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How ‘An Emmy for Megan’ Sparked New TV Academy Rules as Short Form Gets Competitive (Column)

Megan Amram disrupted the Emmy race last year with “An Emmy for Megan,” her meta short form series that chronicled her attempts to, yes, disrupt the Emmy race. She almost got there: “An Emmy for Megan” was nominated for outstanding short form comedy or drama series but ultimately lost to “James Corden’s Next James Corden.”

However, Amram — who’s back this year with a second season of “An Emmy for Megan” — tells me she won in another way: Her unusual series, which was all about finding a means to meet the requirements to get nominated and win an Emmy, wound up inspiring a host of Emmy rule changes. 

Starting this year, the Television Academy has made some clarifications to what might qualify as an Emmy-eligible short series. That includes a stipulation that every episode must be at least two minutes long. (One extremely short episode of “An Emmy for Megan” played with the fact that there was no rule for length.) The TV Academy also installed a vetting procedure to “identify Emmy-competitive entries” via a panel “randomly selected from a member pool.”

The Academy hasn’t confirmed whether the rules came from the “Emmy for Megan” nomination, but it sure seems like she forced the changes.

“I thought it was better than winning an Emmy,” Amram says. “Dozens of people win an Emmy every year, but how many people precipitate a rule change that theoretically is permanent? That’s like the ultimate Emmy!”

If the TV Academy did indeed get bent out of shape over “An Emmy for Megan,” the irony is Amram’s short form series was wholly original, in a category that has mostly been dominated by digital extensions of regular TV series. 

“James Corden’s Next James Corden,” of course, is a Snapchat exclusive spinoff of “The Late Late Show With James Corden.” Other digital shorts nominated last year included “Grey’s Anatomy: B Team” and “The Walking Dead: Red Machete.”

Similarly, in 2017, “Los Pollos Hermanos Employee Training,” a digital short from the “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad” universe, won the short form prize.

“It’s strange to be doing an indie thing for IFC and potentially be up against a ‘Walking Dead’ spinoff,” says Janet Varney, who created and stars in the short form series “Fortune Rookie.” That program, which can be found on the IFC website, is an original idea that follows a fictional version of Varney as she gives up showbiz to become a psychic. 

The short form categories could soon see a shift to fare that’s more original, as outlets including Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman’s short form content incubator Quibi come online, and more major networks and studios also dabble in bite-size programming. 

Among the short form contenders this year is “State of the Union,” SundanceTV’s 10-episode series starring Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd. Although short in running time, the series’ production is anything but small: Written by Nick Hornby and directed by Stephen Frears, each 10-minute installment follows Pike and O’Dowd as they meet in a pub before their characters’ weekly marital therapy session.

“The show looks premium, and that was important for us,” says Jan Diedrichsen, executive director of SundanceTV and Sundance Now. “When people think about short form, a lot of people default into a web-series, low-budget mindset. We wanted it to be above the expectation of what people think of short form series.”

With that in mind, Diedrichsen says SundanceTV has set its sights on a nomination: “With the level of talent, we hope it gets some Emmy love.”

As major outlets start developing and producing more original short form series, they may push aside the more promotional short form offshoots of major TV hits. But whether that might also inadvertently squeeze out independent series like “An Emmy for Megan” or 2017 nominee “Brown Girls” remains to be seen.

“I hope that I inspired a lot of people to go out there and make exactly what they want to make,” Amram says. “I do appreciate the fact that the Academy considers short form digital content as TV shows, because [for] younger people, that is what TV is to them. It’s just going to be so interesting to see how the prestige of short form content continues to rise. I wonder what the first ‘Sopranos’ of two-minute television is going to be?”  

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