Comedy, drama fields to have six contenders

“Mad Men” and “30 Rock” are in for more Emmy competition.

The TV Academy is expanding the number of nominees that will be up for several key Emmy categories, including best comedy and drama series.

That means six shows will compete for the Emmy in those categories instead of five. The top actor, actress, supporting actor and supporting actress fields in both comedy and drama will also see their nominee ranks grow from five to six.

The TV Acad opted to make the change after noticing the sheer number of “bubbling under” contenders in recent years. When members choose the nominees, the sixth-place finisher is quite frequently neck and neck with the fifth-place finisher, org officials said. Now, that sixth-place finisher will be included among the nominees.

“We’re trying to increase our inclusiveness,” said Academy of Television Arts & Sciences chairman-CEO John Shaffner.

As the org expands its nomination ranks in major categories, it’s also streamlining the nomination process.

Under the previous major tweak in 2006, the entire TV Acad membership sent in its picks, which were whittled down to a list of top 10 nominees. A blue-ribbon panel then met each June to help pick the five ultimate nominees (the final choice was actually a 50/50 split between the panel and the membership at large).

Now, the TV Academy has dropped the panel, which means the entire voting body directly will pick the six nominees in the series categories (while the top six picks by the performer peer groups will determine the acting nominees).

“We wanted to make our rules more transparent and less confusing,” Shaffner said. “This is now straightforward, so everyone can understand how the process works.”

Shaffner said the expansion to six nominees meant that, statistically, the blue ribbon panels wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway.

“Once we were open to six nominees, the second-tier panel didn’t matter at all,” he said.

The elimination of the panels also silences critics who have suggested that members who participated were generally older-skewing, which may have shut some shows out.

Last year, shows that made the top-10 list — but didn’t make the final nomination cut — included “Family Guy,” “Flight of the Conchords,” “Ugly Betty,” “Weeds” and “Pushing Daisies” on the comedy side; and “Friday Night Lights,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Tudors” and “The Wire” among dramas.

But more important for the TV Acad, the org will save some money by cutting the blue ribbon panels.

“The blue ribbon panels are hard to organize, and you’re totally dependent on the availability of people during difficult, busy months in the summer,” Shaffner said. “And it also makes it more difficult to explain to everyone how someone got nominated.”

Shaffner admitted that the rule change means some categories may wind up with seven nominees, in the event of ties (or if the seventh place vote getter is within 2% of the sixth nominee), but he said the TV Acad wasn’t concerned about bulging nomination ranks.

“If there are 200 or 300 programs looking for a slot, maybe it’s not so bad if you have to go to seven,” he said. “It’s an awfully big world of product.”

The TV Acad pointed out that past ties have led to six nominees in several categories. Last year, both the drama series and lead drama actor categories boasted six noms. And in 2007, the supporting drama actor, lead drama actress, supporting drama actress and supporting comedy actress all had six contenders.

As for how the org determines Emmy winners, the at-home voting system remains unchanged.

Meanwhile, the TV Academy hasn’t completely abolished its blue-ribbon panels. The org opted to keep the system in place for its guest actor and actress categories.

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