When HBO scored four slots on this year’s list of outstanding drama Emmy nominees, it wasn’t quite a huge surprise. The pay cabler is holding a hot hand at the moment — and I said as much in my February Variety magazine cover story of HBO and Max content chairman/CEO Casey Bloys. With “Succession,” “The Last of Us,” “House of the Dragon” and “The White Lotus” among the biggest shows of the year, and eight available slots in the category, of course HBO would land those four.
And yet, let’s give credit where credit is due. It is extremely impressive. And it has only happened twice before: In 1992, when NBC scored four of five slots, with “I’ll Fly Away,” “L.A. Law,” “Law & Order” and “Quantum Leap”; and 1973, when CBS landed four of six with “The Waltons,” “Cannon,” “Hawaii Five-O” and “Mannix.”
It’s hard to believe it didn’t happen more often in the era of just three networks. Which makes HBO’s feat all the more impressive in 2023. Even though there are now eight slots for best drama, there are also so many outlets producing quality content in this streaming age that even landing one highly coveted nomination in the key series categories is a remarkable accomplishment for a network. (Just ask the broadcasters, who are still churning out some of the most-watched scripted series on television yet can barely get a nibble from Emmy voters these days.)
And as much as the “Sopranos”-”Sex and the City” period of the early 2000s and “Game of Thrones”-”Veep” 2010s eras were celebrated as high water marks for HBO (followed by too many hot takes that the outlet could never reach those heights again), the pay cabler never achieved the same level of dominance in key categories in either period. I spoke with Bloys on Emmy nomination day, when he took a bit of a victory lap about its strong drama showing.
“We’ve never done that in the history of HBO,” he said at the time. “And to tie [CBS in 1973 and NBC in 1992], they were really the dominant cultural force at those times. That’s really an achievement and really exciting for Francesca [Orci] and the drama team here, just a big accomplishment.”
What a difference from the last time it happened in 1992 — when HBO’s big wins that year were for outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or special (for Beau Bridges in “Without Warning: The James Brady Story”) and outstanding variety, music or comedy program (special), for “Cirque du Soleil II: Nouvelle Expérience.” Yeah, a lot has changed for HBO. And for the Emmys.
The irony of that 1992 drama race is that those NBC dramas all still lost out to CBS’ “Northern Exposure,” which ended a three-year winning streak by “L.A. Law.” CBS would go on to also win the drama Emmy in 1993 and 1994, both for “Picket Fences.” And then… the Eye never won another Emmy in the category again. NBC’s last one in drama was “The West Wing,” in 2003, while broadcast overall celebrated its last drama series win in 2006 with Fox’s “24.”
HBO, on the other hand, has won the drama series Emmy six times over the past decade, with “Game of Thrones” in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019, and then “Succession” in 2020 and 2022. (And very likely, again in 2023.)
This is, of course, the last time “Succession” will be eligible for an Emmy. But unlike when “The Sopranos” or “Game of Thrones” ended, no one’s questioning whether HBO will still have the juice after that. It helps that “House of the Dragon” and “The Last of Us” were just nominated for their first season, while “The White Lotus” is only on Season 2.
Even if the network has to settle for a three-peat next time, well, I’m sure they like those odds.