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Netflix wins the Emmys’ biggest categories for the first time

The Crown and The Queen’s Gambit broke through in 2021

Queen’s Gambit: girl sits at chess board Photo: CHARLIE GRAY/NETFLIX
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Though Netflix has dominated audience viewership over the last decade, the streamer has never had the muscle to crack the Emmys’ major categories. For years, prestige networks like HBO, AMC, and FX had a stranglehold on the honors for Outstanding Drama and Outstanding Limited Series. That changed on Sunday night, when the 2021 Emmy Awards wrapped up with a one-two Netflix punch of The Crown and The Queen’s Gambit.

After sweeping writing, directing, and acting categories, The Crown season 4 took home the award for Outstanding Drama. Joining Olivia Colman’s award-worthy performance as Queen Elizabeth, the new season saw the addition of Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher, Josh O’Connor as Prince Charles, and Emma Corrin as Princess Diana. Helping the matter: season 4 was also fantastic.

The Crown winning would be a boon enough for Netflix, but in the final minutes of the telecast, The Queen’s Gambit swooped in to best HBO’s Mare of Easttown as the winner of Outstanding Limited Series. Scott Frank’s adaptation of Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel about a troubled chess prodigy who rises through the ranks in the 1960s was stylish and a bona fide viral hit during the early days of the pandemic. And while star Anya Taylor-Joy wasn’t able to secure a win against Kate Winslet in the acting category, voter love was strong enough to bring the show out on top.

For all the money Netflix spends during award season, and amount of oxygen the streamer seizes in everyday life as the “Xerox” of video-on-demand, the company has never had the buzzy goods to break out at the Emmys. The 2010’s saw Mad Men and Game of Thrones locking up the category season after season, with occasional breakthroughs from top-quality underdogs like Homeland, Breaking Bad, and The Handmaid’s Tale. Even after Game of Thrones final season, HBO came back swinging with Succession. But the pandemic not only disrupted attention spans, but the entire industry’s output, meaning Succession season 2 wasn’t ready and it was finally time for The Crown, lauded and polished, to take ... the crown.

Limited Series was another space where HBO dominated year after year with a variety of star-studded experiments. In recent years, Watchmen, Big Little Lies, Chernobyl have all taken top honors in the category. The Queen’s Gambit’s win signals the end of a successful campaign by Netflix to disrupt the status quo. All in all, the streamer wound up with a total of 44 awards at the end of the 2021 Emmys night.

And if that weren’t enough, the other big winner of the night in the Comedy category was Ted Lasso, an Apple TV Plus production.

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