Welcome to the 2023 Primetime Emmys, Where Rule Changes Mean Welcome Disruption

Revisions to the Variety and Documentary categories in particular ensure that the 2023 Emmys will be more unpredictable.
The Problem with Jon Stewart, Schmigadoon, "Sr."
"The Problem with Jon Stewart"; "Schmigadoon"; "'Sr.'"
Apple TV+/ Schmigadoon/ Netflix

There’s no official starting flag for the Emmy Awards season, but the first day of May is close enough. In advance of hundreds of shows preparing to submit for consideration, the Television Academy has thrown itself into the spring cleaning otherwise known as rule changes.

A persistent and accurate complaint about the Primetime Emmys is voters’ tendencies to choose certain projects and people as the winners over and over (and over) again. While the rules change every year to adapt to the ever-evolving state of television, they often do not disrupt that monotony—until now.

Here’s a rundown of the most interesting changes made for the 2023 Emmy season and why they matter.

Rule change: Outstanding Variety Talk Series and Outstanding Variety Sketch Series are replaced with two new categories, Outstanding Talk Series and Outstanding Scripted Variety Series.
Why it matters: Since 2003, every Outstanding Variety Talk Series Emmy went to “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” or a show hosted by one of its alumni; for the last seven years, the winner was “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”

That won’t happen again. The new Emmy rules dictate that a Talk Series must dedicate most of the episode runtime to “unscripted interviews or panel discussions between a host/hosts and guest celebrities or personalities.” That definition pushes out “John Oliver” and provides room for “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” (ABC) or “Late Night with Seth Meyers” (NBC) — shows that produce a much higher volume of late-night TV episodes — to break network TV’s decades-long losing streak in the category. However, with “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” as recurring nominees, “Daily Show” dominance could continue.

Plus, the TV Academy threw another curveball last month, denying “Daily Show” progenitor Jon Stewart’s comeback series, “The Problem with Jon Stewart” (Apple TV+) re-admission into the Outstanding Hosted Nonfiction Series or Special category it was nominated for last year. The awards body deemed the show’s format to be more fitting for the Outstanding Talk Series category, putting Stewart back into competition among the hosts he helped break out.

As for Oliver, “Last Week Tonight” will now compete in the Outstanding Scripted Variety Series category against the six-year incumbent, “Saturday Night Live.” However, by removing the “Sketch” from the category, these Emmys behemoths could also compete against newer, innovative series like “Schmigadoon” (Apple TV+) or “Documentary Now!” (IFC). For the last two years the Outstanding Variety Sketch Series category saw only two nominees, “Saturday Night Live” and “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” in large part because nomination slots are proportional to the number of submissions.

White House Plumbers HBO Watergate series Woody Harrelson Justin Theroux Toby Huss
“White House Plumbers”Courtesy of Phil Caruso / HBO

Rule change: No more Hanging Episode Rule for Limited or Anthology Series
Why it matters: The greatest frustration specific to last year’s Emmys race was the influx of Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series contenders premiering toward the end of the eligibility window. While it was exciting to see starry projects like “The Staircase” (HBO Max) and “Gaslit” (Starz) premiere week to week, that distribution strategy hurt the Emmy chances for many shows. Shows like “The White Lotus” (HBO) and “Dopesick” (Hulu), which completed their runs much earlier in the season, dominated the acting categories.

To ensure more of these projects are considered this year, the TV Academy announced last summer that it would eliminate its hanging episode rule that allowed Limited Series contenders to premiere episodes nationally after the May 31 deadline. The full season of a limited or anthology series must now be available to the viewing public before June. As a result, this year’s Limited Series contenders like “Monster: ​​The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” (Netflix), “Fleishman Is in Trouble” (FX), and “White House Plumbers” (HBO) premiered across the eligibility window.

Rule change: Documentaries that submitted for Oscar consideration, but did not receive an Oscar nomination, are allowed to contend for Emmys.
Why it matters: Last year, the TV Academy enforced strict rules on its Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special category and filmmakers had to choose between putting their documentary on the AMPAS streaming platform for Oscar consideration, or submitting their film for the Emmys. This year, the TV awards body loosened its rules to allow for some films to once again double dip for awards consideration.

The five films nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar this year are still ineligible for Emmy consideration, but films like Paramount+’s “Last Flight Home” (which made the Oscars shortlist), or Netflix’s “‘Sr.,'” which had an Oscar-qualifying fall festival run, may submit for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special. The only major stipulation is that if the film had a theatrical release, it cannot exceed an aggregate of 70 days prior exhibition (i.e., seven theaters for 10 days). This means films like “Good Night Oppy” (Prime Video) are still not eligible for Emmys consideration.

Rule change: The Outstanding Game Show and Outstanding Host for a Game Show categories migrated to the Primetime Emmys.
Why it matters: The Daytime Emmys got a little smaller. A new category, Outstanding Game Show, will recognize programs with game elements that take place primarily in-studio and involve mental challenges. Another new category, Outstanding Host for a Game Show, will go to the “master of ceremony” host(s) for a continuing performance in a game show.

Given the resurgence of primetime network games shows like ABC’s “Press Your Luck” hosted by Elizabeth Banks, and NBC’s “Password” hosted by Jimmy Fallon and Keke Palmer, the new categories add an extra dose of star power to the Primetime Emmys (though the winners may be announced during the Creative Arts Emmys instead).

To prevent confusion, the Primetime Emmys also changed the name of the Outstanding Competition Program category, which included unscripted shows like “Top Chef” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” to Outstanding Reality Competition Program.

The 75th Primetime Emmys will air September 18 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

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