Move to Netflix, get a top Emmy nomination — oh yeah, and some humongous viewership. That’s the path “Karate Kid” sequel series “Cobra Kai,” once a YouTube Red series, is currently celebrating.
On Tuesday, “Cobra Kai” Season 3 was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. The first two seasons, which many critics would argue were even better than the third (on RottenTomatoes, Season 1 has a 100% “Certified Fresh” rating, Seasons 2 and 3 are both at 90%), did not.
So what changed for the Sony Pictures Television series, other than platform? This writer and occasional awards voter would argue the answer there is “nothing really,” and creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg pretty much agreed during our post-nominations telephone conversation.
“We knew that we had a magical show on our hands from the very early days at YouTube,” Heald told TheWrap. “We were thrilled with the audience that found the show, that celebrated the show. We were thrilled with the performance of the show as it competed with some of the big boys, the other streaming platforms. But we knew that it had a ceiling on it in terms of its exposure and people’s willingness to sign up for a new streaming platform.”
“When the show had its auspicious moved to Netflix, we hoped and expected that it would find this even larger audience that both grew up with ‘The Karate Kid’ and just wanted to get in on this show that maybe they’d heard about, or maybe just because it’s on Netflix, they’re going to give it a try,” he continued, calling the reception from that streaming platform’s audience “overwhelming.” “Certainly, deep in the back of our brains, we hoped that that might lead to more discussion and put it into the mix come awards season and really start to recognize the performances and the contributions of everybody on this show. Because it is not an easy undertaking and everybody really does give it their all. So it really was that move, I think, that finally put us in conversation more firmly. And we’re really thrilled to experience this moment.”
So yeah, you can say Josh is “thrilled.” After all, by our count, he said it himself three times there. Once per existing season, we suppose.
Schlossberg recalled for us fellow executive producer and show star Ralph Macchio putting it this way: “It’s like you have a hit show off-Broadway and then you’re on Broadway all of a sudden. Netflix has this enormous platform and it has an effect, no question.”
“The Big 3,” as Macchio and co-star William Zabka refer to Josh, Jon and Hayden, officially have an Emmy-nominated program. But it “Cobra Kai” really a comedy and not a drama? That debate preceded Tuesday by many months, when it was announced as the series’ eligibility category.
“I think ‘Cobra Kai’ is part of the evolution of where television is at right now, where hourlong shows are becoming more comedic and half-hour shows are becoming more dramatic,” Schlossberg said when we asked the boys to settle it for everyone. “We create the show that we feel is going to be the most entertaining. And sometimes that goes to comedic places, sometimes it goes to dramatic places. The reality is, shows are becoming more and more amorphous in terms of how you can label them. But the way that the different awards are categorized, it’s based on conditions. And right now, I would say the biggest difference between a comedy and a drama isn’t necessarily the intent of the artist, it’s actually just how long it is. Is it half-hour or is it an hour?”
“We’ve always talked about this show in some ways as being like a ‘Better Call Saul’ for Johnny Lawrence,” he continued. “And ‘Better Call Saul’ itself is something that at times is just one of the funniest things. So it’s tough to label, but in a world where you have to figure things out right now, it all comes down to time it seems.”
“When we conceived of the show, our first thought was, this is a continuation of ‘The Karate Kid’ franchise, which is a drama. So we need to be true to the roots of the franchise,” Hurwitz added. “But we’re coming in through the ‘Cobra Kai’ angle and picking up with Johnny Lawrence, one of the most iconic bullies of the ’80s. And now he’s a loser. And now his life is upside down. And coming into it as almost like a ‘Bad Santa,’ ‘Bad Sensei’ way, where we’re entering this world through a new lens that has comedy at its core because of where we’re starting. We’re taking this character who is the bad guy and making him the underdog hero — but a flawed hero. An unfrozen caveman sensei, basically, who is still trapped in the past. And so that leads to all sorts of generational comedy and him not being aware of modern day.”
“So there’s a comedic core. Every writer in our writers’ room is a comedy writer. Our entire history is through comedy,” he continued. “But anyone who is a writer and understands the craftsmanship behind comedy knows that you need to have, especially in long-form television or storytelling, you need to understand drama, as well. So on this show, which we approach from a comedic standpoint, we are also approaching from a dramatic standpoint, as we do with any of the movies that we do. But sometimes you’re leaning into a scene where the All Valley Karate Board is joking around, bickering with each other. And then there’s other scenes where Miguel is falling off a balcony and you’re wondering if he’s ever going to wake up. So in life, there’s comedic moments. In life, there’s dramatic moments. And entertainment today kind of blurs a line in a lot of storytelling, whether it’s half-hour or hourlong.”
Either way, the comedy category sure seemed to work out today. “Cobra Kai” will face stiff competition from “Black-ish,” “Hacks,” “Emily in Paris,” “The Flight Attendant,” “The Kominsky Method,” “Pen15” and “Ted Lasso.” Had “Cobra Kai” been categorized as a drama, it would have tangled with these eventual nominees: “The Boys,” Bridgerton,” “The Crown,” The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Lovecraft Country,” “The Mandalorian,” “Pose” and “This Is Us.”
Pick your poison.
“Cobra Kai” was nominated for stunt-coordination Emmys in both 2018 and 2019. In addition to Outstanding Comedy Series, “Cobra Kai” was also nominated for Outstanding Stunt Performance this year.