EMMYS: As More Shows Straddle Categories, Will TV Academy Tighten Rules?

Awardsline logo_use this oneThe Board of Governors of the Television Academy voted to split three more fields heading into this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards. That pushed the number of Emmy categories to a record 106. Yet we’ve never had so many shows that don’t seem to fit in any of them.  The problem impacts mainly anthology-style dramas, which straddle the worlds of regular series and miniseries, and the proverbial “dramedies,” which 'True Detective'blur the lines between comedy and drama. The issue came to the forefront with the debate surrounding HBO’s decision to enter the eight-episode True Detective as a drama, Showtime switching Shameless from drama to comedy series after three seasons and Netflix entering Orange Is the New Black as a comedy after submitting it as a drama for the Golden Globes.

“Life was easier when we had Gunsmoke and I Love Lucy,” quipped John Leverence, the TV Academy’s senior VP of awards.AHS 2 At the heart of the problem is the issue of “dual eligibility” programs that qualify for two categories under current Emmy rules. Shows such as HBO’s True Detective and FX’s American Horror Story have the characteristics of a drama—with continuous storylines, returning writing-producing teams and “Created By” credits. On the other hand, they each feature a single plot that is resolved within the same season, which is a signature trait of a miniseries.

Related: Miniseries Contenders and Lingering Controversies

'Downton Abbey'Once the TV Academy establishes that a program is eligible for two categories, it defers to the producers to choose which race to enter. AHS opted to go as a miniseries, despite having a semi-regular cast that has performed in multiple installments. HBO went the drama series route with Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective before it had been formally renewed and was certain to have a new cast and characters for season two. Meanwhile, PBS’ Downton Abbey submitted its first season as a miniseries before switching to the drama category a year later, despite already having been renewed when its freshman season competed as a mini.

All appear within their rights per TV Academy guidelines. Gamesmanship no doubt played a role in some submission decisions, though convictions were involved, too.

“This project was pitched to us, it was produced by us and marketed by us as a series,” HBO’s Michael Lombardo said about the decision to enter True Detective as a drama. “Nic never thought of this as a miniseries, and we always treated him as a creator of a series.”

rsz_mad_men_matt_weiner__120826225138It is interesting how perception changes. AHS raised eyebrows when it chose to compete as a miniseries in 2012. Gradually, the decision was accepted and seems to have become the norm, so much that when True Detective opted to go the other way, the move was perceived as a shocker. “It’s a strange thing; I was surprised (HBO) did it,” Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner said at the time.

Many have pointed out the competitive advantage AHS has enjoyed by entering the less-crowded longform field, topping the list of most-nominated programs for the past two years. But John Landgraf, CEO of FX, which airs the series, argues that short-run shows such as True Detective have an unfair advantage by attracting A-list talent like Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. “It’s unfair for HBO to get actors that you can’t normally get to do a series (but) who would do a close-ended show,” he says.

Related: John Landgraf Calls for Tougher Category Rules, ‘True Detective’s Entry As Drama Series Unfair

Both sides seem to have a point, which means there probably won’t be a right or wrong course for non-traditional dramas such as AHS and True Detective to pursue, unless the TV Academy steps in with stricter category guidelines, something many have asked for. Landgraf proposed that “the definition should be: A miniseries has a story that ends; a series has a story that continues on.”

'Orange Is The New Black'Addressing the debate whether Orange Is the New Black and Shameless belong in the comedy or drama category, OITNB creator Jenji Kohan lamented, “I just wish there was an hourlong category and a half-hour category. I wish everyone wasn’t so focused on category.”

The TV Academy’s current stance is that “the rules that are on the books seem to be sufficient to carry through categorization,” according to Leverence.

But with the proliferation of event and genre-bending shows that will continue to compound the problem and raise the level of frustration among creators and TV executives, that might have to change.

  1. Kohan is right, there should be a half-hour and hour categories. Comparing something like OITNB and something like Parks and Recreation is like comparing apples to oranges… but, alas, both comedies, so they will be head to head. Dumb.

    As for miniseries vs. drama, the easy solution is to use common sense: if it seems like producers are going into the less crowded field just to win awards, don’t let them.

  2. As an active member of the ATAS, I feel that we need to STOP expanding categories and allowing producers to manipulate the system. To allow any program to qualify in multiple categories [such as comedy or dramas according to how the wind blows, etc.] is disingenuous to the goal that we strive to achieve.

    If a program fails to receive recognition, from it’s peers, in the DRAMA category one year, then looks at the competition the following year and decides to submit as a MINISERIES, instead — is wrong. Period. IMO, the first submission should remain for the length of the shows run. To fish through multiple categories until a producer, or studio, finds a weak spot in a given year – and then submits the show in the ‘weak’ category because they believe they can win the coveted statue IS DISGUSTING.

