Type keyword(s) to search

Hear Me Out

Here's How to Make the Emmys Less Predictable This Year

There are only so many times we can talk about comedy nominees not being funny before something needs to be done.
  • Ayo Edebiri and Jeremy Allen White in The Bear Season 2 (Photo: Chuck Hodes/FX)
    Ayo Edebiri and Jeremy Allen White in The Bear Season 2 (Photo: Chuck Hodes/FX)

    In Hear Me Out, Primetimer staffers and contributors passionately espouse their pet theories, spicy takes, and even the occasional galaxy-brain idea.

    Emmy nomination season is here, and like clockwork, conversations about limited shows staying limited and whether the comedy frontrunners are actually funny have begun. Shōgun got ahead of potential category fraud accusations before the voting window opened, with FX announcing a renewal (albeit one without too many details), but last year’s winner The Bear continues to straddle the amusing-serious line. With a growing number of anthology series and genre-blurring titles, is it time for the Television Academy to have a significant category shakeup? And if so, what should the new metric be?

    Much like TV, the Emmys are relatively fluid in adapting to the shifting industry landscape. In doing so, this institution is ahead of the Oscars in creating awards for casting (the first was in 1989) and stunts in 2021. In some cases, they needed a little push from heavyweight stars, such as when Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz called out the Academy for the lack of writing awards in 1954. The following year, this was rectified — though I Love Lucy lost out to The George Gobel Show.

    Since the streaming explosion, the Emmys have struggled with shows that don’t fit into the previously determined “30 minutes equals jokes” box, and an hour is reserved for serious matters only. It probably doesn’t get enough credit for its influential role, but Orange is the New Black was the rare hour-long show that first competed against the likes of Veep, Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory in 2014. It wasn’t the first 60-minute slot title (that honor goes to Ally McBeal in 1999) to test these waters, but a year after that OITNB nomination, it turns out that length does matter when it comes to laughter.

    In 2015, OITNB was banished to drama thanks to a new rule that stipulated that only half-hours would automatically be deemed funny. Anything running around the hour mark involves an extra submission hurdle before being considered (ditto a 30-minute title in drama). In the same year, the Television Academy added this runtime clarification and several other major changes as peak TV took shape. Members could vote in more categories, ushering in the trend of clean sweeps, and nominees for drama and comedy went up to seven. However, the Creative Arts Emmys changed the game in a way that could solve the cyclical nature of Emmy category conversation: Costume design categories were no longer simply long-form and series but split into a Contemporary category and Period paired with Fantasy/Sci-Fi.

    Perhaps the Primetime Emmys should take a page out of the costume design category playbook, which, from 2018, realized it was better to separate Period and Fantasy/Sci-Fi. Whereas costume still draws a line in the sand between limited and long-form scripted titles, how about the Primetime Emmys do away with this divide? There will be no more Big Little Lies, The White Lotus, and Beef-style “Oops, we are a continuing story” confusion, no matter whether it is ongoing or not. It won’t even change the number of categories up for grabs.

    Currently, laughs-per-minute is not a requisite when submitting a 30-minute comedy, leading to this rise of dramedies taking home the prize over sitcoms. Even episode length isn’t as defined as it once was, with streamers not locking in their creatives to a set limit previously decided by network schedules. To submit in the Fantasy/Sci-Fi category, the rules as listed for 2024 state this genre is defined as “imagined characters existing in unknown, or non-existent environments, mythical and/or invented times and alternate realities.” For Contemporary, it is “based in a period of time less than 25 years prior to the current awards eligibility year” (Period is anything more than 25 years). Pretty simple, right?

    Okay, so there have been a few issues over the last few years, including This is Us getting a contemporary costume design nomination revoked in 2017 because less than 51 percent of the screen time took place within the last 25 years. This is Us is not alone in bouncing between different decades, so separating categories into periods is not without its snags. However, someone should have picked up on this category error during the episode submissions, not after announcing the nominations. No system is perfect because the shows in questioning aren’t ticking off specific boxes, nor should they. But it remains frustrating that some shows benefit from classification ambiguity, and we end up with the same lineup of winners.

    Furthermore, fantasy and sci-fi don’t always get their due. But Game of Thrones, you cry! Okay, but most genre shows are ignored while the designated hit of the hour (see also Stranger Things and Yellowjackets) get to bask in awards glory. Or a lone performer like Tatiana Maslany wins for Orphan Black. The Creative Arts Emmys have given awards to sci-fi and fantasy favorites like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it is possible to still be salty about the lack of acting accolades two decades later. Considering there are more shows than ever, the landscape should not be getting smaller as we head into the 76th Emmy Awards.

    So just think, what would last year have looked like if Succession faced off against The Bear and Beef? For Your Consideration: Make the Emmy Awards less predictable.

    Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina

    TOPICS: Emmys, The Bear, Beef, Big Little Lies, Orange Is the New Black, Shōgun, Succession, The White Lotus