The Television Academy announced its revisions to the Emmy Awards rulebook last week, an annual tradition as consistent as the consternation it inevitably sparks. This year’s batch of adjustments are, if nothing else, extremely straightforward when it comes to interpretation, which has not always been the case in years prior. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the overall mixed bag of resolutions announced, which generally fall into one of three categories: The good, the bad, and the long overdue.
Let’s start with a little good news.
Starting with the 2021 Emmy season, anthology series will finally have a place to call home. And by that I mean they’re getting lumped together with limited series in a category now named Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series, naturally.
Is it true? Could the country’s long national nightmare regarding categorization of anthology series finally be coming to an end? Ha! No. Not so long as Film Twitter is around to argue whether they get to claim the “Small Axe” series as films, actually.
It is, though, a step in the right direction with regards to establishing a clear precedent for these types of issues moving forward. It’s a rule change that comes as a corrective to the beyond broken Outstanding TV Movie category, where Netflix’s “Black Mirror” paved the way for episodic anthology series to compete as a TV movie with an individual episode to great success, winning the category in three consecutive years. Over the years, the TV Academy attempted to reshape TV movie eligibility by instating length requirements, a noble attempt to get the train back on track, but as IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers pointed out in September, “TV movies are dead. There are just movies now.“
With the newly announced rule change, episodic anthology series — including “Black Mirror” and Amazon Prime Video’s “Small Axe” — will have a permanent place to compete. Of course, with that, they lose the choice to submit as Comedy or Drama Series, as well as now being unable to submit individual episodes as movies. Though previously speculated otherwise, an individual with knowledge of the situation informed IndieWire that Prime Video never intended to compete in TV Movie, expressing that “Small Axe” was always meant to be seen as a collection of films, with no plan to break them up for competition.
Letitia Wright in Prime Video’s “Small Axe”The point is, clarity and consistency is good. It’s a starting point, at least. (Actually, now that it’s all written out, that rule change is probably closer to “a relatively positive development” than just straight-up “good.”)
As for distinctly negative developments, the TV Academy also announced that it was collapsing Variety Talk and Variety Sketch Series into a single, collective category, which is the exact opposite of what they needed to do. The categories were originally separated in 2015 and it seems as though the organization felt that the split wasn’t a good representation of the genre. They aren’t wrong, but they aren’t right either.
When the categories were created, it did seem like we were in the midst of a sketch comedy renaissance, with “Inside Amy Schumer,” “Key and Peele,” and “Portlandia” just a few of the shows competing against perennial powerhouse “Saturday Night Live.” In 2020, the TV Academy offered up only three nominees in the category, which it apparently took as a death knell.
But the problem has never been with the variety sketch shows — I mean, obviously there’s a problem, but it’s not the one we’re talking about — it’s been with the variety talk shows. What’s happening right now is you have series like “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” winning the category for the last five years, while competing against series doing very different things than him. Shows like “Last Week Tonight” or “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” have an entire week to pull their shows together, working on a significantly different time frame than their four-shows-per-week counterparts, like Trevor Noah and “The Daily Show” team or Stephen Colbert and crew on “The Late Show.”
To better serve the variety categories as a whole, the TV Academy should have broken them down, not consolidated them. Make Variety Sketch, Variety Talk (Daily), and Variety Talk (Weekly) categories. Cap them at three nominees per category if you must, but the Emmys need better representation of TV more than it needs category streamlining. No one’s saying become the Grammys — but there’s room to be a little more like the Grammys.
That aside, the TV Academy hit a home run with one particular rule change, an adjustment that has been long overdue. The TV Academy introduced a category honoring stunt coordination in 2002, but it wasn’t until now that the stunt performers themselves will get the recognition they deserve.
Starting in 2021, the Emmys will recognize stunt performers in Outstanding Stunt Performance by an Individual or Team in a Drama, Comedy, Limited Series or Movie, proving stunt performers often risk life and limb behind-the-scenes (but in front of the camera) on almost every show you watch and love.