Emmy Awards 2016: Great Dramas Slip by Overwhelmed Voters

One of the most exciting things about TV today is you never know where the next great drama will come from. Literally.

Who would’ve expected one of the season’s buzziest, edgiest, most outlandish new series would hail from USA (the network more commonly home to sturdy, traditional hours everyone’s parents love to watch)? But that’s exactly what happened when “Mr. Robot” emerged last summer and began to dominate watercooler conversations even before the 2015 Emmy nominations were announced.

As the season continued, more and more dramas popped up from the most unexpected places: Lifetime’s “UnReal,” Hulu’s “The Path,” LouisCK.net’s “Horace and Pete.”

The onslaught of content makes it challenging enough for network execs and creatives, all hoping their passion project can catch the fancy of both Emmy voters and the TV viewing public. But it makes an Emmy voter’s task downright absurd.

Even if you’re on top of what HBO, Netflix, Showtime, FX, AMC and Amazon have to offer, have you also made time for WGN, SundanceTV, Cinemax, BBC America and Starz? Did you pop in that screener from Crackle? Do you know what Audience Network is?

It’s completely overwhelming. And while a lot of us TV obsessives can’t believe Emmy voters haven’t caught on to the brilliance of SundanceTV’s “Rectify” or the perfection of FX’s “The Americans,” it’s getting harder and harder to expect anyone — critics, fans, industry voters — to stay on top of everything.

The TV Academy vows it’s working on ways to address this issue in the future. I’d love to see some of those creative solutions.

Maybe it’s time to bring back the (adorably) dreaded blue ribbon panels, but use them to winnow down the nomination contenders rather than voting for the winners. The Academy could take a page from the Oscar foreign-language committee playbook and task the panel with selecting two-thirds of a contender shortlist, and allow an executive committee of experts to fill out the other third if the panel misses something worth considering. Then the membership at large could vote on the nominees, from a somewhat less-daunting list of 20 or 30 selections.

Or continuing the Oscars comparison, it might be time to expand the outstanding drama and comedy series nominations even further, with a sliding scale that would allow for up to 10 nominees per category based on how many contenders get a certain percentage of the vote.

Either way, we might be more likely to see a well-deserved risk-taker like Cinemax’s “The Knick” get some attention alongside the more traditional picks, deserving and less-deserving alike.

Whatever the case, it feels like the Emmys are in need of a little shake-up in order to fully recognize the depth and diversity of the programming they’re meant to be celebrating.

Look at this year’s Golden Globe line-up for best drama series: Fox’s “Empire,” Netflix’s “Narcos,” Starz’s “Outlander,” “Mr. Robot” (the winner) and the Emmy winner, “Game of Thrones.” The rapscallions of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. may not be everyone’s idea of the ultimate arbiters of taste, but their shortlist of five certainly is different.

Now, we can argue how ridiculous it was that the HFPA failed to include AMC’s “Better Call Saul” or (like the Emmys) snubbed “The Americans” and “Rectify,” but they made a serious effort to acknowledge newcomers instead of just voting for the tried and true, and the race felt a little more exciting because of it.

Emmy voters could do that too (and do it even better than the HFPA). There are no shortage of options. But the question remains: Are Emmy voters watching?

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