On the eve of the Oscars, the Emmys are the winner for “best rules changes by an industry award voting body.”
A series of new provisions announced Friday have brought long overdue common sense to the Emmy Awards, imposing some hard-and-fast guidelines (subject to petition, naturally) that will prevent some of the category shopping that has produced strange bedfellows in recent ceremonies.
Foremost among the revisions, the Television Academy will now define “comedy” as half-hour programs and dramas as hours, keeping series like “Glee” and “Orange Is the New Black” in the latter race. The number of nominees in each marquee bracket will also be expanded to seven, which is not only good news for all the media outlets who sell “For Your Consideration” ads (yay, team) but recognition of the volume of quality work that’s being done.
Other key moves include trying to draw clearer lines between “series” and “limited series,” which has become a source of considerable confusion — triggering the rather unseemly discussion as to why “Fargo” is a miniseries and “True Detective” isn’t; and better defining “guest actor” to include only performers who appear in fewer than 50% of a program’s episodes.
So no more supporting players like “The Good Wife’s” Chris Noth being labeled “guests,” competing against players who actually are; and no more stroking Matthew McConaughey’s ego — even more than the presenters at last year’s ceremony did — by putting him in the “best actor in a drama series” derby for an eight-and-out run.
None of this will completely prevent producers from trying to skirt the rules and manipulate the system. They are, after all, a creative bunch, by definition.
That said, the academy has long afforded producers and networks far too much latitude in this regard, and if nothing else, these alterations send a message that the awards should be approached as a measure of quality in the eyes of voters, not a chess match to see who can assess the board and choose what position will be most advantageous.
Moreover, it has always been true that dramas can be funny — “Mad Men,” “The Good Wife” and “Downton Abbey” certainly produce more than their share of laughs — and half-hours serious. Thus far, however, nobody has seen “Nurse Jackie” or “Girls” try to squeeze into the drama race because it’s perceived to be so much more competitive.
Part of the Emmy process, admittedly, has become the annual grousing about the awards and what the voters got wrong or who they “snubbed,” and that’s not going to change. But strictly in terms of identifying the evolving nature of TV content and attempting to address the structural complications that has created, give the TV Academy a round of applause — if not, you know, a trophy.