Now that Quibi ended up lasting, well, a Quibi, the Emmy Awards’ short form categories seem further destined to become more of a curiosity than a major part of the competition. Roku picked up Quibi’s scraps, but doesn’t appear interested in launching new originals in the short-form space. And elsewhere, outlets including YouTube are bulking up in unscripted, but are less keen on adding more scripted, short form or not, to an already crowded marketplace.
The Television Academy first expanded the short form categories in 2016, buoyed by the promise of original fare from Maker Studios, Fullscreen, AwesomenessTV, YouTube Red, Adult Swim and others. Maker and Fullscreen basically don’t exist anymore, and the excitement of the short form races has perhaps further cooled after the Quibi debacle.
But although the Quibi business model was questionable, its programming wasn’t. The service premiered quite a bit of quality fare in its short life, which is why last year it at least dominated the Emmy races for short form comedy or drama series actor and actress. Quibi landed four of the five nominations in both categories and also won both: Laurence Fishburne and Jasmine Cephas Jones for “#FreeRayshawn.” It also landed two noms in short form comedy or drama series, for “Reno 911” and “Most Dangerous Game.”
That category, however, went to AMC.com’s “Better Call Saul Employee Training: Legal Ethics With Kim Wexler.” And that’s the real rub with these short form categories: Most of the nominations, and wins, end up going to digital extensions of regular primetime series from major networks and streamers.
In the short form variety series field, Apple’s “Carpool Karaoke: The Series” has won the past three years. “Being at Home With Samantha Bee” and “Jimmy Kimmel’s Quarantine Minilogues” made the nominations-round ballot last year, as did “Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis: The Movie, Sorta Uncut Interviews,” which was basically bonus footage from a film.
This year, with the realization that there just aren’t enough entries to go around, the TV Academy merged the short form comedy/drama series and variety series into one. Perhaps that’s for the best, as neither category has managed to stir up much originality. (And it started so promising in 2016, with Adult Swim’s “Childrens Hospital” winning the short form drama or comedy. Sundance’s “State of the Union,” which won in 2019, was another original, well-produced victor.)
Meanwhile, the short form nonfiction or reality series category has become a repository for what are little more than electronic press kits: Last year, “National Geographic Presents Cosmos: Creating Possible Worlds” beat out nominees including “Pose: Identity, Family, Community” and extensions of “The Daily Show,” “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
Ideally, the short form categories would find room for the plenty of original, independently produced shorts that are regularly found on social media platforms. But the TV Academy, still stung by Megan Amram’s parody series “An Emmy for Megan,” which earned short form comedy or drama nods in 2018 and 2019, has added a vetting process that has presumably kept out more low-budget entries.
Adult Swim is still in the mix with “Dream Corp LLC,” while BBC America has “CripTales.” FX’s “Cake” banner has “9 Films About Technology” and “Dr. Brown, Naturally.” Netflix is submitting the BDSM comedy “Bonding” and the alternative comedy sketch series “Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun.”
“I think that there’s something really exciting about freeing up and allowing comedy to exist at exactly the length that it remains funny,” says Broden Kelly, one of the three members of the Aunty Donna comedy troupe. “So, it’s a really exciting category and representation of a cool shift that’s happened in the last 10 years.”