Were the Emmys Just a Giant Ad for Network TV?

Network TV needs all the help it can get. With steep competition from video-streaming websites like Hulu, Netflix and even YouTube, traditional television viewing is becoming a thing of the past. Even those fancy Tivo, DVR and Hopper systems don’t entirely fulfill the modern viewer’s desire to control their television watching, as these platforms also don’t translate to the out-of-home viewing experience, like watching an episode of Netflix hit “Orange is the New Black” on your iPad on the commute to work.

So it’s not surprise that Sunday night’s 65th Primetime Emmys on CBS seemed like a 3.5-hour commercial for network TV. In the opening of the awards show, host Neil Patrick Harris joked about today’s technology and the many ways that people consume their favorite shows, riffing like a man twice his age would on smartphones and other such second screens.

But, of course, it all came around to celebrating today’s television — not critiquing it. Often hailed as “The Golden Age of TV,” present-day shows are now held in the same high regard as big-budget movies. The writing is strong, the cinematography is outstanding and the casting is boundless, capable of luring in big names from the big screen, from Glenn Close on “Damages” back in 2007 to Robin Williams in this fall’s “The Crazy Ones.”

This reinstatement of television is largely credited to such mega-hits as “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” and “Game of Thrones.” What’s the problem here? Well, most of the shows being hailed as the saviors of television aren’t actually on network TV. They’re often on cable or specialty channels like HBO, Showtime and TMC. So the Emmys wound up with a lot of mixed messaging — it’s the best of times for TV, it’s the worst of times for TV. This is especially ironic since the Emmys aired on network station CBS.

And what is CBS’ big premiere this fall to draw viewers back to the small, stationery screen and live-broadcast television watching? Possibly “Hostages,” which premieres tonight at 10. But can this hour-long drama — or even new half-hour CBS primetime sitcoms “Mom” and “The Crazy Ones” — contend with the blockbusters coming out this fall on cable?

Even Neil Patrick Harris can’t make us believe it.

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