The Television Academy has finally listened to our pleas — well, sort of. The org recently announced plans to expand the number of comedy and drama Emmy nominations from seven to eight, acknowledging that the volume of eligible programs continues to rise.
As a matter of fact, according to the TV Academy, Emmy submissions for 2020 have increased by 15% over the previous competition year. We’ll find out soon, as nomination ballots arrive July 2, the exact amount per category. But that’s a pretty impressive growth given how much the COVID-19 pandemic impacted production toward the end of this year’s eligibility period.
Of course, the coronavirus shutdown actually spawned several last-minute contenders, including numerous benefit specials and even the return of “Parks and Recreation.” But as FX Networks chairman John Landgraf has been hyping for years, the expansion in original programming is nothing new, and this year’s rapid increase also has a lot to do with the launch of streamers Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, HBO Max and Quibi.
The biggest winner of the rule change this year may very well be the ubiquitous Reese Witherspoon, as this now gives both of her drama series contenders, HBO’s “Big Little Lies” and Apple TV Plus’ “The Morning Show,” a better shot to land nods.
The TV Academy bumped up the number of comedy and drama nominees from six to seven in 2015, just as the streaming revolution had gotten underway. The expansion to eight feels like a slow, incremental change, but it’s a move in the right direction. “It’s long past due,” one awards exec tells me. “The Academy needs to innovate to find new ways to embrace the new TV landscape. This is a smart first step — let’s hope there’s more to come.”
And to TV Academy chairman-CEO Frank Scherma’s credit, since he took over the post in 2018, he’s been aiming to do just that. “The increase in submissions is a reflection of the number of new voices, new television platforms and a tremendous growth in content from existing platforms across our industry,” Scherma said in announcing the last-minute rule change, just weeks before voting was set to begin.
But the change also sets up a new template for the number of nominations in all other Emmy categories, and this is the part that may be concerning.
Until now, most categories have had a limit of five nominations, except the aforementioned seven in comedy and drama, as well as six in variety talk, variety sketch, structured reality, unstructured reality and competition programs. Also previously guaranteed six nominations were comedy and drama series directors; lead, supporting and guest performers; and writers -— in addition to limited series directors, lead and supporting performers, writers and technical direction for a series.
Moving forward, besides the comedy and drama races, any other categories with more than 240 submissions will also get eight noms under the new model. Categories with between 161 and 240 submissions get seven, and 81 to 160 submissions get six. Categories with 20 to 80 submissions stick with five nominations, and anything below that faces a sliding scale between zero to four noms.
How might that impact some of the key races? Ultimately, this rule change may actually decrease nominations in several key categories. Last year, there were 35 limited series and 21 TV movie submissions, which meant those nominations would have stuck with five (just barely for TV movie). There were 53 competition, 43 structured reality and 54 unstructured entrants, which means those fields would have slid from six to five nominations. Ditto variety talk and variety sketch, both of which had 20 entries last year.
Going by last year’s submissions, that also means that there would have been seven nominees in the comedy supporting and eight in the drama supporting categories, but just six for lead actor and actress. That isn’t a new disparity; per the Academy’s old 2% rule (which has been eliminated due to the new setup), contenders who came within 2% of the sixth slot were included as ties — which is why last year, for example, there were eight comedy supporting actress nominees and seven drama supporting actor nods.
An Academy spokesperson confirms that indeed, since the number of nominees depends on how many submissions each category has, some of those categories will indeed see a contraction, while some of them will see an expansion. When the Academy releases the ballot on Thursday, as voting gets under way, everyone will be able to calculate the number.
All of these limitations and potential contractions are why we still think the Academy didn’t go far enough, and as we’ve argued for several years, the number of nominees in the key drama and comedy categories should really go up to a nice, round 10 — with others either staying the same or expanding. Peak TV demands no less.