When people talk about the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony, as overseen by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, you’ll often hear them refer to the event as TV’s biggest night. And it should be. After all, that’s the night that some of TV’s most prized honors are awarded, as voted on by the experts: those individuals that live and work and eat and breathe television and therefore know it best.
But are the Primetime Emmys really TV’s biggest night? Does the event receive the recognition and enthusiasm that it deserves? Or is it getting upstaged by a far-more watched awards broadcast from a far less prestigious source?
There’s a difference, of course, between perception and reality. That’s likely why people continue to call the Emmys the zenith of TV honors, despite flagging ratings. In reality, the number of viewers tuning into the Emmy Awards are a fraction of those that watch the Golden Globe Awards, as chosen by the 90-some individuals that make up the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Last year, 6.1 million viewers tuned in for a socially distanced Emmy ceremony — down from 6.9 million in 2019 — compared to more than 18 million for the Golden Globes.
For those of us who only want the best for TV and all the quality programming therein, the disparity between audiences is excruciating, particularly when so much of the issue appears to come down to a matter of timing.
Admittedly, one can’t make a true one to one comparison between the Emmys and the Golden Globes, thanks to the latter’s simultaneous celebration of motion pictures, but in a way, it’s that inclusion that makes all the difference.
The Golden Globes like to think of themselves — at least in a typical year — as the unofficial kickoff to awards season, one of the first significant precursors in the long march to the Academy Awards and with their typical early January date, it thrives by serving as an easy transition from the holiday season to Oscar season.
But the Emmys have no such advantage. And the TV Academy has no one but themselves to blame.
With its forever wonky eligibility calendar, which runs from June 1 through May 31, the Emmy Awards remain isolated in late September, with nary a precursor or build-up period visible to anyone who isn’t already wholly absorbed by the industry.
To a certain extent, maybe that’s the point. Maybe the logic behind adhering to a calendar that was clearly created to reflect the traditional TV release schedule — which saw premieres in September, finales in May, and a summer filled with reruns — comes from wanting to be an individual that can stand on its own two feet and not give in to the pressure of a singular awards season that encompasses both film and TV.
If that is the thinking behind holding firm with its antiquated schedule, it might behoove the TV Academy to re-evaluate. Entertainment journalists are forever writing about how the lines between TV and film are only growing more blurred. With streaming further closing that gap, it makes sense to stop viewing the two mediums as completely unrelated and to start viewing them as twin pillars of moving picture narratives.
That would better be achieved if the TV Academy would shift its awards calendar to January-December eligibility and repurposing Oscar season as a singular awards season, making guild honors and ancillary awards true precursors for the Emmy Awards and finally putting the honors on the same playing field as the Academy Awards.
As 2021 unfolds with a broken and battered Oscar season, the likes of which we’ve never seen before, and in which many of the awards frontrunners have not yet been released for general audiences to view — much less root for — it’s somewhat astonishing how keenly I (for one) have felt the loss of anticipation. But if losing a well-rounded Oscar season is painful, the grief at not having an Emmy season to speak of is excruciating. TV is great and deserves a volatile and eventful hype period, the likes of which film has long known.
Of course, the Primetime Emmy Awards relocating to the first of the year also has its advantages when it comes to taking the wind out of the Golden Globe Awards’ sails. Changing the Emmys calendar would automatically make them the highest TV awards, well, awarded during awards season, stripping the Golden Globes and the HFPA of the distinction and relegating the ceremony to a precursor and not the big dance.
Part of the reason that people aren’t able to quit the Golden Globes — even when the organization presenting them seems bound and determined to overlook and devalue the contributions of BIPOC storytellers and creatives — is because there’s no other option. Having the Globes and, consequently, the SAG Awards, DGA Awards, PGA Awards, and so on, plays into a larger awards narrative that, for TV, ends triumphantly with the Emmys being the crowning glory, and it recalibrates the honors scale on which TV operates.
It’s time for the Primetime Emmy Awards to take their place among the larger awards season, not because they need to fall in line behind film, but because they are film’s equal and should be included in the joy of anticipation that accompanies a period of precursors.
People care about TV. Why not adapt so that audiences can have an opportunity to have something to root for?