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How ‘Black Mirror’ Blew the Emmy Rules to Smithereens — TV Podcast

The greatest trick Netflix ever pulled was convincing the Emmys that "Black Mirror" episodes were TV movies.

Andrew Scott Black Mirror Smithereens

Andrew Scott in “Black Mirror”

Netflix

It is, on the surface, fairly innocuous news. On Tuesday, Variety reported that Netflix had successfully petitioned the Television Academy to allow the second episode of the fifth season of “Black Mirror” to compete as a TV movie at the Emmy Awards, despite not qualifying based on its running time.

The problem with the decision has little to do with “Black Mirror” and everything to do with the Academy arbitrarily undermining its own rules and regulations.

In December 2018, during its usual annual re-evaluation of its rulebook, the TV Academy restructured the Outstanding Television Movie category to clarify that in order to qualify as a “TV movie” a submission must be at least 75 minutes long.

At the time, the change seemed to be a direct reaction to “Black Mirror,” the sci-fi anthology series that had won the category for two consecutive years at that point, first for “San Junipero,” which is a 61-minute long episode, and then for “USS Callister,” an episode that ran 76 minutes. “OK,” the organization seemed to be saying, “if you want to compete in TV movie, at least pretend to be long enough to be a TV movie.”

Immediately after the rule change, “Black Mirror” again won the TV movie Emmy, this time for “Bandersnatch,” an interactive episode maybe better suited for the Creative Arts Emmy Awards — where it was also entered, and also won, for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media Within a Scripted Program — with a variable run time, but officially 90 minutes for the default path through the story. So seemingly, sort of, “Black Mirror” was willing and able to play by the TV Academy’s rules.

Which brings us to this year and Wednesday’s news. The episode in question, “Smithereens,” stars “Fleabag” hot priest Andrew Scott as a cab driver having a really erratic day and carries a 70-minute running time, a full five minutes short of the Academy’s already extremely lenient requirements on what constitutes a TV movie.

The problem, then, is not with the fact that Netflix petitioned to be included in the category in question. That’s precisely why the option is there. But the Academy’s choice to overturn its own rules, rules instituted less than 18 months ago, is baffling. Why bother restructuring a category at all if you’re just going to undermine your own eligibility requirements? At this juncture the only thing the TV movie category makeover has changed is that it has increased the amount of paperwork required for “Black Mirror” to be included.

(Which is to say nothing about the fact that “Black Mirror” and other anthology shows shouldn’t be competing in TV movie at all, given that they are not, in fact, TV movies and are, rather, episodes of television. Each year “Black Mirror” has won the Emmy, the rest of the category’s nominees have been actual television movies, all of which have clearly been shut out. And don’t even get me started on the fact that no small part of this surely involves Netflix’s relationship with the Oscars and not wanting to submit their actual TV movies as TV movies, lest they muddy the waters even more on which of its wares should be considered television and which should be considered film.)

For more on what insignificant aspects of the TV industry we’re absolutely infuriated by for no real reason (beyond words having meanings), check out this week’s episode of “Millions of Screens” with TV Awards Editor Libby Hill, TV Deputy Editor Ben Travers, and Creative Producer Leo Garcia — as recorded from the comfort of their three respective Los Angeles-area apartments, where they are definitely not “Rear Window-ing” their neighbors to pass the time.

Plus, stick around to find out how business is booming at Netflix, with Q1 reports showing that many people are turning to the streaming behemoth for comfort during these trying times, as well as what we’re feeling about the May 27 launch of HBO Max — and if pandemic panic will spoil the endeavor’s debut.

Millions of Screens” is available on AnchorApple PodcastsBreakerGoogle PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher. You can subscribe here or via RSS. Share your feedback with the crew on Twitter or sound off in the comments. Review the show on iTunes and be sure to let us know if you’d like to hear the gang address specific issues in upcoming editions of “Millions of Screens.” Check out the rest of IndieWire’s podcasts on iTunes right here.

This episode of “Millions of Screens” was produced by Leonardo Adrian Garcia.

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