EMMYS: Making Room For Genre Shows

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.

  1. To be fair, many of the genre shows besides GoT aren’t quite good enough to compete with the best dramas on TV. John Noble of Fringe however, should have won an Emmy for his role in that show. Tremendous acting chops.

  2. I like Game of Thrones, but Battlestar Galactica was vastly superior.
    Awards shows are just fluff. No one should waste time worrying about them.

  3. Are we kidding? Where is Andrew Lincoln’s acting critically acclaimed? Nowhere. Game of Thrones is the award worthy genre show. Walking Dead is just fun.

  4. It still blows my mind that Anna Torv was never nominated for her work on “Fringe.” Her performance in season 3 was a tour-de-force, and was likely a huge influence on Tatiana Maslany’s work on “Orphan Black.”

    1. Could not agree with you more. But the performances are quite different. Tatiana has a bit of buzz going into this next season and I think with S2 of OB starting in Jan 2014, the performance will be much more recent when nominations come around. Also BBC America will be prepared.

      But John Noble. Man is genius, plain and simple.

  5. Why not create a genre category then? I am aware that this is a silly idea but at least have a temporary genre category to open emmy voters eyes to the genre?

    1. This is something I have wondered for a long time. There are many shows that are not strictly drama or comedy; if they added a science fiction and fantasy category, it would allow the recognition of shows like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Orphan Black, and hopefully make room for different series in the drama category rather than the same ones every year.

  6. I really hope the Emmys make room for Orphan Black next year. Definitely one of the most creative, smart, and overall best shows on television. The writing and acting are simply outstanding, and its such a same to see such a fantastic show be snubbed because its dubbed as Science Fiction.

  7. Fringe’s John Noble not even being nominated has been the most recent issue for sci-fi. Noble does more with his face and even with his hands than 99.9% of all actors in TV or film. Simply amazing. Looking at actresses, Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) should have been given a nod this year (over everyone except Clare Danes…who really is a class by herself), Anna Torv for Fringe S3. Yep another year that Mariska Hargaty (sp?) was nominated, just terrible (love Julianna Margulies, but she’s the new MH, nominations based on nothing but name). Not to mention a few of the BSG actors. No way Walking Dead deserves a nod. Well, maybe something to do with Bear McCreary’s music. I know that a number of ST actors were overlooked as well.

  8. It is such a shame that at least John noble was not nominated. That shows the tremendous biases when it comes to the Emmy. I don’t watch anymore. I am so sick and tired of the same shows and actors repeatedly nominated. Some of the best acting is being done in the Sci fi fantasy worlds and to see total snuffing in significant categories is mind boggling. John noble took my breath away and stopped the world with his acting. It is such a shame it doesn’t seem ever that the nominations will be genuine. And every SciFi show seems to have the absolute best music.

  9. Oh and titiana maslany is a genius. Show me another actresses doing the same roles so convincingly. I totally would forget that each character was the same actress. Her acting absolutely suspended my disbelief. I would watch the Emmys if some of my favorite Sci FI shows were nominated in major categories. And so many feel the same way. They wonder why viewership is getting so low, well maybe people, not just Sci FI fans, are feeling like every year is just a rerun of the previous years. Why does mad men get so many nominations year after year? Give some other shows just as, if not more, worthy some recognition. Please, for sanity sake.

  10. Fringe.
    Anna Torv not getting a nomination might be understandable, but John Noble? No.
    Shows that there’s a bias that shouldn’t be there.

  11. Tatiana Maslany’s performances in Orphan Black playing nine (so far) different versions of her character is one of the most extraordinary acting talents working in television today. Watch the show and you’ll wonder why she’s not nominated — and then you’ll get pissed off that she’s not nominated.

  12. First of all, anyone who discredits The Walking Dead or Andrew Lincoln is out of their mind! I watch all of the best dramas on TV and the only one that I am in agony in-between seasons is TWD. Genre or not, the show is a drama first and foremost. I love the Horror Genre as much as Comedy because it puts on edge. You feel more alive watching scenes that give you fear or laughter that hurts your stomach. Now if comedy and horror are mixed with drama then that’s a real treat! I thoroughly enjoy Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, House of Cards, BSG, Workaholics, Wilfred, The League, American Dad, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, Homeland ETC… People need to be open minded and enjoy all aspects of acting. The Craft isn’t just a small bubble its a whole world. Andrew Lincoln’s performance of a man who hit rock bottom after his wife was killed and then turning around and dancing with sanity to come back and lead his group to fight the amazing David Morrissey as The Governor was some of the best character writing I’ve ever seen. If you’ve only seen an episode here and there you will not be absorbed, otherwise give the show a chance from Episode 1 of any season. Each season starts a new story arch so if you want to see where the show is now then watch season 3 and then go back and appreciate the shows first two seasons.

  13. Scifi will always be disrespected by the Emmys because, like the Oscars, they don’t think it’s a legit form of entertainment. For BSG to get as few nominations as they did in their run was the equivalent of pulling teeth. But what’s happening to Continuum is scandalous. Just because it’s from Canada, it still aired its first season on SyFy, and thus deserved to be eligible for the Emmy derby.

    Also; Continuum>>>>Orphan Black in every way, in front of the camera, behind the camera, the actors, the writers, the directors, and especially Rachel Nichols. At least she doesn’t rely on gimmicks and surefire awards bait like Maslany does.

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