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New Emmy Rules: Setback For Hourlong Comedies, More Best Series Nominees, Variety Field Split, Guest Actors Redefined

After grappling with controversies last year over HBO’s decision to submit True Detective as a drama series and Showtime and Netflix’s move to switch hourlong series Shameless and Orange Is The New Black from drama to comedy consideration, the TV Academy has adopted a slew of rule changes.

Jodie Foster earns first Emmy directing nomination with Orange Is The New BlackFrom now on, only 30-minute series are considered comedies; all others are presumed to be dramas. The new definition is a setback for Orange and Shameless, which had done very well since switching to comedy, and the CW breakout Jane The Virgin, which scored at the Golden Globes. The Academy has left the door open — producers can plead their case to a nine-member panel, and shows could be genre reassigned with a two-thirds vote. Hourlong shows are still expected to make the cut as comedies, but they need to go though a far more extensive vetting process.

HBO's "True Detective" Season 1 / Director: Cary FukunagaThe TV Academy also took on the drama series-miniseries debate, renaming the miniseries category as limited series and looking to more clearly define the distinction between series and limited series, with “an ongoing storyline, theme and main characters” from season to season required for series consideration. The tweaks would no longer allow British shows that produce a handful of episodes a year, like Luther and Sherlock, to compete as miniseries, something they had successfully done until now.

The best drama and comedy series categories are undergoing another expansion — with the number of nominees increased to seven. The move will be welcome by drama producers as the proliferation of drama series on cable and digital platforms has made the best drama series field incredibly competitive. It will get even more overcrowded as hourlong comedic series join the race.

Kathryn JoostenThe TV Academy also addressed a smaller controversy over the rise of recurring actors in the guest starring categories. Once reserved for a show-stopping performance in a single episode, the guest categories have been dominated by heavily recurring actors in the past few years, with Desperate Housewives’ Kathryn Joosten famously winning the honor after appearing in every episode. It happened again last year with Orange Is The New Black‘s Uzo Aduba and Scandal‘s Joe Morton. The Academy has stepped in to curb the trend, putting a cap of an actor appearing in 50% of the season’s episode or less to be considered a “guest.”

Saturday Night Live is getting its own category — the Academy is splitting the variety series category into variety talk show and variety sketch. The move gives a boost to sketch shows like SNL and Portlandia as the category had been dominated by talk shows in the winners circle, most notably, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. It also will open more slots in the talk show category for newcomers like John Oliver’s new HBO program.

And lastly, the Academy is expanding the pool of Emmy voters, allowing everyone eligible to vote in the nomination round to also vote in the final one.

“We are thrilled to announce that our Board of Governors and senior industry executives have taken meaningful time to address, in a forward-thinking manner, many of our existing rules and procedures,” Television Academy Chairman Bruce Rosenblum said. “As our growing membership creates and produces more content for ever-changing platforms, today’s changes in the rules and procedures are vital.”

Here are details on all rule changes:

Expansion of Final Round Voting: In an effort to increase member participation in the voting process, and to take advantage of the Academy’s extension of online voting to both rounds, all voters eligible to vote in a category’s nominating round are now eligible to vote in that category’s final round, so long as they meet two additional requirements: much like the former Blue Ribbon panel process, voters must watch the required submitted material online and attest to no specific conflicts of interest with the nominees.

Expansion of Nominees for “Comedy” and “Drama” Series Categories: Due to the dramatic increase in series production, the number of nominees for “Comedy” and “Drama” series has been increased from six to seven.

Definition of a “Comedy” and “Drama” Series: To clarify the difference between the “Comedy” and “Drama” series categories, series with episodes of 30 minutes or less are defined as a “Comedy”; those with episodes of more than 30 minutes are presumed to be a “Drama.”

Producers may formally petition a new Academy industry panel to consider their series’ eligibility in the alternative category. This nine-member panel will include five industry leaders appointed by the Television Academy Chairman and four appointees from the Board of Governors. A two-thirds vote of this Industry Panel is required for petition approval.

All programs entering the competition this year will be grouped according to these new definitions.

Definition of “Series” and “Limited Series”: “Mini-Series” will be changed to “Limited Series” and defined as programs of two or more episodes with a total running time of at least 150 program minutes that tell a complete, non-recurring story, and do not have an ongoing storyline and/or main characters in subsequent seasons. “Comedy” and “Drama” Series will continue to be defined as programs with a minimum of six episodes which have an ongoing storyline, theme and main characters presented under the same title and with continuity of production supervision.

