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How the Emmys Do (and Don’t) Influence TV’s Winter Awards Season

Spoiler alert: The Emmy eligibility period is still bad.

Jason Sudeikis from 'Ted Lasso' appears at the 73RD EMMY AWARDS, broadcast Sunday, Sept. 19 (8:00-11:00 PM, live ET/5:00-8:00 PM, live PT) on the CBS Television Network and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. -- Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS ©2021 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Jason Sudeikis at the 2021 Emmys

CBS

The clocks have changed, Los Angeles is experiencing overnight lows of a frigid 53 degrees, pumpkins are rotting on apartment balconies all over North Hollywood. All are portents pointing to a single, irrefutable truth: TV’s winter awards season is here.

Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself, “Gee, how can it be winter awards season already? It seems like just yesterday we were hanging up our ‘Emily in Paris’ ornaments, lighting our promotional ‘Flight Attendant’ candles, and donning our ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ cosplay in anticipation for the Primetime Emmy Awards.” If so, you’re not wrong. A mere seven weeks ago the Television Academy presented its prizes for the finest programs the TV industry had to offer during the 2020-2021 season.

TV’s winter awards are not the Emmy Awards. Not by a long shot. That’s what makes them great.

But first, a look at what went down in September.

Netflix had a historic night at the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony, taking home its first series trophy — two trophies, in fact — since the streamer started producing original programming in 2012. It also saw an overall Emmy total of 44, tying the record set by CBS in 1974. Buoying those numbers was limited series “The Queen’s Gambit” and drama series “The Crown,” the latter of which became the first drama series in history to sweep the top seven categories (series, directing, writing, actor, actress, supporting actor, and supporting actress).

Apple TV+ also had a good night with freshman comedy “Ted Lasso” scoring the first series prize for the streamer, less than two years after the service launched. While that comedy won awards for actor, supporting actor, and supporting actress, in addition to best series, HBO Max’s “Hacks,” also in its first season, triumphed in actress, writing, and directing.

In limited series, the aforementioned “Queen’s Gambit” also won directing, while HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” was victorious in three of the four acting categories.

It’s with all that context in mind that we arrive at the winter awards season, where the game stays the same, but the players differ. Sort of.

Take the comedy competitions we’ll see in the coming months. There will inevitably be shows added to the mix which have premiered or returned since the close of the Emmy eligibility window on May 31, 2021. Shows including FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows” or Hulu’s “Pen15,” which returns on December 3. But we’ll also see “Hacks” remain a strong contender and it’ll still have to go head-to-head with “Ted Lasso,” just like it did in September.

Well, not exactly like it did in September.

Jen Statsky, Lucia Aniello, and Paul W. Downs, winners of Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series and Outstanding Directing For A Comedy Series for 'Hacks,' pose in the press room

Jen Statsky, Lucia Aniello, and Paul W. Downs

PMC

See, when “Ted Lasso” was in competition at the Primetime Emmys, it was for its first season, which debuted in August 2020. It then tore through winter awards season last year, making it the frontrunner for comedy series when the Emmys rolled around in 2021. Now, this winter, we’ll see “Ted Lasso” compete with its second season, squaring off against that first season of “Hacks.”

This reality makes it a bit tricky to gauge how the winter races will shake out. Is “Ted Lasso” still an unstoppable monolith? Will voters still be riding high on the show or will a different show emerge with heat, some series that proves itself more appealing than the more polarizing second season of “Ted Lasso”? Impossible to say.

All of these are only questions because of the Television Academy’s refusal to reconsider its awards eligibility period. Instead of moving to the calendar-year model utilized by every other awards body, the organization remains shackled to the skeletal remains of the broadcast TV schedule. Specifically, dedicated to using a June 1 to May 31 eligibility period, which made far more sense when a TV season began in September and concluded in May.

Adherence to this model means that TV will never have a singular awards season, unlike the film awards calendar which progresses incrementally until the grand finale of the Academy Awards. Instead, TV awards remain bifurcated into two separate seasons: winter awards season and Emmy season. (Los Angeles also only has two seasons: spring and hell.)

So we head into another winter awards season clear-eyed about the perpetually hazy months to come. But there is an upside to TV’s lack of a unified awards season. Without it, each ceremony and accolade is allowed to stand alone, not in comparison or as fodder building up to events nearly a year away and with only tangential relevance. Maybe it’s better this way. (It’s not.)

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