Emmy Preview: Category-Shifting Is the Big Story In This Year’s Race

Emmy Shifting Catagories
Ryan Inzana for Variety

This Emmy season, there’s going to be more of everything: more campaigning, more events and more media coverage. The reason: more worthy contenders. And that explains another increase: more jockeying.

The frenzy kicked off when HBO announced that “True Detective” is competing as a drama, not a miniseries, the first in a flood of category-shifting. “Orange Is the New Black” and “Shameless” were defined as comedies. “Treme,” formerly a drama series, moved to mini. Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes in “Orange Is the New Black”), Dan Bucatinsky (“Scandal”) and Ray Romano (“Parenthood”) are considered guest stars in their respective series, even though all three appear frequently. (As with all things, the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences has final say.)

The reason for all this jockeying is sometimes logical, and sometimes a matter of smart strategizing, in a year when there is an overabundance of worthwhile contenders.

By the time the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences opened its submissions period on March 17, media members were already deep in speculation on how some shows would be categorized. HBO usually issues a “no comment” when asked about awards plans. But interest was so high in “True Detective” that the premium cabler sent an unprecedented email to journalists, listing its submissions.

ATAS rules say that if a show has a “created by” credit, it’s a series unless the network applies to have it shifted. And HBO president Michael Lombardo has explained that he never considered the show a miniseries.

However, rivals complain that it’s a miniseries since it has a beginning, middle and end.
No matter the definition, everybody agrees on two things: “Detective” will face tougher competition as a series — and a win in that category is more prestigious than a miniseries prize.

Aside from “True Detective,” the drama-series race includes such past nominees as “Boardwalk Empire,” “Breaking Bad,” “Downton Abbey,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Good Wife,” “Homeland,” “House of Cards” and “Mad Men.” That’s nine series competing for six slots, and this doesn’t even include such upstarts as “The Americans,” “The Blacklist,” “The Following,” “Masters of Sex,” “Scandal” and several others.
Over on FX, “Fargo” was in a similar situation to “Detective”: Its second season will maintain the tone, but with a new cast and plot. Yet it will compete as a miniseries, where it faces such competitors as “American Horror Story: Coven,” “Dancing on the Edge,” “Luther,” “Sherlock: His Last Vow,” “Under the Dome,” “White Queen” and “24: Live Another Day.”

While some of the jockeying seems clearly strategic, sometimes there are other factors.

HBO’s “Treme” has competed as a drama series in the past, but will be a miniseries this season. That’s because there were only five episodes. Conversely, “Downton Abbey” started as a mini, but moved to series when its popularity led to renewals beyond the original plan. FX’s “American Horror Story” raised a lot of hackles when ATAS accepted it as a miniseries in its first season (2011-12). FX and creators Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy knew that the storyline and characters would conclude after one season, but they didn’t want to spoil the surprise by acknowledging it before the season ended.

Are Kaley Cuoco (“The Big Bang Theory”), Kaitlin Olson (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and Margo Martindale (“The Millers”) lead or supporting actresses? In truth, they could go with either, though all are in the supporting race. Jockeying has always been a factor in ensemble shows. With “Friends,” Jennifer Aniston spent two years as a supporting contender (2000-01), and then three as lead actress. After four consecutive years as a supporting actor nominee, Jon Cryer (“Two and a Half Men”) moved into the lead category. With ABC’s “Modern Family,” Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ed O’Neill and Eric Stonestreet have been nominated as supporting actors. If they’re all supporting, who’s the lead? Answer: all of them and none of them. Emmy doesn’t have a category for “best actor in an ensemble role,” so people have to decide where to define their work. Cryer’s role was beefed up after Charlie Sheen’s exit, so he petitioned to shift categories. John Leverence, ATAS’ senior VP, awards, says an Academy committee weighed his petition and agreed.

For decades, a TV series was clearly a comedy or drama. But as more channels cropped up, there was more creative experimentation and clear-cut definitions became more difficult. A modern example was “Ally McBeal,” which was submitted in 1998 as a comedy series. The shock was partly superficial: Comedies were half-hours, dramas were hours, but this was an hourlong comedy? Since then, the Emmy race has offered increased evidence of varying definitions, with such fare as “Nurse Jackie” and “The Big C.” This year, many comedy-dramas embraced the laffer category, thanks to the absence of “30 Rock.” As one studio vet says, “I’m an admirer of ‘Louie’ as a piece of dramatic writing, but it never makes me laugh. It’s so dark.” However, to many, the FX half-hour is clearly a comedy. Addressing the comedy-vs.-drama question, John Wells, exec producer of “Shameless,” tells Variety he always wanted to enter the series as a comedy, but adds that 80% of contenders cannot be easily classified. “I don’t think those categories are valid anymore. There are shows that are completely comedy and those that are completely drama, but if you were to set up a chart I think you’d find that most shows fall somewhere in the middle.”

The question is how voters will react to this jockeying. All of this — and, of course, the glut of great work — means there will be genuine suspense at the Aug. 25 ceremonies. The kudocast usually airs in mid-September, but NBC traditionally airs it earlier due to its Sunday football commitments. So the late-August date was no surprise, but the Monday show surprised many folks, since it hadn’t aired on a Monday in nearly 40 years. Possible reason for NBC’s shift: MTV’s Video Music Awards airs on the previous day, Aug. 24. Even the Emmycast itself is doing some jockeying.

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  1. Television Remains Full of Itself says:

    The world would be a better place without all the Emmy hoopla. What a huge waste of time, money and energy the entire production is!

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