Emmy Noms Confirm: It’s a Streaming World (and Not Too Friendly for Families)


The Emmys, television’s annual awards derby, just unveiled its 2020 nominations yesterday. (The awards will be handed out Sept. 20.) And when you look over the list, one thing is quite clear: Streaming services currently rule the roost.

Oh, sure, traditional television stalwarts still had their day. Perennial Emmy juggernaut HBO pulled down 107 nominations, including 26 for its dark superhero series Watchmen. But HBO’s Emmy nom haul was barely in shouting distance of Netflix, which nabbed a record 160 nominations overall. Other streaming services scored some Emmy love, as well. Amazon Prime snagged 30 nominations overall, Hulu 26. Upstarts Disney+, Apple TV+ and even Quibi crashed the party with 19, 18 and 10 nominations respectively.

Another sign as to how the pendulum has swung away from traditional networks: More than half the nominees for Outstanding Drama Series—Better Call Saul, The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale, Killing Eve, The Mandalorian, Ozark, Stranger Things and Succession—came from streaming services.

But while the Emmys showered plenty of accolades on the likes of Netflix, it left one critical group out in the cold: families.

Let’s take a look at that Outstanding Drama list again. Of the eight nominees, six are rated TV-MA, or for mature audiences only (the equivalent of an R-rating in movies). Sometimes, the content on such shows can even cause your typical R-rated movie to blush. Only Netflix’s Stranger Things and Disney+’s The Mandalorian land in what could even remotely be called family-friendly territory.

Sure, it’s nice to see even that small modicum of praise offered, given Emmy’s recent infatuation with tawdry, blood-drenched shows. The Mandalorian landed on our own list as one of the year’s top TV shows, too, so the fact that the sci-fi series landed 15 nominations illustrates once again that you don’t need to have a lot of problematic content to craft a quality show.

But The Mandalorian was an outlier. Look at the shows that earned more nominations, starting with Watchmen and its 26 nods: It’s rated TV-MA, and if you look at our review, it’ll take you about 15 seconds to see why. Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (20 nominations) is TV-MA, too. Netflix’s Ozark and HBO’s Succession (18 noms apiece): Both are TV-MA. Of Emmy’s 10-most-nominated shows, only The Mandalorian and Saturday Night Live come with less than a TV-MA warning. The rest are off-limits to children … or, at least, so the makers say with a wink and a nudge.

While networks, streaming services and even TVs themselves have tools to help parents keep problematic television content away from their children, the truth is few parents use them, and kids are remarkably good at circumventing them. “Television” isn’t just the province of the living room today, either; children can watch much of it right on their phones, away from Mom’s and Dad’s oversight.

And some parents—some of whom grew up in a four-network environment—perhaps aren’t even aware that the telly has grown so unfriendly to families. Others happily flip on Watchmen and watch it with their 9-year-olds.

It’s ironic that the entertainment medium with arguably the fewest safeguards may just have the crassest content.

This is not to say that Emmy’s foul-mouthed darlings don’t make for compelling television or worthwhile storytelling. But it is a shame that television—a medium that once drew American families together—offers so few great stories that families can watch.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Natalie L 4 days ago
I realize the debate is 10 days old, but let's look at some of the statements here. Do content creators really not need any restraint at all within legal boundaries? The word "need" here does not mean in terms of marketability, profitability, etc., but in terms of *cough* morality and the effect their content has on their consumers. Artists, like any other professionals, have a responsibility toward their customers/viewers: to provide something that adds value to their customers' lives. (Definitions of "value" being up for dispute.) Should they then be "free" (morally, not legally speaking) to include whatever they want in their story for whatever reason? Are we willing to excuse all gratuitous/violent/disturbing/morally questionable content on the point that "the creators wanted it that way because [fill in the blank]"? If, as Julienne stated, a show is good without the extra "edge" (definitions of "extra" and "edge" being up for dispute), then what reasons are acceptable for including that "edge"? How far along the line of "well, they want to watch it, so I'm not going to stop them" are we willing to go? Is entertainment and art truly just 50 shades of grey without white or black boundaries, morally speaking? 
Edna Konrad 3 days ago
Here's the thing. When you can provide a study that proves graphic content in media is detrimental to society, then we can talk about limiting it. Until then, they are free to create.
Anonymous 5 days ago
My favorite show of all-time will always be Hannah Montana, but Early edition, 7th heaven, touched by an angel, home improvement, full house, mamas family and the golden girls come awful close, and those shows are all about as wholesome as one can get.
Anonymous 13 days ago
This might be a weird place to share this, but I'm not sure where else to. I was part of a Discord run by pluggedin commenters bit I've been gone so long that I've forgotten my information and had to set up a new account. However I'm not sure that I'm able to get back to that server since my account is different. If amyone commenting on here has the link, could they send it?
Posted by Emma Bibliophile
The Kenosha Kid 16 days ago
This is just a logical consequence of braindead blockbuster franchises taking over the movie industry. Many serious, artistic-minded filmmakers wanting to tell mature, sophisticated, original stories have nowhere to turn except streaming. 

