Never underestimate HBO during awards season. The pay-cable stalwart was the winningest network at the 2020 Emmy Awards Sunday night, topping streaming rivals including Netflix.
Prestigious programming led by "Watchmen" and "Succession" propelled AT&T-owned HBO to 30 trophies, including creative arts Emmys doled out during the week before the main broadcast. The darkly prescient superhero drama "Watchmen" won for limited series and the media mogul saga "Succession" topped for drama series.
Netflix scored 21 statuettes, including major awards for drug drama "Ozark" and miniseries "Unorthodox" given out during the telecast. Julia Garner won supporting actress for "Ozark," while Maria Schrader won for directing "Unorthodox," about a young woman who escapes her Hasidic Jewish community in Williamsburg, N.Y.
HBO's awards-season success is a welcome affirmation for the premium pay TV network, which now shoulders the burden of carrying the brand identity of its parent company's most important initiative: streaming service HBO Max. The streamer, which costs $15 a month, got off to a sluggish start when it launched in May.
Los Gatos-based Netflix came into Emmys week with a record 160 total nominations, ahead of HBO's 107 nods. Netflix's surge in nominations, though, came with the caveat that it produces way more shows than its AT&T-owned rival, which takes a more bespoke approach to industry dominance.
Awards such as the Emmys don't exist just as coveted bragging rights for networks and streaming services. Especially for streamers like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, winning prestigious awards is a way to stand out among a growing number of well-funded competitors jockeying for viewers. Getting onto the Emmy stage is a good way for a new player — like Disney+ or Quibi — to signal to the industry that they've arrived.
For HBO, it's about maintaining its position as the industry's beacon of quality programming and longtime Television Academy favorite. HBO became a subsidiary of Dallas-based AT&T in 2018 when the telecommunications company acquired Time Warner Inc., which was rebranded as WarnerMedia.
At the time, analysts worried that the parent company’s demand for more programming from HBO would dilute its boutique brand and that the exit of key executives would hurt the network’s prospects.
And yet HBO has continued to produce critically acclaimed programming including “Watchmen,” set in an alternate reality in Tulsa, Okla., in which masked vigilantes are outlawed.
The acclaimed racially themed Damon Lindelof-created show won awards including limited series, lead actress (Regina King) and supporting actor (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).
"Succession's" haul included drama series, lead actor (Jeremy Strong, as the troubled scion of the Roy family) and directing.
HBO also won dramatic lead actress for Zendaya's performance in “Euphoria,” about teens struggling with drug abuse, sexuality and other issues. "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" and Mark Ruffalo vehicle "I Know This Much Is True" also delivered awards.
Last year, HBO led the networks with 34 Emmy wins, topping both Netflix and Amazon thanks to the final season of "Game of Thrones" and limited series "Chernobyl." Netflix took 27 statuettes in 2019, and Amazon nabbed 15.
It was also an extraordinary night for ViacomCBS-owned cable channel Pop TV, which earned multiple awards for its Canadian comedy "Schitt's Creek," which has significantly increased the small channel's profile.
The beloved CBC show's sixth and final season earned seven Emmys Sunday night, including comedy series, actor (Eugene Levy), actress (Catherine O'Hara), supporting actor (Daniel Levy) and supporting actress (Annie Murphy). Pop won 10 Emmys, including two for "Schitt's Creek" last week.
Legacy networks mostly took a back seat as streamers and HBO dominated the proceedings. Disney-owned FX Networks managed a win for Uzo Aduba's turn in the historical miniseries "Mrs. America." RuPaul's Drag Race won for VH1, also owned by ViacomCBS.
The major broadcast networks — NBC, FOX, CBS and ABC (which aired the Emmys) — were overshadowed.
Among the broadcast networks, NBC led with eight creative Emmys including a handful of wins for "Saturday Night Live."
Some newcomers made their presence known during Emmys week. Walt Disney Co.'s Disney+ had a strong showing this year, thanks to its popular Star Wars series "The Mandalorian," which earned seven technical awards last week.
Apple TV+'s flagship series "The Morning Show" scored a prime-time win for supporting dramatic actor Billy Crudup.
Amazon Prime Video had a relatively low-key Emmys week. The Amazon streaming arm earned four awards total, all given out before Sunday for the popular comedy "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel."
Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman's Quibi, the short-form streaming startup that has struggled to make a splash since its launch during the pandemic, managed to get two wins last week. It won two acting awards for its social justice series #FreeRayshawn.