Of all the major Primetime Emmy categories, the competition program field has been the most in need of a shakeup. This is a not-so-amazing race that rarely changes — although this year, ironically, “The Amazing Race” won’t be a part of it.
For the first time since the category launched in 2003, “The Amazing Race” — which won the competition series Emmy 10 times — won’t be among the nominees, as it didn’t air during the eligibility period. That will open the door for at least one new nominee — and maybe more, given the recent TV Academy rule that allows up to eight slots depending on how many programs are submitted. (Last year, however, 53 shows were entered — that would have kept the category’s number of noms at five.)
Turnover in the competition race has moved at a glacial pace. Last year, Netflix’s “Nailed It” entered the category, displacing “Project Runway,” but in 2018, the five nominees were the same as 2017. And then there’s the fact that only four shows have won the competition Emmy in its 17 years of existence. Besides “Race,” “The Voice” has won four times; “RuPaul’s Drag Race” got it twice, and “Top Chef” won once.
“These voters are clearly not watching any of this stuff,” says one flummoxed awards executive. “And they are voting for what they know and just consistently voting for the same thing every year. I was shocked when ‘Nailed It’ got in.”
Alfred Street Industries co-founders Dan Cutforth andJane Lipsitz are the executive producers on both “Nailed It” and “Project Runway.” Cutforth has noted that “it seems like every year there’s one show that goes away and one comes in.”
But this year there are two reasons to think that maybe a long-overdue competition category shakeup is coming. First off, there’s been a bit of an unscripted revival over the past year, thanks in part to the expansion of such shows at the streaming services.
That includes new entries such as “Making the Cut” (Amazon Prime Video), “Next in Fashion” (Netflix), “Too Hot to Handle” (Netflix), “Be Our Chef” (Disney Plus) and “Rhythm + Flow” (Netflix). But the broadcast networks have been expanding their arsenals too, with shows including “Lego Masters” (Fox), “Holey Moley” (ABC), “Songland” (NBC) and the return of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (ABC).
There’s also a chance that, once Emmy voters got “Tiger King” out of their system, they had the time during the COVID-19 pandemic to sample more unscripted shows than usual, giving them an opportunity to expand their palate beyond the usual suspects.
“I think the fact is that people may have just watched more shows,” Cutforth says. “You hear people joking about having finished all of Netflix, and I think that the amount of TV that people have watched may change the categories across the board.
“I think it’ll be kind of instructive, actually,” he adds. “I always had a sense that with the Emmy nominations, people are voting for what they think they should vote for, rather than what they absolutely love. Then there are always things that have this wave of popular excitement and maybe there’ll be more of those waves of popular excitement. There’s a real possibility that there may be a bunch of new shows that get thrown out by what’s happened over the last few months.”
No disrespect to the shows that have dominated the competition category over the past decade and a half. But a nominee shake up is probably a bit overdue, and could make this year’s Emmy race even more, yes, amazing.