Producers may formally petition for review by the aforementioned industry panel to change category eligibility.

Definition of “Guest Actor”: Only performers appearing in less than 50% of a program’s episodes are now eligible to submit in the “Guest Actor” category.

Split of Variety Series category: The Variety Series category is now split – Outstanding Variety Talk, to be awarded during the Primetime Emmy telecast, and Outstanding Variety Sketch, to be included in the Creative Arts Emmy program.

  1. “and do not have an ongoing storyline and/or main characters in subsequent seasons.”

    What would this mean for a show like Fargo, which is currently making a second season (albeit a prequel) where its lead character was also a major season 1 character?

      1. It was counted as a miniseries (which they now call “limited series) last year, but the new rule defining a limited series says you can’t have returning characters, which season 2 of Fargo certainly will.

        1. Oh, but isn’t season 2 of Fargo a prequel? I wonder if it makes a difference that there are completely different actors playing the roles.

        2. Season 2 of Fargo won’t have any returning character. “It’s set in the late-Seventies against the backdrop of Ronald Reagan’s first campaign for President of the United States,” according to FX CEO John Landgraf.

          1. it will.

            “the second season’s story will revolve around an incident that occurred in 1979 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which was often mentioned during the first season, and will feature a young Lou Solverson and Molly’s mother.”

        3. I don’t think so – I’ve heard none of the characters from the first season are returning. It’s a completely new storyline. If any are, though, then it would be considered a drama series.

    1. both talk shows – that happen to have a few sketches. The Tonight Show, Letterman, etc have always had sketches.

    2. They’re both talk shows. Sketch show = SNL, Portlandia, Key & Peele, Kroll Show, Inside Amy Schumer, etc…

  2. Most of this is truly ridiculous. You can’t tell a showrunner that his/her show will never win an Emmy simply because they chose to make it an hour format. THE LENGTH OF THE EPISODES SHOULD NOT BE WHAT DETERMINES THE SERIES’ GENRE! I mean, am I really the only person who finds that almost painfully inane?! If only the Academy had enough time to…I don’t know…perhaps WATCH the shows? They could decide genre based on that, I guess. Too complicated?

    So… series vs. limited series vs. mini-series: This isn’t a no-brainer? Series make 13 or more episodes per season. If any show makes fewer than 13 episodes in a year and does so with the intention of making more at some point down the road, that is a limited series. If any show produces fewer than 13 episodes with the intent to NOT make more (if you’re old, think “Roots”; if you’re young, think “The Slap”), that is a mini-series–almost like it’s always been.

    Defining what qualifies as a guest star turn is actually a good move. But seriously, that other stuff? That’s ridiculous.

    1. but they can plead their case. It’ not a done deal based on format. They can appeal and get put in another category if their argument is strong enough. But give me a break – you can’t say Shameless is a comedy just because it has humor.

    2. Most hour-long shows, if they do have comedy in them, are almost always dark comedies with more dramatic beats than comedic…especially as the series goes on. Once OITNB really got going, it most clearly became a full fledged drama with the occasional one liners and quirky little goings on. I think a petition to consider an hour-long show a comedy is appropriate because if it truly is a comedy, it should pass.

  3. People who host variety specials and variety series should be under “Best Performance in a Variety Series or Special”,that also includes regulars on variety programs like SNL.They did this one before and for some stupid reason they removed as a category.The last win in this category was Don Rickles back in 2008.

    1. that was a stupid move on the academy’s part to make room for the inane Outstanding Reality Show Host category. What they should have done is split the performance category between series and specials and let the reality show host be nominated with the program.

  4. The one good thing about splitting up the variety category is that previously ignored sketch shows on Comedy Central and other cable channels will get more recognition. Good luck winning against the SNL elephant in the room, but still…

    I remember the first time SNL beat Carol Burnett for Best Variety series in the 70s — people thought the sky was falling.

  5. both of those shows ARE comedies. the problem is there are very few real dramas on tv. if you go by the actual definition (and its NOT funny=comedy) most ‘dramas’ are not dramas at all but actually comedy. for example, most procedural (like CSI & Bones) are, by definition, comedy.

