As December unfolds, the collective weight of critics groups, guilds and lesser awards usually brings the Oscar race into sharper focus. Each body will have its favorites, but a picture starts to emerge of likely nominees, if not always a clear front-runner.
Television, however, increasingly produces less of a consensus — a testament, in part, to the breadth of quality programming, as well as the complications associated with merely categorizing today’s ambitious series. Plus, various structural changes and logistical aspects are adding to the diffused (and perhaps more democratic) awards process.
Historically, various constituencies harbor their own institutional leanings, from the Golden Globes’ preference for international talent and brand-new series (a January airdate makes it possible to identify standouts in advance of the Emmys, normally held in September) to the Screen Actors Guild’s more populist sensibilities. In addition, assembling a roster is more complex than just “best picture,” with the Writers Guild, for example, separating individual episodes from overall series and breaking out new programs in a category all their own.
Indeed, different organizations don’t always align on key details, to the point where the 2015 Globes and Emmys didn’t even agree on how to categorize the second season of “Orange Is the New Black,” which competed as a comedy and drama, respectively.
As a consequence, results can fluctuate pretty wildly from one award show to the next. The Television Critics Assn., for example, anointed “Empire” the program of the year — likely impressed as much by its cultural impact as its quality — but the Fox soap didn’t even land a series nomination when Emmy time rolled around. The Globes, meanwhile, honored “The Affair” and its star, Ruth Wilson, as well as “Jane the Virgin’s” Gina Rodriguez — all overlooked in the Emmy balloting.
Then again, assumptions about the Television Academy, long considered stodgier in its picks, were somewhat upended this year, when the group broke with a longstanding resistance to recognize genre fare by crowning “Game of Thrones.” Part of that might stem from a procedural change that allowed all members to vote on the winner, which could alter its tendencies going forward.
In the heat of the moment, these disparities between awards are frequently described as “snubs,” a means of accentuating the negative, as in, “Can you believe the Emmys didn’t nominate ‘The Americans’ — again?” Taking a step back, the oversights and omissions can just as easily be considered evidence of an embarrassment of riches — one reason so many critics grumble about the process of paring down their annual best lists to just 10.
Granted, the recent discussion of “peak TV” that gained momentum after FX Networks president John Landgraf cited a proliferation of scripted series that will balloon to north of 400 has probably been overstated. An increase in the number of series, after all, doesn’t automatically translate into an equal rise in quality.
That said, the lofty, pay-TV-like ambitions of the streaming services, particularly Netflix and Amazon, coupled with evolving business models that allow for more premium-style, arthouse-type content, have clearly added to the menu of award-worthy contenders. And depending on each group’s particular preferences and priorities, that’s likely to produce greater variety from one awards presentation to another, one critic’s best list to the next.
Those rifts, obviously, will lead to as much grumbling as they do to enhance tuxedo rentals. Yet whether those results are truly a good or a bad thing — more people sharing in both the thrill of victory, and alternately the agony of being “snubbed” — pretty much depends, like the awards themselves, on the filter through which one beholds them.