My recent column about the plight of awards consultants in this age of Too Much TV clearly struck a nerve. Among everything I’ve written about the Emmys this year, it’s received the most reaction — mostly from publicists nodding their heads in frustration with the jam of events and campaigns.
Since I’m apparently in a solicitous mood, this time I’ll turn my attention to the awards rule makers at the Television Academy — the folks who receive the lion’s share of ire this time of year, including in columns such as this. And I’m sure some of my more outlandish ideas, such as nominating every eligible program in the variety talk field, or creating a special category for broadcast series, has elicited plenty of eye rolls over in North Hollywood.
But I feel their pain. It’s impossible to keep up with the evolution of television these days, which must make it especially hard to stay on top of how to award the medium’s finest. Remember when comedies were comedies, dramas were dramas and limited series were actually “miniseries”?
And then there are those aforementioned crafty awards consultants, finding ways to mess with the rules— submitting episodes of anthology series as movies; splitting seasons into two to spread out between multiple eligibility periods; playing fast and loose with the definition of “lead” vs. “supporting.”
But most perplexing: Figuring out what would be considered a “limited” or “anthology” series.
After all, this is a voting body that awarded an “outstanding miniseries or movie” Emmy to “Downton Abbey” in 2011, only to then see PBS and Masterpiece turn it into a long-running drama. It happened again, in 2017, with “Big Little Lies,” which won limited series before coming back as a drama.
Fool me once, shame on you, etc. But the confusion is much more than that. Helen Mirren’s “Prime Suspect” was a frequent nominee. And there’s the tricky question of FX’s “American Horror Story” and “Fargo,” both of which had seasons with different casts yet some tonal similarities and threads that continued from year to year.
“AHS” was infamously booted over to drama in 2019, when “Apocalypse” had too many links to previous installments. That same year, the Academy moved the second seasons of USA’s “The Sinner” and Netflix’s “American Vandal” for the same reason. Last year, anthology series — which had existed in a bit of a gray area, depending on what kind of anthology it was (stand-alone episode vs. stand-alone season arc) — was merged with limited.
Now, get ready for more hand wringing. As Variety first reported in March, the TV Academy is allowing HBO’s “The White Lotus” to compete in limited series/ anthology, even though original cast member Jennifer Coolidge is back for a second season.
The org ruled that “in this case, the reappearance in a subsequent ‘season’ of one character from a large ensemble does not prohibit eligibility based on Academy’s main criteria for limited series.”
“The White Lotus” is another show that exists as a bit of a hybrid of limited series and drama, made all the more confusing by Coolidge’s return. There are no easy answers, especially as episodic counts shrink on almost everything but the biggest of broadcast shows.
What if everything now is a limited series? Apologies, again, to the Emmy rules and procedures team. I think I just added to the confusion.