1. Networks are responding to cable's Emmy-gobbling competition.
"The Good Wife," a smart show driven by dialogue, character, ideas and social issues, airs on CBS -- the same network as the well-performing "NCIS" and "Hawaii Five-0." But unlike those dramas, Wife has the critical momentum and chops to actually win. Meanwhile, NBC might have screwed up "Friday Night Lights" with ham-fisted network meddling, but the show survived via an innovative deal with DirecTV and could become the smallest-audience Emmy winner ever.
2. Contender series are becoming more like movies.
"It's almost like a hybrid of TV and film," co-creator D.B. Weiss says of his "Thrones." "We think of it as a movie that lasts 60 to 70 hours." You could say the same about "Mad Men" or "Boardwalk." Instead of ending abruptly in classic TV style, "Friday Night Lights"' auteurs had time to compose a final season that shapes the story into a movielike whole. And "Good Wife" co-creator Robert King tells "THR" he plans to make next season more "filmic," less reliant on dialogue and more visual.
3. Surprise hit Thrones proves Emmy's long curse on fantasy is ending.
"That was a real anomaly this year," says TV Academy senior vp awards John Leverence. "Fantasy and sci-fi have had no category traction in the past." In June, "Thrones" co-creator David Benioff told "THR," "We're a dark horse -- a dark, beheaded horse." Now, he and Weiss send "THR" this statement: "The drama series nomination was completely unexpected. Shocking, from our perspective. As for the 'curse,' it's really a question of how you define fantasy. For high or epic fantasy, it does seem like a first, and that's a huge honor. But 'The X-Files' had fantastic elements, as did 'Lost.'" Fantasy fans help all genre shows by being vocal. "I got more angry calls from fans of 'Buffy' than any other Emmy-snubbed show," says Leverence. "Postcards from Paris and Bangkok that only said on the back, 'Grrr argh!'" But fantasy fans alone won't make "Thrones" win. It clearly has broken through to a cross-genre audience with 9.2 million gross viewers (including DVR, HBO on Demand and linear plays). That's only 1.5 million behind "Boardwalk" and 5 million behind HBO's all-time champ, "The Sopranos." Not bad for a show infested with dragons.
4. The real Emmy smackdown might be between the epic and the intimate.
What "Treme" exec producer Eric Overmyer says about HBO can be applied to the Emmy race in general: "HBO has two styles: the epic – 'Thrones,' 'Boardwalk,' 'True Blood,' 'Deadwood' -- and the realistic. [The latter] is ordinary or extraordinary people -- families, usually -- in extraordinary contexts: "'Six Feet Under,' 'Big Love,' 'Sopranos,' 'Treme.'" This year is a contest between front-runner epic "Boardwalk" and "Mad Men," which Overmyer calls "a show about offices and bedrooms." But intimate, familylike dramas in offices and bedrooms ("Mad Men," "FNL," "Good Wife" and "Dexter," intimate in its own way) might beat such epics as "Boardwalk" and "Thrones."
5. The real winner this season is the viewer.
"The truly encouraging thing," say Benioff and Weiss, "is just the range of shows nominated this year -- gangsters, admen, lawyers, knights, serial killers, high school quarterbacks. If diversity is a measure of health, the TV ecosystem is doing pretty well."
– The Hollywood Reporter