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Essay option among Emmy’s new rules

Series get a chance to explain themselves

The scripts are done, the shows have been shot, but the TV Academy is now asking producers to break out their pens and keyboards at least one more time.

For the first time, the org is asking its top Emmy contenders to write an essay — 250 words or less — that summarizes their show’s plotlines this season and provides context to the episode that has been submitted.

The rule is just one of several changes implemented this year in the months leading up to Emmy season.

Also new to the Emmy competish this year: the so-called “Ellen Burstyn rule,” in which nominees in the supporting actor or actress in miniseries/ movie categories will have had to appear in at least 5% of the longform for eligibility.

In addition, the org has broadened its nomination scope, with series and acting noms now chosen by a 50/50 mix of blue-ribbon panel picks and the Academy-wide popular vote. And the TV Academy’s blue-ribbon panel in charge of picking nominees for best actor and actress in a comedy and drama can now cast those votes at home.

Early on, the new essay rule made the most noise. The idea for finding a way to properly put a series contender in context was introduced after last year, when Academy members grew concerned that serialized shows like “Lost” fare poorly in the blue-ribbon screenings (in which Acad members help pick the final nominees in several categories). The complex mythology on “Lost” and others (think “Heroes” or even “The Sopranos” and “Desperate Housewives,” which require some background for ultimate satisfaction) baffled voters who hadn’t been watching, so the theory went.

“The thinking is, we really ought to have an opportunity for people to contextualize the action in the episode being screened,” says Academy of TV Arts & Sciences senior VP John Leverence. “The board felt that every effort should be made to give these shows as much latitude as possible.”

The essays can be just a handful of words up to that 250-word threshold — so that series like “CSI,” which don’t need much explanation, can keep things simple.

The TV Academy originally planned to make the essays mandatory for both series and thesps. But the org switched gears and later told actor and actress contenders that the rule was optional for them.

The “Burstyn rule” came into play after the thesp was nominated for an Emmy last year in the supporting actress in a mini or movie category — even though she appeared onscreen for just 14 seconds.

“Clearly if you’re a lead performer in a longform, you get plenty of screen time,” Leverence says. “But what sometimes falls through the cracks are the two supporting longform categories.”

Then there’s the switch in the overall nomination process. Until a few years ago, the entire Academy body voted for noms in key categories, and the top vote-getters moved on to the nominee ballot. Last year, the Academy decided to bring in a blue-ribbon panel of Acad members to ultimately choose the nominees from those top finalists.

Now, the new recipe includes a bit of both. The full voting body will pick 10 favorites in key series and acting categories, then the blue-ribbon panel will meet and watch all 10 finalists in a certain category to make their pick. The final list of noms is a weighted average of both the orgwide vote and the blue-ribbon panel’s picks. With so many checks and balances in place, Leverence says, the Academy hopes to come up with the most deserving list of nominees possible.

“It’s meant to tweak the system and give an equivalent influence in the decisionmaking from both the wisdom of the masses and the wisdom of people taking a look at the episodes submitted,” he says. “It’s two distinctly philosophical varieties of judging and evaluating.”

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