When that happens, TV shows are naturally going to get darker, better, and yes, more adult. 
Edna Konrad 16 days ago
Movies really have been getting so corporate recently. You're right, most content creators have to go to streaming companies and shows if they want to have any hope of telling the story they want without ridiculous studio interference.
Anonymous 16 days ago
Case in point, Scorsese releasing "The Irishman" to Netflix screening. No studio is keen to budget something that long
Edna Konrad 16 days ago
While I agree that quality entertainment for kids is in short supply these day, the fact is not everything has to be child friendly. A lot of those nominees are very good shows, and I personally don't mind the "problematic" content. It just seems like you think the shows don't deserve recognition if they aren't for children?
Anonymous 16 days ago
Sure. How about those of us without kiddos? There are compelling, and morally/spiritually relevant, tales for adults too
Julienne Dy 15 days ago
I think it's more like they're questioning what makes a TV show deserving of recognition according to the people who run these award shows.  I mean, they just pointed out that a TV show doesn't have to be edgy to tell a good story, so why do TV award shows seem to operate on a principle that edgier stories are somehow better or more intelligent or more artistic?  Also, how much of that edge is even vital to the story?
The Kenosha Kid 15 days ago
It's not that shows have to be edgy to be good. It's that the good shows nowadays happen to be edgy for the reasons stated above. 
Julienne Dy 15 days ago
Yes, but what exactly makes these shows good?  Also, if a show can still be good without the extra edge, then why add the edge in the first place?  I realize that some stories need the edge in order to be told properly, but how do we know when content creators are using that as license to exercise zero restraint in the edge department?
Edna Konrad 14 days ago
@Julienne Dy

Content creators don't need to have restraint. As long as they aren't portraying anything illegal (can't say it here or my comment will get deleted) they should be free to include whatever they want in their story for whatever reason. If you don't like the content, then don't watch it. But don't try and force other people to only watch what you want to watch.
The Kenosha Kid 14 days ago
Julienne, you have a valid point about gratuitous content. Some awards darlings, like Game of Thrones, do indeed indulge in gratuitous content during their weakest moments. And you're also correct that "some stories need the edge in order to be told properly." It's up to us as viewers to discern when that content is necessary and when it's there just to get us hot and bothered. 

And when applied to art, "restraint in the edge department" isn't automatically good or bad. It's just a stylistic element an artist might choose to employ or not employ based on the story they're telling (or the painting they're painting, etc.) and the effect they want to achieve. The original seasons of Twin Peaks are a good example. David Lynch juxtaposes intentionally banal, innocuous scenes of small-town life with bursts of shocking violence and splashy, surreal imagery. The modulation in tone -- or "edge" -- induces a sort of whiplash that forces viewers to interrogate their own notions of what is "normal" and what is "strange," which was one of Lynch's goals.

