When this year’s Emmy nominations were announced, it was tempting to hand the TV Academy the honor of “most improved awards organization.”
Sure, there were some quibbles here and there about notable “snubs,” but reactions to the noms were generally positive. Credit the recognition for new shows (“Master of None,” “Mr. Robot”) and overdue veterans (“The Americans”), a racially diverse line-up of nominees that puts the Oscars to shame, and overall goodwill toward the season’s top contenders. We knew the razzle-dazzle of “Game of Thrones” would land the most noms yet again, but who can complain about “The People v. O.J. Simpson” and “Fargo” following right behind?
As TV grows in prestige and power — and continues to come into its own as a true art form — so do the Emmys. And while the Academy has done a solid job of living up to that responsibility, it’s worth considering a few areas that could make them even better.
In the spirit of an organization that has shown a welcome openness to evolve in recent years (whether it’s by increasing the number of nominees in top categories, giving sketch series their own field, or randomizing the formerly alphabetical order of the online ballots), we’d like to suggest a few problem areas the Academy should address before they grow out of control.
In the past, some series have tried to use the punishing 22-episode production schedules of broadcast as a campaign tool to persuade voters that their work deserves special consideration (most notably: “The Good Wife,” which repeatedly drew the short straw against cable dramas with fewer Emmy wins and nominations over its seven seasons than it probably deserved). And, up until last year, “Modern Family” was still flying the broadcast flag with repeat wins in the comedy category.
|BE OUR GUEST: Jason Sudeikis’ guest arc on Fox’s “The Last Man on Earth” spanned too many episodes to qualify in Emmy’s guest category. Courtesy of Fox|
Still, there’s no question broadcast is trending way down with the Emmys. While sophomore “Black-ish” broke in this year, no first year broadcast show has been nominated for a top series Emmy since “Modern,” “Wife,” and “Glee” all made the cut in 2010.
The argument could be made that if broadcast networks want to compete, they should simply produce better shows. That holds water in the drama race, where you’d be hard-pressed to find seven broadcast entries anywhere close to the level of quality of the Emmy nominees. But it’s not as true in comedy, where ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” NBC’s “The Carmichael Show,” Fox’s “The Last Man on Earth,” plus the CW’s “Jane the Virgin” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” among others, rival the actual nominees.
The tough task of trying to recognize so many diverse achievements blurs into the next issue…
Peak TV Problem
Among the several reasons broadcast series could be at a disadvantage with the Emmys is the amount of time it takes to catch up with a lengthy series that airs in the traditional September-May window. Cable and digital boast short, easily bingeable runs that are simply more consumer-friendly in the on-demand era. Busy Emmy voters may be more likely to catch up with a “Mr. Robot” than a “Last Man on Earth” to begin with. And as we approach a year with more than 500 original scripted series, how can anyone keep up with everything, regardless of the outlet or number of episodes?
Despite mountains of critical acclaim, programs as varied as ABC’s “Fresh,” HBO’s “The Leftovers” and “Show Me a Hero,” Starz’s “Survivor’s Remorse” and “The Girlfriend Experience,” FXX’s “You’re the Worst,” Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman,” and “Lady Dynamite,” and SundanceTV’s “Rectify” and “The Last Panthers” received a grand total of zero Emmy noms this year.
While the Academy should give serious consideration to further expanding the number of drama and comedy nominees, it also needs to whittle down the absurd Emmy ballots. They should take a closer look at how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences determines the Oscar shortlists for foreign films and documentaries. That would give the membership time to investigate some smaller gems they could be missing — instead of simply presenting them with an endless ballot and essentially saying, “How many of these titles do you actually recognize?”
Guest Star Mess
Poor Peter MacNicol. The one-time Emmy winner for “Ally McBeal” has now become one of the unlucky few people to have their Emmy noms revoked, thanks to an awkward disqualification after he received a guest actor nomination this year for HBO’s “Veep.”
|“The argument could be made that if broadcast wants to compete, they should simply produce better shows.”|
MacNicol appeared in exactly half of the show’s 10-episode season, and according to rules instituted last year, he should have submitted in supporting actor instead (the Academy does not vet individual submissions for accuracy).
The rule change was instituted to prevent actors who are essentially series regulars from submitting in guest categories, but MacNicol’s mix-up only underscores that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution in the new TV era.
Take “House of Cards” guest nominees Mahershala Ali and Paul Sparks, who both appeared in six out of 13 episodes of the most recent season, and basically do function as series regulars playing well-established roles, albeit with reduced screen time this season. There’s no doubt they qualify under the rules, but are they truly more “guest actors” than MacNicol?
In the episode that pushed MacNicol over the Emmy threshold, he appears for fewer than 30 seconds of screen time. If the producers had shifted his scene to the outtakes available on HBO Go, he could have kept the Emmy nom, but the episode would have lost a great joke.
Jason Sudeikis was similarly disqualified before nominations were even announced because he was submitted as a guest for “Last Man on Earth” despite appearing in 11 of 18 episodes (with very minimal screen time in multiple episodes). And Diana Rigg, a three-time consecutive nominee for “Game of Thrones,” was left off the ballot this year because she appeared in half the season, again with minimal screen time in multiple episodes. Both, arguably, deserved guest consideration.
Perhaps it’s reasonable to consider that it’s not the size of an actor’s role that defines a “guest” — but what they do with it.
Repeat Winner Fatigue
And finally, the classic Emmy problem. The Oscars have a clear advantage here. They can nominate Meryl Streep every year, but they’re not nominating her for the same character in the same film every time.
|“When a show or a performer dominates on an annual basis, the Emmys can look awfully stale. Even when the work is consistently terrific.”|
The Emmys don’t have that luxury — every show has a shot at being nominated every season. And when a show or a performer dominates on an annual basis, the Emmys can look awfully stale. Even when the work is consistently terrific.
There’s something to be said for familiarity. As Ellen Burstyn speculated in an interview with Variety, voters may have honored her for a 14-second appearance because they knew her and her work.
But the problem may also come down to the honorees themselves. While the craving for validation can be just as strong — probably even stronger — in season seven as it was back in season one, Emmy submissions are voluntary and there’s always the option of sitting the race out.
Most famously, after Candice Bergen won five Emmys for “Murphy Brown,” she made the generous and sensible move to remove herself from consideration. While it wouldn’t feel right for the TV Academy to disqualify a person or show after too many wins, they could skillfully encourage repeat champions to skip submitting in certain years, or step back and give others a chance.
It may be the stuff of small-screen fantasy, but if the result is a more unpredictable and inclusive kudocast, it’s a storyline well worth exploring.