Emmy Voting 101: A Refresher Course

Emmy Voting Explained

Why is “True Detective” considered a series but “Fargo” a mini? Who are “at-home” voters? Who actually decides on Emmy winners? As the TV business continues to change and grow more complex, so do the awards. So, with the 66th annual Emmys approaching, here’s a quick refresher on how it works.

MEMBERSHIP: There are 29 peer groups, each with its own standards for joining and maintaining membership. In general, each group requires a certain number of credits in the four years prior to application. Factors include the number of programs the would-be member worked on, his/her billing on the shows, and the heft of the contribution (e.g., for musicians, it’s the aggregate length of musical cues; for actors, six lines of dialogue or more, etc.).

SUBMISSIONS: For nominations, a candidate submits one episode for entry. Most nominees then stick with the original single entry. Comedy and drama series, however, can then submit six episodes, as do leading and supporting actors, who are submitting the body of their work for consideration.

NOMINATIONS: Members of each peer group vote in their own discipline: Directors nominate directors, cinematographers nominate d.p.’s, etc. Everyone votes for the four program races: comedy series, drama series, miniseries and TV movie.

VOTING: Final voting is done by a blue-ribbon panel. The size of the panel is proportionate to the number of members within each group. Academy members apply to be on the panel; the org vets them to ensure no conflict of interest. Panelists are then mailed DVDs of the nominees’ work.

“AT-HOME VOTERS”: That term is a holdover from a bygone era. The Academy used to have sessions at hotels, where episodes could be screened for the panels. “We figured out with the emerging technology, we could achieve ‘better customer service’ by providing DVDs at home,” says the Academy’s senior VP of awards John Leverence.

WHAT IS A MINISERIES? When there is a question, the primetime awards committee (which comprises a rotating group of two representatives from each of the 29 peer groups) determines category definitions on a case-by-case basis. For series/minis, the Academy adheres to Writers Guild standards that if a show carries the “created by” credit, it is defined as a series unless it gets a dispensation to move into the miniseries race. “True Detective” was deemed a series because HBO didn’t request a dispensation. A few years ago, “American Horror Story” creators Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy asked that their show be ruled a miniseries, since every season will be a stand-alone. The primetime awards committee determined it was a hybrid and deferred to the judgment of the creatives.

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