    Just my opinion. But, I can say this — IF this type of bullshit continues I know several of my peers, including myself, who will be leaving the academy. We need to grow some balls and stand up to those who strive to destroy The Academy’s legitimacy and integrity.

    Thank you for reading this.

  3. The hour vs. half-hour seems easiest and would result in the fewest absurdities. It’s more fair to judge by format than by content (though obviously SNL actors should be allowed to compete against half-hours). After all, that’s how they divide Art Direction and Sound Mixing, so it’s not unprecedented.

  4. Why not lock all of the writers and producers in a room? Hand out a candlestick, gun, lead pipe, rope, and wrench. Last man standing takes home the trophy.

  5. The comedy problem is not as bad as the drama versus miniseries one. I don’t think there have ever been enough hour-long comedies to make that a sustainable solution. True Detective and Downton Abbey being allowed to mislabel their first seasons is terrible.

    1. Ian, you are so right!!!

      DOWNTON ABBEY flat out lied to the ATAS when they declared that it was never designed to be an ongoing series – LAURA MACKIE @ ITV was quoted in the 10/22/10 BROADCAST MAGAZINE as saying, “writer JULIAN FELLOWS provided detailed plans for a second and thirds series when Downton’s first run was ordered – opening up the possibility for a further commission.”

      And the Academy awards VP JOHN LEVERENCE knew this but did nothing!!!

  6. I think… what they really need to do is just make it so cable series can no longer be entered to win an Emmy award. (fake smile). I mean, isn’t that what the Award for Cable Excellence was meant to do? This would sure solve a lot of the problem. Just bring back the CableACE Awards.

    Is it too late to say April Fools? As suddenly the Emmys go dark this year.

  7. This seems like a fairly easy issue to rectify…

    Drama Series contention should preclude that the show has a continuing story, with a recurring cast that play the same characters year-to-year.

    Mini-Series/Movie contention should preclude that the program is either an original film, or a mini-series that will not have a second season or any type of continuation whatsoever.

    A category for Anthology Series should be created for any program that will have a second season, but said second season will feature a new story and cast of characters (even if played by some of the same actors).

    In terms of comedies, have two separate categories – one for programs that are an hour long, and another for half hour series’.

    Seems pretty simple, and would go a long way towards ensuring that recognition is not only increased (given how much more quality programming is hitting the airwaves), but also delineated more clearly and fairly.

  8. You guys are missing something. The Academy has no problem splitting categories and adding awards when it is categories that are part of the Creative Arts Emmys. That’s already an ungodly long mess but it is OK because it is never broadcast live.

    Adding new ‘dramedy’ categories, or splitting half-hour and hour ‘best comedies’ would impact the running time of the real Emmy telecast. And that’s a problem for the Academy’s contract with the networks. It’s not as easy as just saying “hey, let’s just run long”. And woe to the Academy Chair who suggests moving writing, directing, and acting categories to the Creative Arts ceremony to make space for new show categories.

  9. I think TV has gotten to the point where there is much more depth and numbers (of hours) of television, that the current simplistic categories aren’t working anymore. Because there’s shows that are not fitting into the current categories, a new dramedy category should be created. Also, anthology series such as Masterpiece Theatre, AHS and True Detective should be put in the mini-series category. I also would like to see the rules tightened for the performer categories but I’m not sure how to do that. Maybe they should just take away the lead and supporting designations to have two categories total plus maybe an award for best ensemble. And I would take away the guest actor categories, at least for the televised ceremony. Mini-series/anthology actors would have to complete with the drama series’ actors instead of having their own seperate category. Something else that would make the Emmys more interesting is to have categories for new performers and shows. In conclusion, these would be my categories:
    Best Mini-Series or Anthology Series
    Best Drama Series – for 1 hour series only
    Best Comedy Series – for half-hour series only
    Best Dramedy – for 1-hour series only
    Best Actor (Drama) – for actors in drama series, mini-series or anthology series
    Best Actress (Drama)
    Best Ensemble (Drama)
    Best Actor (Comedy)
    Best Actress (Comedy)
    Best Ensemble (Comedy)
    Best New Comedy – for any comedy series in its first season
    Best New Drama – for any 1-hour series in its first season
    Best Breakout Actor (Comedy)- for any actor who has not received an Emmy nomination previously
    Best New Actress (Comedy)
    Best New Actor (Drama
    Best New Actress (Drama)

  10. Does competing as a drama/comedy an all or nothing thing? As in, would the actors be limited to competing for “best actor in a comedy?” Because while I can see an argument being made overall for OITNB or Shameless being in the comedy category, I don’t expect to see some fine dramatic work by the individual actors being recognized with an award in the comedy category.

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