Amazon’s Jennifer Salke On Streamer’s First Drama & Limited Series Emmy Noms For ‘The Boys’ & ‘The Underground Railroad’ Plus ‘Small Axe’ Disappointment

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Amazon Prime Video secured its first ever Emmy nominations in the main drama series category, with The Boys, and in limited series, with The Underground Railroad today plus a pair of noms in the TV movie category.

Jennifer Salke said she and her team were “jumping for joy” with the news, although she admitted that there was a tinge of disappointment given the surprising snub for Steve McQueen’s Small Axe.

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The streamer didn’t compete on quantity with the likes of HBO (and HBO Max) or Netflix but Salke said its entry into these two main categories was a step in the right direction for its overall content strategy.

The company scored 18 nominations, including five noms for The Boys and seven noms for The Underground Railroad, plus one for a Blumhouse interactive project and an Alexa commercial.

“For us to be able to have these shows have the impact that they have globally in addition to being critically acknowledged is the icing on the cake,” Salke told Deadline.

Anthony Starr in 'The Boys'
Anthony Starr in 'The Boys'

The Boys’ (left) entry into the Outstanding Drama Series category is particularly impressive given its genre. It becomes the first superhero series to be nominated since NBC’s Heroes in 2007. The Eric Kripke-developed comic book adaptation will compete against Bridgerton, The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale, Lovecraft Country, The Mandalorian, Pose and This Is Us.

Salke called its nomination “gratifying”. “There hasn’t been a superhero genre show acknowledged in this category since 2007. We really believe that the show is so original and so well executed and creatively strong and it deserves it and I’m so thrilled for Eric and his staff,” she added.

Similarly, The Underground Railroad, Barry Jenkins’ fantasy historical drama based on Colson Whitehead’s novel, puts it in the limited series category for the first time and despite tough competition from the likes of I May Destroy You, Mare of Easttown, The Queen’s Gambit and WandaVision, it has a decent chance in September.

“I think we would have been shocked and devastated if it hadn’t been acknowledged,” she said. “We’re so happy for Barry, Plan B and the team and everyone who worked so hard on that masterpiece. We’re so happy to have that live on forever on the service because it’s beautiful work.”

Salke, however, stressed there were no plans to extend the miniseries further and the limited series is, in fact, limited.

Amazon’s previous Emmy success has largely been in comedy thanks to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which has secured over 50 Emmy noms and 20 wins, including best comedy in 2018. Covid delays, however, meant that the Rachel Brosnahan-fronted period comedy wasn’t eligible this year.

“I think if we hadn’t had some of those delays, we’d be looking at a really record-breaking response, but we are where we are and we’re really pleased with these major categories,” Salke said. “We’re very strong in comedy and we’ll have Maisel back and more in that category coming down the pipeline but to have the drama acknowledgment is really gratifying. To be able to compete in the limited series genre in this way will be something that we hope to participate more in the future.”

Amazon also scored two nominations in the Best Television Movie category with Uncle Frank and Sylvie’s Love.

The latter, which was directed by Eugene Ashe and starred the likes of Tessa Thompson, Rege-Jean Page and Nnamdi Asomugha. Ashe thanked fans after the nomination for “allowing yourselves to believe in love”, while Asomugha called it a “labor of love”.

“To have our journey culminate in this moment with an Emmy nomination is so exciting, gratifying and appreciated. I think our film is a celebration of the beauty of Black humanity and love. To be acknowledged in this way is tremendously meaningful to me and to the creative family that worked together to bring this narrative to life,” he added.

The streamer picked up both films at last year’s Sundance Film Festival but the company positioned them for the Emmy campaign rather than the Oscars.

They will compete against Netflix’s Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square, HBO’s Oslo and Lifetime’s Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia, a somewhat curious selection of bedfellows.

Salke said, “This is content and we love it. These were incredible films that were moving and transported audiences all over the world to another point in time and we are just very proud of them. I know people choke on that [TV movie] description, I’ve certainly had my share of conversations with filmmakers about the “TV movie” category but coming from my background in television, I’m just refusing to bring the same prejudice against it, they’re films we want as many people as possible to see.”

Small Axe: Mangrove
Small Axe: Mangrove

Speaking of films, she admitted that the categorisation of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe (right), which essentially consists of five standalone stories, under the anthology umbrella, may have been one of the reasons for the Television Academy’s surprising snub of the BBC co-pro.

“I love Steve. I met Steve at dinner and I made the deal for Small Axe after that meal and we’ve put another series in development [sci-fi drama Last Days] and we’ve made Amazon his home so I’m disappointed in that… but we’re still extremely proud of it and this doesn’t change any of that for us,” Salke said.

“Steve was so specific about what he wanted to do with his vision and that’s what we stand behind. I would never try and change that to fit it into an awards category and we hoped that the films themselves would transcend some of that confusion or bias, or whatever it might be, but it didn’t happen,” she added.

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