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Emmys prove family shows are a thing of the past

The Emmys, television’s annual awards derby, just unveiled its 2020 nominations yesterday. (The awards will be handed out Sept. 20.) And when you look over the list, one thing is quite clear: Streaming services currently rule the roost.

Oh, sure, traditional television stalwarts still had their day. Perennial Emmy juggernaut HBO pulled down 107 nominations, including 26 for its dark superhero series Watchmen. But HBO’s Emmy nom haul was barely in shouting distance of Netflix, which nabbed a record 160 nominations overall. Other streaming services scored some Emmy love, as well. Amazon Prime snagged 30 nominations overall, Hulu 26. Upstarts Disney+, Apple TV+ and even Quibi crashed the party with 19, 18 and 10 nominations respectively.

Another sign as to how the pendulum has swung away from traditional networks: More than half the nominees for Outstanding Drama Series—Better Call SaulThe CrownThe Handmaid’s TaleKilling EveThe MandalorianOzarkStranger Things and Succession—came from streaming services.

But while the Emmys showered plenty of accolades on the likes of Netflix, it left one critical group out in the cold: families.

Let’s take a look at that Outstanding Drama list again. Of the eight nominees, six are rated TV-MA, or for mature audiences only (the equivalent of an R-rating in movies). Sometimes, the content on such shows can even cause your typical R-rated movie to blush. Only Netflix’s Stranger Things and Disney+’s The Mandalorian land in what could even remotely be called family-friendly territory.

Sure, it’s nice to see even that small modicum of praise offered, given Emmy’s recent infatuation with tawdry, blood-drenched shows. The Mandalorian landed on our own list as one of the year’s top TV shows, too, so the fact that the sci-fi series landed 15 nominations illustrates once again that you don’t need to have a lot of problematic content to craft a quality show.

But The Mandalorian was an outlier. Look at the shows that earned more nominations, starting with Watchmen and its 26 nods: It’s rated TV-MA, and if you look at our review, it’ll take you about 15 seconds to see why. Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (20 nominations) is TV-MA, too. Netflix’s Ozark and HBO’s Succession (18 noms apiece): Both are TV-MA. Of Emmy’s 10-most-nominated shows, only The Mandalorian and Saturday Night Live come with less than a TV-MA warning. The rest are off-limits to children … or, at least, so the makers say with a wink and a nudge.

While networks, streaming services and even TVs themselves have tools to help parents keep problematic television content away from their children, the truth is few parents use them, and kids are remarkably good at circumventing them. “Television” isn’t just the province of the living room today, either; children can watch much of it right on their phones, away from Mom’s and Dad’s oversight.

And some parents—some of whom grew up in a four-network environment—perhaps aren’t even aware that the telly has grown so unfriendly to families. Others happily flip on Watchmen and watch it with their 9-year-olds.

It’s ironic that the entertainment medium with arguably the fewest safeguards may just have the crassest content.

This is not to say that the foul-mouthed darlings of the Emmys don’t make for compelling television or worthwhile storytelling. But it is a shame that television—a medium that once drew American families together—offers so few great stories that families can watch.