Why Emmy Nominations Could Hinge on Show Scheduling

Emmy Nominations: Show Schedules Could Make
Luke Brooks for Variety

Come Thursday morning, amid the usual flood of congratulatory tweets and phone calls after Emmy nominations are announced, there’s also going to be a swarm of second-guessing: Where did we go wrong? Because while this year famously produced more high-quality TV shows than in years past, that also means that many worthy contenders will get “snubbed.”

Some will blame overly long ballots that favored shows and stars that fall earlier in the alphabet. Others will point fingers at meager marketing budgets compared with notoriously big spenders.

Here’s another theory: What may well prove to be the difference between an Emmy nomination and being an also-ran is timing. Given the crowded landscape and increased interest — the TV Academy says voting is up vs. last year — strategic scheduling may well prove to be an advantage.

The playing field was perhaps more level back in the days when most shows premiered in September, wrapped in May, and voting started shortly thereafter.

But now, with seasons of varying lengths scattered all over the calendar, those shows that air before voting begins have a clear edge. The old adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder just doesn’t apply when the slate now consists of roughly 150 dramas and 80 comedies. Call it survival of the most recent.

Take “Orange Is the New Black.” Netflix’s prison dramedy has to weather a category switch from comedy to drama (due to this year’s Emmy rule change decreeing that hourlongs must enter as dramas) as well as a failed petition effort — it was the only series to be denied its genre preference.

The series is technically in Emmy contention for its second season — having aired on the streaming service last year — but its third season debuted on Netflix on June 12. Academy members may have been voting for last season, but everyone was talking about this season. That’s one way to make voters forget about that unfortunate category kerfuffle.

Meanwhile, AMC is hoping lightning strikes twice with “Mad Men.” The network’s “Breaking Bad” landed Emmy gold last year on the heels of an abbreviated final spring season, and clearly that strategic thinking went into the final season planning for the historic sendoff of “Mad Men.”

While a mere seven episodes may have felt a bit abrupt for the farewell of such a storied series, the finale aired May 17, ensuring that the flood of press and ensuing accolades neatly dovetailed with the heart of Emmy campaigning. Don Draper bought the world a Coke — and the series a whirlwind of publicity. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the finale was so well received by critics and fans alike.

Compare that with the show’s many challengers in the heavily competitive drama race. Series that wrapped back in the fall and winter seem like distant memories: “Downton Abbey,” “The Affair,” “The Newsroom,” “The Leftovers.” One-time Emmy favorite “Homeland” — which won best drama in its debut season — rebounded creatively this fourth season with a daring kidnap-and-rescue storyline. But that thrill ride ended back in December.

The publicity-as-campaign strategy may benefit Showtime’s “Masters of Sex,” which returns for its third season this month. Lizzy Caplan earned a best actress nom last year, as did guest stars Beau Bridges and Allison Janney — the latter of whom went on to win the trophy.

On the comedy side, Amazon’s “Transparent” is of course the critical favorite — it’s all but guaranteed a nomination, especially for its star, Jeffrey Tambor. But it bowed back in September. Anyone remember how it ended?

Compare that with HBO’s “Veep” and “Silicon Valley,” which just concluded their seasons with buzzy cliffhanger finales. That timing may well prove the difference come voting time.

This year also saw a raft of series finales, from FX’s “Justified” and “Sons of Anarchy” to NBC’s “Parenthood” and “Parks and Recreation,” and nostalgia may well be a factor as Emmy voters cast their ballots. Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie” — deemed a comedy thanks to its half-hour format, despite its dark themes — has consistently delivered a nod for its leading lady, Edie Falco. Even though its bittersweet finale aired technically just past the deadline for nominations, (spoiler alert!) her heartbreaking relapse had the Internet abuzz.

Granted, some of this is simply just luck of the calendar: Spring shows have an inherent advantage. “Game of Thrones” always premieres in April, so it’s naturally going to get buzz heading into Emmy season. But all the chatter about this divisive season kept the show in the headlines. Better to be today’s hot topic than yesterday’s long-forgotten news.

Of course, timing can cut the other way, too. One show that was in contention last year won’t be making a return trip to the stage. This season’s “True Detective” premiered past the deadline for consideration for the 2015 Emmys. Showrunner Nic Pizzolatto has a year to solve that case.

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  1. Geri says:

    If I have to read one more time about Orange Is The New Black having to compete as a drama instead of a comedy I may scream. It is a drama, with occasional comedy thrown in. Will it get as many nominations in the drama category as it did in the comedy category? Probably not. Perhaps the TV Academy needs to expand the number of nominees per category, rather than pretend a popular show is something it’s not. Glee always competed in the comedy category and it too was a drama; although not nearly as serious in tone as OITNB.

  2. Chris says:

    Wow, Variety. “The network’s “Breaking Bad” landed Emmy gold last year on the heels of an abbreviated final spring season.” COMPLETELY wrong. “Breaking Bad” aired all the way in the summer before and still won. Great job trying to make it fit in your theory, though!

  3. lila fowler says:

    It will be interesting to see if True Detective makes the cut next year. It hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire, not to mention that it will have been over for months at that point.

    • Geronimo says:

      I’ve wondered the same thing. Although, under the revised rules, won’t TD be in the less-crowded Limited Series/Mini-Series category rather than Drama? If so, it’ll probably still get nominated next year but I’d be surprised if it won.

      • lila fowler says:

        I didn’t know that it was going into a different category. Pity they didn’t do that for S1 — it almost certainly would have won more awards. McConaghey especially would have had a better chance.

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