Handicapping Emmy nominations isn’t easy, but here’s something you can always count on: There will be disappointment.
With so many worthy contenders, snubs and surprises are almost guaranteed once the TV Academy reveals this year’s nominees on Thursday.
The Emmy Awards continue to have a Peak TV Problem. We’re living in an age of 500 scripted series – but there’s only room to nominate 21 “outstanding” series (drama, comedy and limited-run) at most. That’s just 4.2 percent of all contenders – and even if you believe most of TV is garbage, you gotta admit that more than 4.2 percent of it is worthy of best series consideration.
With so few slots, there are few “sure things” – other than Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ nomination and probable repeat win for “Veep.”
But beyond JLD, a lot of deserving shows and stars simply get lost in the sheer tonnage of contenders. There’s no obvious way to fix that, other than going full-blown Grammys and loading up on more genre-specific categories. But that option is a non-starter for the Television Academy – and for an industry already suffering from awards fatigue. Between two Creative Arts ceremonies and the big Primetime Emmys event, no one’s clamoring to expand the show even more.
The Academy is loathe to give in to what it deems the scourge of “awards proliferation,” but there are perhaps still a few ways to spread the wealth around. Here are a few ideas – including some that seem to come up every year.
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• Bring back the Outstanding New Series award. This should be a no-brainer, but the Emmy for best new series hasn’t been awarded since 1973, back when there were only four networks (including PBS) and a much smaller pool of contenders.
Now, such a category could become the most exciting of the entire ceremony – there’s no chance of repeat nominees or winners, adding more suspense. There’s the excitement of pitting shows of all stripes in the same category, honoring the year’s true trailblazer. And there’s potentially room for new networks and new talent to make a big splash.
The TV Academy seems to debate the idea of a New Series Emmy almost every year, and yet has been unable to pull the trigger. One argument has been that new series are frequently represented in other categories — but that’s not always the case, and veteran shows frequently hog spaces in those races for years.
This may be more of an exception, as several new shows are contenders for key categories, including “Atlanta,” “The Crown,” “Stranger Things” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” so there’s something to be said for the argument against redundancy. But that’s this year.
• Expand the major series categories to ten nominees. This is another idea that is frequently brought up, and for good reason: There are more than enough contenders that even with 10 nominees, other shows will be left out in the “snub” pile.
It’s good enough for the Oscars, where up to 10 films can be nominated for best picture. There are more contenders in the TV world, and voters could easily find 10 comedy and drama nominees. (Perhaps the limited series and variety categories would stick with the current cap). A move to 10 would allow for a few more dark horses, and spread the wealth around. It would make for a crowded race, but that would also make for a more exciting and vigorous campaign season.
• Find a way to recognize shows that produce 18 or more episodes per season. Sure, it’s a bit of a gimme for the broadcast networks, but their shows have been mostly shut out of the major races. This is a way to recognize the difficult task of producing an entire 22-episode season, something that used to be the norm.
It would be a category the broadcast networks (who still foot the bill for the annual Emmy telecast, after all) could once again call their own. The last time a series with an old-fashioned lengthy season order won the Outstanding Drama Emmy? “24,” in 2006. Yeah, it’s a bit of a charity category for the broadcasters, but not completely – cable and streaming series that front full-season series are still eligible as well.
• Separate shows shot in front of a studio audience from filmed series. It’s the multi-cam vs. single-cam conundrum, and it’s a very real debate. Sitcoms taped with an audience are like stage plays – the rhythm, production, direction and performances are all completely different. How can “Atlanta” and “Veep” be judged the same way as “The Big Bang Theory” or “One Day at a Time”? Simple: They can’t.
Granted, there aren’t many multi-camera sitcoms on the air anymore, so splitting comedy into two might not even be possible in 2017. But a sitcom shot in front of a live studio audience hasn’t won the best comedy Emmy since 2005 (“Everybody Loves Raymond”), so like the drama series conundrum, the genre has splintered to a point that one form is now at a complete disadvantage.
• Finally create the drama/comedy hybrid category that has also been discussed over the years. Unclassifiable shows like “Orange is the New Black,” “Shameless,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Transparent” and “Atlanta” could finally have a true home in the Outstanding Hybrid Series category. Too comedic to be a drama but too dramatic to be a comedy, these shows would no longer have to face off with nominees that are clearly comedies or dramas. Such a category would also free up space in the drama and comedy races for other contenders. Talent could decide on their own whether their performances should be in the comedy or drama actor and actress categories — same with below-the-line. That way nominees can decide where they best fit, without being shoehorned somewhere they shouldn’t be.
• Introduce an Outstanding Sci-Fi/Comic Book/Genre Series category. Sorry, “Game of Thrones,” you’d have to pick a spot — this or the traditional drama race. But for the quality genre shows that never get Emmy attention, this is an opportunity to get in the game. (And as a bonus, the Television Academy might actually lure in a few younger eyeballs curious to see if “Supernatural,” “Once Upon a Time” or “Preacher” make the grade.) This is the fastest-growing genre in TV, and is traditionally ignored by voters (with a few exceptions over the years, including “Thrones” and “Lost”). Again, performers would still have to choose whether they’re competing in comedy or drama acting categories, but the shows could enter here.
This year, the TV Academy added four new Interactive Media awards, so it’s open to adding new categories where it deems necessary. Perhaps all of these ideas would be overkill – but if the Emmys are looking to recognize more worthy shows and attract more TV fans, these are all plausible ideas.