'Cool' Emmys newcomers spotlight television's changing landscape

LOS ANGELES Mon Aug 25, 2014 8:00am EDT

LOS ANGELES Aug 25 (Reuters) - Three television upstarts and a field of film stars could shake up the annual Primetime Emmy Awards on Monday in a validation of the television industry's move toward sophisticated, long-form storytelling.

Led by HBO's bayou crime mystery "True Detective," FX's snowy psychological miniseries "Fargo" and Netflix's online-delivered jailhouse comedy "Orange Is the New Black," a new breed of TV has headed to the top of the establishment class.

"We have a lot of sexy newcomers," said Tom O'Neil, the editor of awards handicapper Goldderby.com. "It's not just the same old slapstick comedy show with a new face."

Together, the three shows have picked up 42 nominations and reflect the growing clout of unorthodox storytelling - from Netflix giving audiences an entire season at once to "True Detective" and "Fargo" as anthologies with new casts and stories each season.

"They have not just extraordinary critical acclaim," O'Neil said. "They have enormously high cool factors, extraordinary critical buzz and high visibility."

The Emmys are handed out by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in a televised ceremony from Los Angeles and will be hosted by comedian Seth Meyers.

With broadcast networks again shut out from the best drama series race, the night's top honor, AMC's drug tale "Breaking Bad" will defend its title against Netflix political thriller "House of Cards," AMC ad world portrait "Mad Men," PBS British period series "Downton Abbey," HBO's fantasy epic "Game of Thrones" and "True Detective."

EMMYS "NEW CURRENCY"

The rookie shows also have the benefit of movie star chops as Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson from "True Detective," and Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman from "Fargo" vie for top acting awards.

"What you see now is 'True Detective' and 'Fargo' as the vanguard for where a lot of television storytelling is going," said Andy Greenwald, a staff writer at Grantland.com, who added that the miniseries format allows Hollywood talent to test the TV waters without complicating their big-screen career.

Netflix shrewdly submitted "Orange Is the New Black," about a middle-class woman in jail on drug charges, as a comedy, avoiding a showdown against its own political thriller "House of Cards" in the drama series running.

The gamesmanship among networks - HBO has "True Detective" in the drama running while "Fargo" is expected to sweep the miniseries competition - reflects the value of an Emmy victory at a time when delayed and online viewing has rendered audience ratings more opaque to networks, Greenwald said.

"Prestige and perception are really the new currency in the TV marketplace," he said.

Although it would be a rare feat for "True Detective," "Fargo" and "Orange Is the New Black" to sweep the top races, O'Neil said, their presence alone has given the Emmys a jolt.

"The Emmys are a conservative industry award that tends to be much like TV reruns themselves, rewarding the same-old, same-old year after year," O'Neil said. "These are three troublemakers in town that could cause a lot of disruption." (Editing by Mary Milliken and Leslie Adler)

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