• There will now be seven series nominees in both the Outstanding Drama Series and Comedy Series categories. Previously, there were six. The TV Academy cited a dramatic increase in original content production as the reason for the increase.
• In response to many programs changing their denomination as a comedy or a drama to better their chance at nominations, the TV Academy has changed the eligibility rules so all half-hour series (or less) are considered comedies and all series longer than 30 minutes are considered dramas.
• The category title Outstanding Miniseries will be changed to Outstanding Limited Series. In order to meet the qualifying requirements, programs must consist of two or more episodes with a total running time of at least 150 program minutes and tell a complete, non-recurring story. That story must not have an ongoing storyline and/or main characters in subsequent seasons. “Comedy” and “Drama” categories will continue to be defined as programs with a minimum of six episodes which have an ongoing storyline, theme and main characters presented under the same title and with continuity of production supervision.
• Guest Actor nominees must appear in less than half of a program’s total episodes.
• Outstanding Variety Series has been split into two categories: Outstanding Variety Talk and Outstanding Variety Sketch. Only “Talk” will be awarded during the Primetime Emmys, with “Sketch” winners being announced at the Creative Arts ceremony.
• All voters eligible to vote in a category’s nominating round are now eligible to vote in that category’s final round, as long as they meet the following additional requirements: voters must watch the required submitted material online and attest to no specific conflicts of interest with the nominees.
The most drastic change among the new rules is the definition of “comedy” and “drama,” and the show hit hardest will likely be “Orange is the New Black.” The Netflix series is made up of episodes longer — often much longer — than 30 minutes, so it will have to switch categories for the 2015 ceremony. This is nothing new for the series, as it was originally submitted as a drama for the 2014 Golden Globes before changing to the comedy category for the 2014 Emmys and 2015 Globes.
But part of the reason for the change was that “Orange is the New Black” earned only a Best Actress nomination for Taylor Schilling when it filed as a drama, and now the series will be facing off against its network’s brethren and pre-established Academy favorite “House of Cards” in the drama category. Many felt like “Orange is the New Black” couldn’t compete with the more heavy-hitting competitors on the drama side, and Netflix clearly agreed when it made the change. We’ll see what happens when nominations are announced July 16.
Other affected series include “Shameless,” which made the change to comedy just last year after years of unsuccessfully submitting as a drama; “Glee,” which has won all six of its Emmys in the comedy category; and some new series that could be argued are closer to drama than comedy like “Transparent” (which successfully submitted as a comedy at the Golden Globes).
The other rule change bound to make ripples for an existing show is in the newly-titled Outstanding Limited Series category, which now lays out eligibility rules seemingly tailor-made to fit “True Detective.” Though the show’s creators chose to submit as a Drama Series last year and will likely be able to do so again in 2015 thanks to the option for producers to petition in favor of their series — that is, if Season 2 even comes out in time for this year’s Emmys — the new title and qualifications seem well-suited for the “non-recurring story” and could result in future seasons of “True Detective” being relegated to Outstanding Limited Series.
Also intriguing to see is whether the addition of an extra nominee in the series categories results in attention paid to long-heralded programs that have gone largely unrewarded by the TV Academy or if previous nominees resurface again after falling out of favor in recent years. Critics would be quite pleased to see “The Americans” sneak into the drama category or “Please Like Me” snag a nod in comedy. But instead might we see “Girls,” “Nurse Jackie” or “Glee” get back into the race after being ignored last year (or, on the drama side, “Homeland” and “The Good Wife”)? Still another option is a Globes-like preference for new blood. Academy voters won’t be short on choices there as “Transparent,” “Togetherness,” “The Affair,” “Penny Dreadful” and “The Leftovers” are just a few of the hot new series vying for attention.
No matter how it turns out, the Emmys shake-up should draw in more fans. Much like when the Oscars expanded their Best Picture race to 10 nominees (and then scaled back to “five or more”), more TV nominees means more viewers watching to see if their favorite actors and shows take home the gold. The big winner today isn’t the Academy — who, as an artistic institution, should be embarrassed to define genres by time restrictions — but FOX, the network broadcasting this year’s Emmys. The Oscars’ strategy may not be perfect (as we’ve seen this year), but it’s a timely improvement for TV.