Thomas J. McLean is an AwardsLine contributor.
Although sci-fi, horror and fantasy programs have long been among the most popular with viewers, popularity with Emmy voters has been tougher to come by. For every Game Of Thrones—which earned 17 Emmy noms, including drama series—there’s a Walking Dead left nearly empty-handed. In fact, AMC’s zombie-apocalypse drama earned just two below-the-line noms, despite a critically acclaimed performance from leading man Andrew Lincoln and a record-breaking year in ratings.
Related: EMMYS: Drama Series Overview
It’s little comfort knowing that The Walking Dead is far from alone. The series is following an Emmy pattern established by hugely popular and influential TV franchises—such as Star Trek, Stargate SG-1 and Buffy The Vampire Slayer—that earned awards attention almost exclusively for visual effects, sound, music and makeup. And when it comes to the most visible Primetime Emmy categories, a mere handful of genre shows have broken through to nominations—and even fewer wins: The X-Files, Lost and, most recently, HBO’s Game Of Thrones and FX’s American Horror Story.
“It does feel like there’s a certain amount of people who just naturally won’t take something seriously if it’s on a spaceship or if it involves a dragon,” says Edward Kitsis, who created ABC’s Once Upon A Time with fellow Lost writer Adam Horowitz.
Related: EMMYS: Movie/Miniseries Overview
Remi Aubuchon, executive producer on TNT’s alien-invasion series Falling Skies, agrees, adding that great performances don’t often get the attention they deserve if they happen to be on genre shows. “I think that Noah Wyle (a five-time Emmy nominee for his role on ER) on our show is turning in as nice a performance as actors on many other shows that don’t have aliens in them,” Aubuchon says. “But I think because we do have that fantastical element, people get distracted by it.”
Of course, no matter how dazzling the visual effects might be, viewers won’t watch a show week after week if it doesn’t have engaging characters in relatable situations. Horowitz and Kitsis say their experience as writers on Lost taught them that lesson, that story and character are the heart of any show. “When (viewers) understood the emotional problems behind these characters, they were willing to come down the rabbit hole into a world where there were smoke monsters and hatches and Dharma Initiatives,” says Kitsis.
Advances in visual effects have also made genre shows feasible in ways they previously were not, boosting them to proportions fans would never have dreamed of 25 years ago. “Going back to The X-Files or Buffy, those shows in the 1990s really paved the way for the shows that came after them. (Those series) allowed people to get used to the idea that television can have your police procedurals, your doctor shows, your soaps and your crazy genre shows about fairy tales or zombies,” says Horowitz.
The groundwork that previous genre series laid with viewers could eventually start to pay off with Emmy love, particularly as enthusiasm for genre shows continues to grow among audiences. “I definitely think there’s a generation coming up now that’s like, ‘Actually, we prefer that. We like the metaphor over the literal,’” Kitsis explains.