We've reached that time of the year where it's time to look back at last twelve months in TV and fight over who deserves to be recognized for what transpired during that period. Just last week, both the TCA Awards and the Critcs' Choice Awards announced their 2014 nominees, and with Emmy voters' nomination ballots due later this month, the For Your Consideration campaigns are in full swing. But that got me thinking: There are accolades for shows, performers, producers, directors, etc., but what about an award for the Network/Channel/Streaming Platform that had the best year?
And thus, this story was born. You guys, it's time to look backward a bit and crown winners for the Content Provider of the Year award (working title; if you have ideas for that too, let me know) for the last decade. I'm just spitballing here, but here are some initial criteria to consider:
1. Producing great shows
Duh, right? You can win this prestigious award without multiple high-quality shows. And before you say it, of course "high-quality" and "good" are subjective. All awards are subjective. Everything is subjective.
2. Working with and/or hiring good people
Oh, you brought a notable film actor to television for an eight-episode miniseries? You let a young female writer shepherd a project with her intended voice intact? Good on ya. Did you rehire Tim Kring to reboot Heroes? You're banned from winning this award for a decade.
3. Taking risks
The television industry has a tendency to shy away from new things—until they work. Who's at the forefront of industry trends and widespread change?
4. Achieving consistency and depth
It's cool to be there on the TV streets taking big swings, but you need to make contact more often than not. And there has to be more than one good project on your schedule (or in your archive). That's what will prevent us from only valorizing cable channels that can take more risks with different business models. Broadcast's ability to churn out a lot of pretty solid stuff matters too.
5. Earning good (or at least palpable) buzz
Are people talking about your shows, your performers, your brand campaigns, or your social media activity? If we're not writing thinkpieces about you throughout the calendar year, how do you truly deserve a place at the awards table?
6. A content provider can't win two years in row
If there's one thing that's supremely boring about the Emmys, it's the repetition. It'd be pretty easy to just say "HBO" every time, but that's no fun, right?
I probably could've come up with another half-dozen criteria, and if you have ideas, I'd love to hear them in the comments. But with at least these six in mind, let's retroactively decide who deserves the TV Content Provider of the Year for the last decade. Here are my picks:
HUGE year for them. Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards, the resurrection of Arrested Development, the buzz about binge-viewing's impact on shows like Breaking Bad. THIS is the first big award that suggests Netflix might one day be our TV overlord.
The Walking Dead's ratings soared into another stratosphere, Mad Men returned from its extended hiatus with a tremendous fifth season, Breaking Bad hysteria really started to kick in, and the network didn't have a reality show about arm wrestling on its schedule. I also strongly considered HBO and Showtime here.
The best seasons of Justified and Louie to date (both shows aired successful sophomore efforts), the debut of the batty American Horror Story, the last season of Sons of Anarchy that wasn't offensively frustrating, the end of Rescue Me, the underrated single season of Lights Out, the beginning of Wilfred, and good stuff from Archer and The League.
I'm admittedly ignoring some of the criteria here—most notably the unwritten rule that says any network with The Marriage Ref on its schedule doesn't deserve any admiration—for that amazing time where Community, Parks and Recreation, The Office, and 30 Rock were all in the lineup at the same time, and all doing pretty tremendous things. And hey, Parenthood began in 2010 while Heroes ended, and what a lovely trade it was.
Just like with HBO, we could easily honor CBS with this award in several different years. But in 2009, The Big Bang Theory really started to take off with viewers (it was a sizable hit before, but this is where it started to become a massive success), How I Met Your Mother wasn't a full-blown abomination yet, and both The Good Wife and NCIS: LA joined the schedule.
Hulu went live in March of 2008, and you could make a strong case that its debut is one of the most important developments in recent TV memory. While Hulu didn't have much original content back then, its creation signaled that the networks and studios were clearly aware of changing viewing practices and willing to come together to attract as many viewers as possible. Plus, aggregating all the good stuff from ABC, Fox, and NBC certainly gave Hulu a lot of high-quality content.
2007: No Award Given
The Writers Guild of America strike at the end of 2007 would've really put a damper on the star-studded Content Provider of the Year telecasted (hosted by Masi Oka, as Heroes fever was in full swing when he signed on). But HBO probably would have won: The discussion about the final season and episode of The Sopranos might've been enough to carry the pay cabler to the title, but 2007 also brought good final seasons of Extras and Rome and the debuts of Flight of the Conchords and everyone's favorite metaphysical surfer drama, John from Cincinnati.
Soul Patrol! Okay, so in retrospect, the Taylor Hicks-Katharine McPhee-Chris Daughtry season of American Idol doesn't look as great, but in 2006, people still really cared about the show, and perhaps more importantly, Simon Cowell still cared. This was the last year that the final performance episode scored over 30 million viewers. Fox also aired Season 5 of 24 in 2006, which might not've been the show's absolute best, but was both A) its most popular and B) the one with the best balance of INSANITY and sanity. Throw in House, the then relatively recent return of Family Guy, the glorious final season of The O.C., and the most important show of our generation, Reunion, and Fox had quite the year.
You might've expected ABC to take the crown in 2004 since so much has been made about the big debuts of both Lost and Desperate Housewives that fall; those two shows legitimately pulled the network out of its doldrums. However, the third juggernaut to come from that immortal pilot season, Grey's Anatomy, didn't debut until March 2005, and it didn't become a phenomenon until a little later in the year.
Probably one of HBO's best years, period. Sex and the City concluded a very successful run, Entourage and Deadwood debuted, and The Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under, and Curb Your Enthusiasm were all in the midst of great runs. I mean the beginning of Entourage alone, right?
There's 10 years of winners for you. I could have gone back even further, but I'd rather hear from you folks. Do you agree with my selections? And which content provider is the early frontrunner for 2014?