The big story about the Emmy noms is about how the inclusion of Netflix’s “House of Cards” is revolutionary. We’ve woken up to a new world where the networks are now joined by cable, crouched in terror at this supposed encroachment on their prestige territory.
As a TV viewer, I’m thrilled to have more competition for my eyeballs. But the only thing revolutionary about “House of Cards” was in the delivery system, theoretically. The show, an Americanized version of a Brit hit, could have aired on any network, minus a few scenes, and as is on cable. The actors involved weren’t unknowns in breakout roles on a shoestring budget but well-established, award-winning professionals. And as someone who watches TV only on devices, I didn’t feel like I was participating in the next stage of TV’s evolution but rather that this was just another average Tuesday night.
For something truly revolutionary to happen, we need to see more “indie TV.” The same spirit the inhabits independent film — smaller budgets, more risk — is very much needed right now in TV land as shows that fit that bill a few years ago are getting gold statues on their retirement. The cable networks that birthed these shows have grown in reputation and revenue — but will that return them to their roots of being the brazen underdogs or turn them into mirror images of the networks they once mocked?
I know that TV isn’t the bold frontier, yet it’s the one medium that reaches people in the most intimate way, now more than ever as we literally hold it in our hands while we watch. I want content outlets like Netflix and Hulu to give emerging artists room to play.
Having Oscar caliber talent on TV is amazing but where’s the next generation coming from? I love “prestige” TV with familiar faces on screen and familiar names in the credits, but I also want a chance to talent-spot. The same spirit that inhabits independent film needs to be welcome in the ever-increasing bandwidth of TV land.
Independent TV is an oxymoron. There’s no Sundance for TV, a chance for fresh ideas to flourish. There’s no precedent for “let’s put on a TV show” in the spirit of indie films, other than the wonderful world of the great online. You can create your own “channel” and let your audience find you but it’s an infinitesimal amount of eyeballs when compared to what a “real” channel could offer on an off-night.
What distributors like Netflix and Hulu are proving is that viewers are willing to pay for content in any form, just like they pay for premium cable. That should be encouragement to test the boundaries of what viewers want, not just give them better versions of what they already have.
Be an incubator for new talent and ideas, have a start up division that’s less polished and trophy-ready but creatively challenging what viewers expect. That would be revolutionary.