For Awards, the Divide Between U.S., Global TV Shows Is Blurred Thanks to Streaming

Back in May, “Killing Eve” killed it at the BAFTA TV awards, winning the drama series prize as well as best actress for Jodie Comer and supporting actress for Fiona Shaw.

Killing Eve” is a phenomenal show, and deserves the accolades it has received, including a Golden Globe earlier this year for star Sandra Oh. But those three BAFTA wins came with a bit of controversy. In allowing the series to score 14 total nominations between its TV awards and TV craft awards, BAFTA (aka the British Academy of Film and Television Arts) bent its own rules. 

In order for a program to be eligible, the org usually requires it to premiere in the U.K., and for creative control to reside inside the U.K. “Killing Eve,” however, first aired in the United States, on BBC America (and in Season 2, was simulcast with AMC). The show was also first developed for BBC America. As a U.S. commission, it shouldn’t have been eligible for a BAFTA. 

But the program was nonetheless considered “British” enough — given that it was created by English writer-producer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, produced by the U.K.’s Sid Gentle Films, and predominantly set in the U.K. — that BAFTA gave it special dispensation.

“Killing Eve” is now also a major Emmy contender on this side of the pond, with nine nominations, including drama series, lead actress for Oh and Comer, and supporting actress for Shaw. The series’ success at the top TV awards shows in both the U.S. and the U.K. is a reminder that television has become much more global over the past decade.

The streaming services have hastened a teardown of those walls, but they’ve also added a level of confusion over what can even be considered an “international show.” Once upon a time, there was a clear divide between international and domestic productions, with just a few slightly blurred lines — PBS and WGBH with its “Masterpiece” projects, and HBO with its occasional U.K. co-productions. 

But even with those shows, it was usually clear that the U.S. partners were in on the ground floor and that these weren’t just acquisitions; U.S. programmers rarely acquired foreign productions — they remade them for domestic audiences. 

Now, with so much content flowing both ways, it’s often hard to tell what originated overseas before arriving here and what was jointly developed as an international co-production from the beginning.

In the case of the Emmys, semantics are important. According to TV Academy rules, “foreign television production is ineligible unless it is the result of a co-production (both financially and creatively) between U.S. and foreign partners, which precedes the start of production, and with a purpose to be shown on U.S. television.”

But “precedes the start of production” is a tricky stipulation that may be hard to pinpoint. Netflix’s “Bodyguard” and Amazon’s “A Very English Scandal” were initially announced in the U.K. as BBC productions, and it was only later that Netflix and Amazon were announced as partners. But in both cases, the streamers said they signed on early enough to have a say in production — and therefore the programs were eligible.

It’s a bit of an honor system, as the TV Academy requires that a U.S. partner be involved with creative input early enough in a season’s creative process but doesn’t do a deep dive into specifics. If Netflix and Amazon say they were involved from the beginning, unless someone objects, there’s no reason to doubt them.

In the case of Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek,” the comedy’s first season wasn’t submitted for Primetime Emmys because it was solely a CBC production in Canada. But Pop became involved as a co-producer in Season 2, subsequently making the show Emmy eligible — and leading to its four nominations this year, including comedy series, lead comedy actor (Eugene Levy) and lead comedy actress (Catherine O’Hara). Another series, Amazon’s “Absentia,” was originally produced overseas for AXN, and also wasn’t up for an Emmy in its first year due to the international restriction.

Of course, the International Emmy Awards are another option for any program that doesn’t meet Primetime Emmy eligibility. And they also serve a greater purpose, often honoring foreign language productions both U.S.-based and internationally produced. The Primetime Emmys honor English-language programming only.

But now that programs from around the world are available domestically — almost immediately via streaming services — and even linear broadcasters are more willing to take a shot on shows that originate outside U.S. borders, does it still make sense to try to parse where they came from? If TV is breaking down those barriers, perhaps it’s time for the Emmys to do the same.  

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