scripted shows.) But with that massive uptick has come a dramatic change in the way shows from these services are perceived.
When Netflix and Amazon first started releasing original shows that didn’t feel like also-rans or gimmicks, it seemed the companies had the ability to completely upend what had become a staid television ecosystem. The hope was for disruption, with many publications — including The Verge — seeing the potential for over-the-top services to dismantle the creaky cable and satellite businesses and build something leaner and more consumer-friendly in their place. That hasn’t really come to pass, but what has changed is that the shows from these so-called disruptive services have become such a normalized part of the entertainment landscape that it’s hard to consider them anything but utterly mainstream. The first wins for Netflix and Amazon may have been signs of a sea change, but since then, the sense that these shows are outsiders, storming some hypothetical TV castle, has all but evaporated.
Audiences care about stories and characters, not platforms
Arguably, that’s how it should be. Audiences don’t truly care about platforms. They care about stories and characters, about variety, and about getting the most value for the money they spend on entertainment. Whether Stranger Things comes from Netflix or Showtime isn’t really of much concern. The same goes for creators and the Hollywood community, who have consistently said they’re less concerned about which platforms will air their shows than whether the companies they work with are good creative partners that will provide the resources to shepherd original visions onto television screens.
The hill hasn’t been as easy to climb in the world of feature films. For the Oscars, legitimacy is tied directly to theatrical exhibition. A film doesn’t even qualify for an Academy Award unless it’s released commercially in a theater ahead of any online exhibition, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is notorious for being filled with older, more conservative voters. That instantly takes a service like Netflix, which ties any theatrical release to a film’s online debut, out of the running for most major awards. But even with movies, the ground has begun to thaw, with Amazon happily giving movies like Manchester by the Sea a theatrical release window — and taking home three Oscars last year as a result.
The big-picture transformation can be summed up by looking at Netflix’s Hollywood headquarters, which we recently visited. It’s a 14-story tower, flanked by sound stages, in the same complex that Warner Bros. called home back in the 1920s. Netflix came to Hollywood and adopted its way of working, not the other way around. As a result, it’s become just one more player in the vast entertainment ecosystem. As the 2018 Golden Globes showed, that can increasingly be said for Amazon, Hulu, and all the other streaming players. The most remarkable thing about their performance at Hollywood awards shows is that it’s not remarkable at all.