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Is ‘Grace and Frankie’ the Exception That Breaks the New Emmy Rules?

Is 'Grace and Frankie' the Exception That Breaks the New Emmy Rules?

Grace and Frankie” is a comedy. So says Netflix, and so says the Television Academy.

Netflix, mind you, is making the argument (in part) because they need a strong Emmys presence on the comedy side of things, now that “Orange is the New Black” has been relegated to drama. Despite submitting a petition for Jenji Kohan’s prison dramedy to be reinstated as a comedy, Netflix’s pleas were denied by the Television Academy. The show is simply too long to be a comedy under the new rules passed down in 2015.

For Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin’s new series, though, the Television Academy is happy to comply. Despite the fact Marta Kauffman and Howard J. Morris created a show with equal doses of comedy and drama (if not more of the latter), there’s no debate over which category it should compete in at the Emmys. Why? It’s only 30 minutes long. 

READ MORE: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin on ‘Grace and Frankie,’ Loving Each Other (For Real) and the Right Way to Take Peyote (Also For Real)

Let’s go back. In February 2015, the Television Academy announced a few new rules for its upcoming awards ceremony. For one, there would be seven nominees in the Outstanding Comedy Series and Drama Series categories. For another, Outstanding Miniseries is now called Outstanding Limited Series, and features strict qualifying requirements to get in (or, more likely, keep shows like “True Detective” out of the drama categories). Yet perhaps the most frustrating of the new decrees came with an indiscriminate, all-too-broad label: All half-hour series will be submitted as comedies, and all series 30 minutes or longer will be considered dramas. 

Now, as nice as it is to see an awards telecast provide new, clear guidelines addressing past problems, a number of issues have already popped up. For one, while “Orange is the New Black” lost its petition to submit in the comedy category, a number of other hour-long series won. “Shameless,” “Jane the Virgin” and “Glee” all successfully partook in the process and will compete as comedies in 2015. “Shameless” only started competing as a comedy last year, but apparently the show met the vague qualifications of the nine-member judging committee. The panel is asked to determine “as to whether it predominantly takes a comedic or a dramatic approach to the material” after watching all episodes of a season submitted. Three made the cut, but one very prominent former comedy nominee did not.

What the above illustrates is the inherent subjectivity involved in the process, just as it’s always been. These new time restrictions make it clearer who belongs where to the audience watching at home, but then they’ll start to wonder why “Jane the Virgin” is competing against “Veep,” blowing up the purpose of the additional regulations. Moreover, shows will always be fighting to get into the less competitive comedy categories. Far fewer will be going the other way, meaning studio marketing departments are still the ones in charge of determining where each show belongs instead of plain ‘ol common sense.

Enter “Grace and Frankie.” One of the most consistent comments found in reviews of the Netflix series related to how dramatic this half-hour sitcom from the creators of “Friends” and “Home Improvement” actually ended up. Indiewire TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller described the series as a “post-apocalyptic drama” in her review, adding “it takes a long time for things to feel at all funny.” Neither point was to the show’s detriment (Miller graded it a B+), but the dramatic heft of the premise continued to be felt all the way through the 13-episode first season. Without getting too spoiler-y, “Grace and Frankie” isn’t afraid to make its audience feel the gravity of the situations presented. 

No couple is spared, either. While most viewers would expect scenes depicting the plight of two 70-year-old divorcees whose husbands had been gay throughout their entire marriage, both Grace and Frankie and Robert and Sol suffer grave consequences of the split. Sol perhaps is hurt the most, missing his ex-wife Frankie to the point where it repeatedly puts his relationship with Robert in jeopardy. On top of that, the children — who play small but significant roles — are also plagued by the actions of their progressive parents. 

After watching all 13 episodes, the scenes I remember the most aren’t funny. It’s when Martin Sheen breaks down in tears as Robert remembers how much Grace did for him during hard times. Or when Sol rushes to Frankie’s side after a light earthquake because he knows he’s the only one who can calm her down. Or when an extended flashback sequence illuminates the day-to-day hardships Robert and Sol faced when trying to come out. There are so many moments that would have even the most macho man bursting into tears, it’s damn near impossible to thing of “Grace and Frankie” as a comedy. 

Now, no one’s arguing “Grace and Frankie” should compete as a drama if they’re looking to win. Sitting at a 48 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it will need all the help it can get to land a few nominations, and it’s simply tougher to break into drama right now (and pretty much always). But it shouldn’t matter what’s easier. It should matter what’s fair. If “Grace and Frankie” is a weeper with as many laugh-out-loud moments as “Mad Men,” it shouldn’t be held to the silly, already outdated standard of its run time. Neither should “Jane the Virgin,” a series clearly aiming for (and obtaining) laughs above all else throughout its 42-minute episodes. 

While the new rules give the appearance of actual effort by the TV Academy, a true show of support to the creative community wouldn’t be to add more regulations. It would be to have less. Much less. Rather than setting run time restrictions or letting networks choose their own adventure, the TV Academy should decide where a show belongs — and not via any new rules set in place to pass the buck. Subjectivity cannot be escaped in arts competitions. Embracing it is the better choice than running from it. After all, it’s their competition. If you’re going to say something, you better have something to say.

READ MORE: 2015 Emmy Predictions

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(Correction: ‘show’, not ‘shot’)


Whether or not a show is considered a comedy should have nothing to do with length. That’s ridiculous. If a show is MOSTLY funny- or an attempt at being funny, its a comedy. If a shot is MOSTLY serious- or an attempt at being serious, it’s a drama. Grace and Frankie is a comedy. Orange is the New Black is a drama. Rocket science this ain’t.


Absolutely love this show.I laughed out loud.The difficult times these families face together are touching. They get through it with support for each other and a sense of HUMOR! Jane and Lilly are incredible. Love you ladies. Can’t wait for season 2. Thank you for Grace and Frankie.


Here’s a revolutionary idea: why not let the producers decide whether they’re a comedy or a drama, and then let the voters decide based on the choices presented?


"Grace and Frankie" is not a through-and-through drama. We all know dramas; we’ve watched them for years. "House of Cards" is a drama. "Scandal" is a drama. Yes, there are dramatic moments as Grace and Frankie navigate the terrain of their new lives given their unfortunate circumstance, but the mood of the episodes errs on the side of the lighthearted, the humorous (especially because of Tomlin’s comedic genius). I think placing shows in certain categories solely based on length is just plain silly. If there is going to be a big hubbub about it, maybe they should just make a "dramedy" category and get over it.


I agree with Mathew except with the codicil Best 30 minute Comedy, Best Hour Comedy, Best 30 min Drama, Best hour drama

Mathew Jones

the categories should be Best 30 minute show and Best Hour Long Show

Branko Burcksen

You know what really dramatic show from yesteryear would fall into comedy based on those rules? The Twilight Zone. Obviously we have moved on from those days, but another thing these rules do is makes it that much harder of the Academy to take animation seriously. Pretty much all cartoon series are exclusively half-hour regardless of the genre. It is hard enough to make an animated series, but making an hour long show, at least at this point, is virtually impossible. From a mainstream America point of view these regulations do not make much of a difference as far as cartoons are concerned, but that discounts the strong presence a wider range of animated series have gained through video streaming, which the Academy has wholeheartedly embraced for the sake of Netflix and Amazon. Who knows what the future holds? They can change rules again, so new shows in the vain of ones from the past like The Twilight Zone might get some recognition from audiences that really appreciate. A good example of this is a show called Death Parade, which is really worth checking out.

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