This has been a great exchange. Let's hear it for intelligent, cordial debate on the Internet!
Julienne Dy 14 days ago
@Edna Konrad I reckon making a TV show is a lot like cooking.  Technically, the cook is free to dump whatever ingredients he or she wants however he or she wants to as long as the end product turns out "edible."  However, just because I can dump a handful of Carolina Reapers into a recipe doesn't mean I should.  One, I could end up sending someone into the emergency room.  Two, I could drown out all the other flavors in the dish.  Also, I've watched plenty of competition cooking shows, and one of the things contestants tend to get knocked for is a lack of restraint.  If restraint is just as powerful and effective of an art tool as gratuity is, why do award shows seem to send the message that gratuity as the superior tool?
Edna Konrad 14 days ago
@Julienne Dy

But writing isn't like cooking. You don't send anyone to hospital for having a couple violent scenes in your tv show. And besides, who are you to tell someone they can't eat Carolina Reapers if they want to? If you don't like them, don't eat them, but it isn't your place to try and prevent others from enjoying them.

Edit: Think of it this way. Some people like to mix mayonaisse or ketchup into their mac and cheese. I think that's disgusting. I'll never eat it. But I'll also never tell someone else they can't eat their mac and cheese that way if they want to.
Sparklemuffin 13 days ago
 @Edna Konrad

I tend to agree with you there. Higher levels of violence and other graphic stuff has become more common, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it can be overused, but if the creator is careful, it can add a lot of artistic value to a piece of entertainment.

To use the cooking analogy: Most cooks don't go around dumping random handfuls of Carolina Reapers into everything. But there actually are recipes to cook hot peppers into things in a way that will make the end product flavorful and spicy. That doesn't mean the end product will be tasty to everyone--in fact, it'll probably come with a warning on the menu that allows most parents or people with a taste for mild food to decide they don't want themselves or their children eating that particular dish. And that's okay: the kids and adults who don't have a taste for peppers can order a different dish off the menu.

My point is, violence and graphic content isn't automatically a bad thing. If you can't handle it, or choose not to consume that type of content, that's just fine, too. We all have different tastes and entertainment preferences. 
Julienne Dy 13 days ago
@Edna Konrad  Okay, ignoring the fact that my analogy went over your head to a degree, you didn't even bother to address the final question.  Maybe I should rephrase it.  Knowing that what is considered "good" in a movie will vary from person to person and audience to audience, what makes a TV show "good" according to the people who run the Emmys?  For example, PluggedIn's guiding philosophy behind what makes a movie or TV show good is that a good movie or show is something that can bring families together.  If it can't do that, then it should at least uplift and inspire its audience to be better people.  Based on that principle, of course, dark, gritty, and depressing shows are less likely to get positive reviews from PluggedIn.  What is the philosophy guiding the Emmys that seems to make them favor dark, gritty, and depressing shows?  I guess an addendum to that question is "Why darker, grittier, and more depressing content seems to be considered more artistic in general?"
Edna Konrad 13 days ago
@Julienne Dy

It would seem my reply went over your head as well seeing as I did answer your final question: Everyone has different tastes. PI has a definition of good entertainment. The Emmy board has a definition of good entertainment. You, me, everyone, we all have definitions of good entertainment. And guess what? None of us are necessarily wrong. You don't like the Emmy's definition? Don't follow their recommendations. But there's no need to be disparaging to people who do agree with them.
Julienne Dy 13 days ago
I know the Emmys HAVE a different definition of what makes for good entertainment.  WHAT is it, and HOW does dark, gritty stuff fit into that definition?  If no one's opinions about entertainment are necessarily wrong, then WHY are the opinions of the Emmy people given more attention and treated as more valid?
The Kenosha Kid 13 days ago
Julienne, to answer your question: Critics' judgments are based on quality of writing, acting, directing, production values, emotional impact, and how effectively the show employs all of those elements to tell an intelligent, compelling, unique story. 

The filmmakers who use those elements most effectively tend to gravitate toward emotionally and morally complex, adult stories that are more likely to contain adult content. 

If your judgments are based on different criteria, that's fine. But those are the usual criteria by which secular art is judged.
Edna Konrad 13 days ago
@Julienne Dy

Well the answer to that is ridiculously simple: they are more educated on what goes into writing, story boarding, directing, cinematography, character creation, etc., than you or I are. If a doctor tells you you are sick, and a random stranger tells you you aren't, who's opinion would you consider more valid? You don't have to agree with the Emmy's on what you find entertaining, but they know their stuff when it comes to the craft of television in ways you don't. That's why more people value their opinion over yours.