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Network Execs Take Potshots at Netflix Before Emmys Showdown

Executives from ABC and Fox both downplayed the impact Netflix has had on the TV industry during tech conference

Netflix will try to break the TV industry’s stranglehold on Emmy Awards this Sunday, and if you think the networks are happy about the red envelope’s success — think again.

During two different panels at a USC tech conference on Wednesday, network executives downplayed Netflix’s disruption of the television industry. First up was ABC exec VP Albert Cheng, who said that Netflix’s impact is restricted to a specific kind of show — those on HBO or AMC.

“What Netflix has done is specific to serial episodics,” Cheng told moderator David Cohen at the university’s Silicon Beach conference. He argued that while Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are taking risks on shows like “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black,” it will not be making the next hit procedural or reality program.

Also read: What We Learned About Netflix This Week: Emmys Breed Confidence

Cheng also rejected the idea that Netflix has helped save shows that were receiving low ratings.

Many credit Netflx with boosting shows like “Community” and “Breaking Bad” — though the latter was never at-risk of cancellation. Cheng assured the crowd Netflix does not decide the fate of any show.

“Most shows live and die by traditional monetization,” he said.

Also read: Netflix, Hulu Users Prefer Binging, Study Finds

Fox’s Hardie Tankersley echoed Cheng when he took the stage, and this time he got to address his skepticism directly to former Netflix executive David Watson, who was on the panel with him.

Netflix, Amazon and Hulu often assert that their reliance on data gives them a leg up in identifying which shows will succeed. Tankersley dismissed any suggestion of a “special sauce” for predicting shows, reminding the crowd Netflix never gives notes to its showrunners.

“There’s no algorithm that makes a successful show,” Tankersely said.

Also read: Netflix’s Ted Sarandos Defends ‘Arrested Development': Fans Love The Show (Exclusive)

Fox’s VP of digital product is an avowed contrarian, so perhaps he was merely rising to the occasion. Yet the friction between Tankersley and Watson was palpable.

When Watson listed Netflix’s first slate of shows and omitted the widely panned “Lilyhammer,” Tankersely jumped in to remind Watson.

“‘Lilyhammer’ was made for someone else,” Watson retorted. “We opportunistically took it based on existing intellectual property. We find the best in the business. We’re not looking to make the new ‘Lost.'”

Watson then shot back across the bow, questioning the network pilot process and  Netflix prefers to bet on one show instead of making shows “with bad comedians.”

“We don’t make shows with bad comedians,” Tankersely said. “You may think they’re bad, but they have a following. We’re not pulling people out of the garage. Have you heard of Andy Samberg?”

Fox just debuted “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” a new show starring “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Samberg.

At this point, panel mate Andrew Stalbow jumped in to cut the tension.

“Netflix isn’t competitive with traditional TV,” he joked.

Not one bit.

Editor’s Note: David Watson was previously identified as a Netflix executive. He left the company, where he was a product engineer, in July of this year.