Emmy rule change restores movie/miniseries split

Key changes also made to reality shows, voice-over category

Movies and miniseries will once again be their own separate categories at this year’s Emmys, as the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences voted Thursday night to undo a three-year-old change that consolidated the two awards.

The board of governors’  vote approving the rules change was initiated after a petition from several constituencies within the TV industry, led by FX network, home of the anthology series “American Horror Story,” which is submitted as a miniseries; and 20th Century Fox Television, which produces that program.

HBO, whose prestige movies have been competing with multi-part productions in recent years, also signed on, along with more than 30 network and studio execs.

Although the programs will again be separate, awards for actors, writers and directors in the two genres will remain combined. As a consolation, however, the board also voted to expand the number of nominees from five to six, recognizing the breadth of quality work being done in the longform arena.

The only potentially thorny aspect of the move involves how the awards will be presented. Because the academy is eager to keep the Emmy ceremony streamlined and limit the number of statues handed out during the main primetime telecast, the two categories will likely rotate between the primary show and the Creative Arts presentation, which is mostly devoted to technical categories and takes place eight days earlier. (Guest actors, in a past compromise, are also honored at the Creative Arts event.)

Simply put, the TV business and its priorities have changed since the shift took place, which followed a period where so few miniseries were being produced that in a few years the Emmys only fielded a pair of nominees, as opposed to a full slate of five or six.

“It made sense at the time,” one exec who supported the revision said of the 2011 decision.

Since then, productions like History’s “The Bible” and “Hatfields & McCoys,” and a move by the broadcast networks toward programming limited or event series – essentially just another way of saying miniseries – have padded the eligible contenders. Moreover, industry sources have felt there’s an apples-and-oranges quality to placing an eight or 10-hour production in competition with a two-hour movie.

TV Line first reported the possibility of the rule change, but as with all academy initiatives, getting from idea to execution can be a circuitous process. Producers have also complicated the miniseries balloting by submitting programs that might not have been positioned that way initially in order to avoid tougher competition in the drama-series category, thus giving themselves a better chance of winning.

Some of the high-profile contenders that could vie for the restored miniseries award include HBO’s “True Detective” should the pay service choose to categorize it that way, Discovery’s recent “Klondike” and FX’s upcoming “Fargo.”

The academy board also ratified several other rules alterations in regard to this year’s Emmys, the most significant being another split, this one involving reality-TV shows. Outstanding reality program will become two categories as well: Structured, encompassing programs like “Antiques Roadshow” and “Mythbusters,” and “unstructured,” which, per the organization’s press release, includes such fare as “Pawn Stars” and “Duck Dynasty.” (That would seem questionable, given the amount of “structuring” that goes into those series.)

“As with miniseries and movies, there is a general industry uptrend in two different types of narrative reality programming and the split accommodates that trend,” the academy stated, by way of explaining the revision.

Another change involves the voice-over category, dividing the award into “narrator” and “voice-over performance.”

The academy also tinkered with the guidelines for outstanding comedy and drama series, creating the possibility of seven nominees — as opposed to six — if the seventh-place finisher in the balloting is within 2% of making the cut. Previously, that rule only applied to categories where there were regularly five nominees.

Because the TV academy’s broadcast contract with the four major networks curtails the number of awards that can be handed out within the show — allowing the producers to try wringing maximum entertainment value out of the three-hour special — any alteration that adds to the overall number of categories will have to be accommodated via the Creative Arts presentation. 

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