Peak TV has laid waste to the television landscape, demolishing viewers’ ambitions of remaining current on the best that the small screen has to offer, and leaving critics around the world bleary-eyed, mumbling to themselves about hot priests, NoHo Hank, and Gilead. Now, with nearly 500 scripted shows airing in 2018, the platinum age of TV might be readying to topple the most prestigious organization in the industry: the Television Academy.
On June 10, nomination voting for the 2019 Emmy Awards opened and Academy members were greeted with a jaw-dropping ballot, which included 108 candidates for Outstanding Comedy Series, 165 candidates for Outstanding Drama Series, and 107 candidates Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded). Those are just a handful of numbers from dozens of categories, all of which add up to an unthinkable amount of candidates for voters to sift through.
Several TV Academy members agreed to speak with IndieWire on the condition of anonymity about the sheer enormity of this year’s ballot. The TV Academy did not immediately respond to IndieWire’s request for comment about their balloting system and layout.
“The piles of DVDs that show up on your doorstep for screeners are overwhelming. The amount of FYC events are overwhelming,” a voter from the Academy’s executive branch said. “And then when you finally get the ballot, you realize that you can’t watch every show and make an educated guess.”
“You’re looking at the ballot and going, ‘Oh my God,’” another Academy member, this time belonging to the public relations and interactive media peer groups, shared. “The TV Academy has done a great job to showcase shows before balloting starts, but when the ballots arrived on Monday, you realized there weren’t FYCs for all these shows.”
As far as the ballot itself, there’s no expectation that voters could reasonably view all eligible entrants, with instructions clearly stating that voters should “Vote for as many achievements in this category that you have seen and feel are worthy of nomination.”
Ultimately, that means that each individual must depend on their own morality and code of conduct when it comes to establishing a voting strategy.
“You look through the list and […] for me personally, I’m looking at shows that I’ve either seen multiple episodes of — because I don’t feel that a single episode will tell you the true nature of a show — or what I’ve seen a full movie of,” the TV executive voter said. “So by process of elimination, I’ll take those that I’m very familiar with and pick from those.”
Our other voter has their own strategy.
Courtesy of Parkwood
“I try to vote for six or under. I try to treat it like this is the final ballot,” they said. “I voted for Beyoncé’s ‘Homecoming,’ not because it was about Historically Black Colleges and Universities but because it was a good concert movie. I voted for ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’ because it was interesting and innovative.”
But voting your conscience isn’t foolproof, as the TV Academy learned recently. On June 13, the organization released a statement after several members of the performers peer group were disqualified for vote organization.
“The Television Academy has disqualified a few members who were engaged in the early stages of a block voting strategy for the first round of Emmy voting,” the Academy said in a statement. “This is a direct violation of our rules of competition and our member code of conduct. This type of activity will not be tolerated. The Emmy stands for excellence and the integrity of this award is of paramount importance to the television industry.”
“We will continue to be diligent in our efforts to ensure the fairness of this competition,” the Academy’s statement continued. “In addition to our own rigorous safeguards, our independent auditors at EY monitor Emmy voting for potential improprieties.”
One of our voters was unsurprised by the Academy’s move, but thinks that quid-pro-quo and block voting isn’t something that’s only creeped into the race this year.
“It definitely happens,” they said. “It’s kind of known. ‘I’ll support your show, if you support mine.’” The voter also suggested that networks generally block voted, implicitly, if not explicitly.
The suggestion isn’t as much of a stretch as one might think. On Reddit you can find an image of an Emmy polling place allegedly located on the Sony lot, bringing to mind state regulations creating campaign-free buffer zones around polling places and wondering if it’s time for the Emmy Awards to consider implementing the same restrictions.
It’s almost certainly a measure too extreme for the current situation but the television landscape suggests that Peak TV might be driving the Academy to a point of no return. 2018-2019 was the final Emmy season in which physical screeners were mailed out, with the organization moving to online only screeners in years to come. As of right now, there’s no single repository for all of the Emmy eligible screeners and no direct link from the ballot itself to screener sites to allow voters to easily view content as they peruse their ballot.
But our anonymous voters believe the system can be fixed.
One suggested an expanded nomination period, that allows people more time with the ballot so they have a better idea of what’s contending where. They also suggested the institution of another regulatory committee dedicated to determining not just if submissions meet quantitative eligibility guidelines, but also qualitative restrictions. Specifically, they pointed to the booming short form non-fiction category which boasts nearly 50 nominees, where hangover content from pre-existing series — including “Saturday Night Live” — competes against legitimately scripted independent series, and suggesting that the Academy would do well to think about overhauling several of its categories, given the evolving television model.
They also think that the organization as a whole is actually in a pretty charmed position.
“I think the TV Academy has a good problem, but still a problem. There’s so much content that falls under the umbrella of TV and people want Emmys,” they explained. “The good news is that its an awards show that people are investing in. It’s not like the music business, where streaming killed it. The bad news is that the content is not going back in the bottle.”
At this point, the problem might be no problem at all. Maybe this year’s Emmy nominees will represent the full and brilliant diversity of peak TV. Or maybe the crop of nominees will represent those entities with the most money to spend and the most employees on their payroll. Either could be indicative of an entertainment landscape too wide-ranging to be distilled into a single awards show. But that doesn’t mean that the Emmys should stop trying.