Emmy Awards Should Expand to 10 Nominees in Peak TV Era

Emmy Nominees How to improve the
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

How many is too many?

When it comes to the Emmy Awards, it’s hard to find consensus on any subject — but one thing is clear, there are never enough to go around.

But the very idea of adding awards is fraught. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks the show itself should be longer. Host Jimmy Kimmel and producer Don Mischer will have their work cut out for them trying to wrangle the Primetime Emmys in at under the three-hour mark. Things already have gotten so bad over at its cousin, the Creative Arts Emmys, that the show has had to be split into two parts.

There is some good news about this year’s Emmys: With many of last year’s nominees and winners having retired to the TV hall of fame (RIP, “Mad Men,” “Parks and Rec,” “Nurse Jackie”), there’s certainly ample opportunity for new entries to break in.

But now the bad news: It’s an ever-more crowded field, with way too many worthy nominees vying for those precious few slots. With 400-plus series on the air (and TV production showing no signs of slowing), odds are, the majority are going to get slighted.

I’m going to make a (not so) bold Emmy prediction right now: Come nomination day, there’s going to be widespread disappointment. There will be a flood of “snubs” stories (including our own). I might as well start writing it now.

Last year, the TV Academy expanded the number of nominees in comedy and drama series from six to seven, but that was merely a ripple in the pond. (Make that the ocean.) And the new definition of half-hours and hours, while reining in the category-jockeying madness, still frustrates the creative community. “The Academy made everything worse,” gripes one producer. “You’re completely ignoring the actual content of the show. If that’s the case, then change the name of the category to best half hour show and best hour show. It’s just silly.”

Execs complain that defining shows by length does little to level the playing field between broadcast and cable/streaming, a nagging sore spot for the kudosfest. Comedies that run on broadcast are limited to 21 minutes, while their cable and streaming counterparts can stretch to 35 minutes and more, and have far more creative freedom in terms of language and subject matter. Every year, broadcast series are virtually shut out from major wins while they foot the bill for the show itself.

And this year’s big rules change (along with splitting the Creative Arts Emmys into two shows) was the expansion of the short-form categories, bringing digital series into the fold. All due respect to those YouTube rock stars, but their inclusion does little to address the impending major snubs.

So what to do? An informal survey of industry insiders found that the current categories do indeed go a long way to recognizing the best of TV. “Awards shows are always too long, even for those who love them,” says one insider. “But there need to be either more categories or more shows in existing categories to acknowledge the explosion in content.”

A smart, single new category — say, best new show or best ensemble — could go a long way to bringing more nominees into the Emmy tent. Cracks one wag, “It would be interesting to see if the Emmy voters could do a better job recognizing the best ensembles than SAG voters.”

Another proposal: split the drama and comedy categories by number of episodes — best drama, 12 episodes and under; best drama, 13 and over. The argument: Is it fair to compare a series that runs 12 episodes to one that runs 24? Yes, it’s an obvious pander to the broadcast nets, but supporters have a point. It’s like comparing a short story to a novel. The last broadcast series to earn a nomination for best drama was “The Good Wife,” back in 2011.

The most popular solution by far: Steal a page from the Oscar playbook and expand each of the series categories to 10 nominees. The hope would be — as it was for the Academy Awards — that this would allow more popular series to sneak in.

And there would be another benefit: a ratings boost to the show itself: Last year’s outing hit a record low.

“It’s a win-win,” says an insider. “Most people did not watch the shows that won last year. If they added more nominees, they’d be getting shows that at least a few million people have seen.”

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  1. Free says:

    Expanding to ten nominees for both the Oscars and Emmys is something I generally disagree with, especially when it comes to TV comedies. There are barely 5 shows on now that deserve the recognition.

  2. EricJ says:

    If it’s trying to follow the lead of the Oscar’s ten nominations, even THEY finally admitted it was a mistake, and it was only because people wanted either Pixar or Dark Knight for Best Picture in the first place.

    Here, they’re trying to figure out how to give more Netflix and Amazon series Emmys, and more nominees isn’t going to do it.
    If the current industry can’t tell a drama from a comedy, that’s a problem for the current TV industry to fix, not those that reward it.

  3. Larry Deutchman says:

    I agree that one way to go might be to split between short form series (13 or less episodes) and long form series (14 plus episodes). I have an alternative suggested approach, however, which better addresses the content issue of better comparing apples to apples while creating more opportunities for series, actors, writers and directors to be considered without the cable/digital elitism bias that seems to wrangle the media hype toward cable/digital shows and marginalize the award-worthiness of broadcast shows.

    Create a Dramedy category and ensure that anthology series only qualify in a Limited Series category, separate and apart from Miniseries. Dramedy takes away the controversy of half hour vs. hour, and drama vs. comedy. There may be a few muddy waters in the middle there, but not nearly as bad as when you have a Nurse Jackie or Orange competing in Comedy. Let comedy compete with comedy, drama with drama, hybrid mixes with hybrid mixes, and anthologies with anthologies, and longform miniseries with miniseries. The founding fathers of the Academy never anticipated a volume of quality programming like we have now. More categories is better. The only thing standing in the way is that you would need to separate into two shows. Perhaps Drama, Limited and TV Movies on one show and Comedy, Dramedy and Miniseries on another night. They would all be categories that would draw an audience to view the show and could sustain a strong rating for each. Rather than everybody going into the new competing award franchise business, why not expand this franchise to two shows. It is in the best interests of the broadcast networks that carry the Emmys to offer a second platform and have a more level playing field for their own networks’ awards glory.

  4. S. A. Young says:

    If the honor is truly in the nomination, I agree with you Debra, the lists should be expanded. (And seriously, how much longer would the show have to be? Adding a few more 15-30 second clips could be accommodated by cutting the inane, pre-scripted remarks by presenters.) “There will be a flood of “snubs” stories (including our own).” This is particularly true because while newer shows are discussed as being viable and worthy candidates, critics and news outlets all “predict” that only the usual suspects will actually be nominated. Voters see these things and so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  5. Nanny Mo says:

    What a stupid article. Of course there are enough to go around. An award is not about making people feel good, it’s about celebrating the best of the best. By having a best of the best, it causes people to stretch themselves for excellence. If you just give awards away to make people (based on their skin color, genitalia, or bedroom preference) feel better about themselves or to make a perceived section of society feel better about themselves, you have dumbed the award into nothing, and soon it means nothing, because everyone knows a rouse when they see it, including the people who are supposed to feel better about it. I can’t believe what is news today, it’s like a whole new set of journalists have brain damage.

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