When the 2016 Primetime Emmy ballots went online Monday, Jason Sudeikis was included among the list of guest actors in a comedy series for his critically acclaimed turn on Fox’s “The Last Man On Earth.”
There’s just one problem: Under Emmy rules, Sudeikis isn’t a guest star.
Because he appeared in 11 of the second season’s 18 episodes as Mike Miller, astronaut brother of the titular character Phil Miller (played by Will Forte), he far exceeds the current threshold for guest consideration.
Per Academy rules: “It is the decision of the entrant whether to enter as a lead, supporting or guest performer. However, only performers appearing in less than 50% of the eligible episodes are able to submit in the Guest Performer categories.”
Although Sudeikis would be properly categorized in the supporting actor race, it’s too late to make the switch now that voting has commenced, and he will therefore be disqualified from consideration. (Again, per Academy rules: “If an entry is made in the wrong category and the error is not discovered until it goes to the voters on the nomination ballot, it will be disqualified.”)
Since the category’s inception in 1986, the rules and regulations defining guest performers have varied wildly throughout the years. In 1992, a movement to recognize guest performers on the primetime telecast resulted in guests competing against full-time leads (Christopher Lloyd won outstanding actor in a drama series for a single episode of “Road to Avonlea” and the experiment ended). And in recent years, winners in the guest categories have included performers booked for season long arcs (like John Lithgow’s 2010 win for season four of “Dexter”).
The current rule was instituted in 2015, the year after Uzo Aduba won outstanding guest actress in a comedy for the first season of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” despite appearing in 11 out of 13 episodes and essentially functioning as a series regular. Aduba went on to win outstanding supporting actress in a drama at last year’s Emmys.
There is still some confusion about the shift in what constitutes a guest performance even among industry insiders. Pundits considered Diana Rigg a shoo-in for a fourth consecutive guest actress nomination as Lady Olenna Tyrell on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” this year, but the actress will appear in five of the season’s 10 episodes, pushing her into the supporting field. Only a handful of actors from the massive “Thrones” ensemble are submitted by HBO each year (the rest can submit on their own). Rigg is not on this year’s ballot.
Under the current rules, Rigg would also not have been eligible as a guest star in the show’s third season, when she received her first nomination.
Meanwhile, “Breaking Bad” veteran Mark Margolis is entered in the supporting race for reprising his Emmy-nominated guest role as the villainous Hector Salamanca on “Better Call Saul.” The actor appeared in exactly half of “Saul’s” second season (five out of 10 episodes), with minimal screen time in several of those. It’s difficult to argue he’s a supporting player to the same degree as “Saul” co-stars Jonathan Banks or Michael McKean, but the rules are the rules.
Over at AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” series regulars Ross Marquand and Tovah Feldshuh have been entered in guest categories this year because they each appeared in six episodes of the 16-episode season. But guest star Merritt Wever vies in supporting actress because she appeared in nine.
What happened with Sudeikis was apparently a case of the studio, 20th Century Fox Television, evaluating the role under the Academy’s old guidelines, and judging it a guest turn. He was billed as a “special guest star” for every episode, and in three of the 11 episodes he appeared onscreen for less than a minute. But his role grew in importance as the season progressed, his character had a bottle episode essentially all to himself, and he was a crucial participant in the season-ending arc.
The TV Academy does not vet submissions for accuracy; they simply go by the information submitted on entry forms, which would have noted that Sudeikis appeared in less than 50% of the episodes. No performers were disqualified from the ballot last year.