It’s no big deal to see a cable network or a streaming provider take home an Emmy Award now. Streaming services and premium channels have dominated in the last several years. The Emmys, however, used to look a lot different. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, basic cable channels like ABC and NBC dominated the ceremony. HBO’s famed Sex and the City changed all of that in 2001. With a massive win in the Outstanding Comedy Series category, the show singled a change. Over the years, cable and streaming providers have taken over the ceremony, and it all started with that one big win. 

The Television Academy didn’t consider cable programs for Emmy nominations until 1988

While the Television Academy begrudgingly welcomed cable networks to the Emmy Awards in 1988, the road to an actual win wasn’t an easy one. In 1988, the then chairman of Showtime, Tony Cox, told The Los Angeles Times that he would be shocked if a cable network took home an award in the first year they were allowed to compete. 

Cox was right. It would take a couple of years for the cable providers to be considered serious contenders. In 1990, HBO broke through, though, taking home several awards, although none in the major categories. That moment would take another decade to come. It did, indeed, come, though. Now, HBO, Showtime, and their streaming competitors are not only major players at the famed ceremony, but they make up the majority of nominees. 

HBO’s ‘Sex and the City’ took home top honors in 2001 

In 2001, cable networks finally broke through into the major categories. Sex and the City was the first cable show to take home the top prize for a comedy series. The win was an important one. The Outstanding Comedy Series category is always tough, and the competition in 2001 was expectedly challenging, too. Sex and the City was the only cable show nominated in the category, and it faced some massive hits. Will & GraceFrasier, and Everybody Loves Raymond were nominated alongside Sex and the CityMalcolm in the Middle rounded out the category. The win signaled that HBO and other cable providers were here to stay, and they’ve only gained ground in the years since. 

Sex and the City wasn’t the only win for HBO in 2001, though. Wit took the Outstanding Made for Television Movie category. That win wasn’t a surprise. HBO appeared to control the made-for-TV category for nearly a decade when Wit won. Its first prize came in 1993 for Barbarians at the Gate and Stalin. The following year the network earned the trophy again for The Band Played On. Between 1993 and 2001, the cable provider won seven out of eight awards in the category. 

HBO made history again in 2004 with a big drama win

Sex and the City was the first cable series to win the outstanding comedy award, but HBO wasn’t done making history with that. In 2004, the network became the first cable network to win the Emmy for outstanding drama. The network’s famed The Sopranos took home the award that year. Once HBO started to carry home trophies, other cable networks joined in. 

The Sopranos won in the Outstanding Drama Series category again in 2007. In the years since, cable networks have won the category more often than not. HBO, for example, has taken the category the last three years in a row, and AMC dominated for several years before that. In 2018 and 2019, HBO won the category with Game of Thrones. In 2020, they won with season 2 of Succession. They have a chance to extend their streak this year, too. Lovecraft Country is considered a top contender in the category.   

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