      1. read Northrup Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism, its a long explanation but the basics are comedy is about inclusion of community and kindling of romance which is why most start or end (mostly end) with a wedding or a birth. so the term ‘romantic comedy’ is redundant. jokes are common in such situations but is in no way a requirement. Drama on the other hand is about destruction of community and finality of consequences which is why most start or end (mostly end) with a death or otherwise banishment.

        this is why most ‘dramas’ aren’t at all really dramas. csi, grey’s anatomy, mentalist, etc. all fit into comedy and do not fit into drama.

        one of the most depressing and sad (made me cry) films i have ever seen was a comedy with nary a funny moment to be had. great film check it out, No Man’s Land. it’s about war, death, inhumanity and hopelessness. but structurally its 100% comedy.

        so Bones is a true comedy. its about a close-knit inclusive community.

        and Breaking Bad is a true drama. it’s about destruction and death of a community.

          1. what a witty and apt retort!

            definitions are important unfortunately these words have been dumbed down from critical importance to ‘comedy = funny” “drama = not funny”
            which is ignorant and sad.

  6. What about shows that are listed as comedies but never at any point try to be funny except maybe 2 or 3 times a season like Transparent? Not saying it’s a bad show, just saying it is in no way a comedy unless you’re thinking “hey it’s a dude dressed up like a chick that’s funny”

    1. I don’t think of Transparent as a comedy. I think of it as Amazon being cheap with an untested concept and opting to make a half hour drama. It is beyond stupid to use length as the nearly exclusive measure for a show’s genre. Comedies should be funny. Ally Mcbeal was nuts and not always great but because of its absurdity and constant high jinx was a comedy. The Practice also had absurd moments (The serial killer in a nun’s habit) but was most definitely a drama. Both were an hour long. Both won their categories on the same year.

      It doesn’t have to be laugh out loud funny but the structure has to be geared toward that.

      Shameless and OITNB are tricky but I tend to be on the side that they are more drama than comedy even though there’s funny stuff on both.

    1. and that show will have a chance to plead its case to a 9 person committee. I’d agree that Jane the Virgin is a comedy because most of the situations within the show are driven by humor or elicit laughs. I don’t watch Orange is the New Black and think “that show is hysterical”.

  7. Finally!! I love Orange Is The New Black but like Ally McBeal before it, calling it a comedy is absurd. And unfair. This is just.

  8. This is still useless. Transparent is in NO WAY a comedy. It is a half hour but should not be competing with Big Bang Theory or Veep. But I’m at least glad Orange is The New Black can’t be masquerading as a comedy now.
    None of it makes sense. Entourage is no drama, but it was never really a comedy. The biggest laugh I got was when Kevin Connell was nominated for “best” “lead” actor in a “comedy” … not only is it not a comedy and he not the lead, he is the least funny one in it. It takes different skills as an actor to do comedy and to do drama (or “non-comedy” or “non-comedy non-drama” as many of these are)… he should be competing in the same category as people who actually have to do comedy, or actually have to do drama.

  9. Serious question- most of Arrested Development season 4 on Netflix was over 30 minutes. Would that show seriously have to petition to be a comedy?

  10. Thanks for addressing this issue. It’s not right for to game the system by strategically jockeying for nominations in ill defined categories in order to improve win probability.

  11. Pretty solid rule changes all around I think. The drama-comedy distinction will get a little closer scrutiny and and the miniseries category is finally interpreted the way it was supposed to be this whole time.

  12. I agree with all the changes, except for “30 minutes = comedy, 60 minutes doesn’t.” Though, I really shouldn’t be speaking up about it because I don’t have a better solution in mind.

    There does need to be something done, and I’m glad they’re addressing it, but I think this one rule needs more tweaking.

  13. “Forward-thinking manner” hahaha

    Yeah right, by calling a Comedy just 30 minutes long. What an ASS!

    Creative Television just took a HUGE STEP BACK!

  14. I still don’t think the Guest Actor/Actress rules make sense. That means someone can appear in 11 episodes of a network drama and still be considered a Guest Star? Doesn’t that make them Supporting Actor/Actress by that point?

    1. The guest category should be 33% of a season’s episodes or less. And for once I hope non regulars can be submitted in Supporting, especially if they have a season long arc. A show like Californication had great “guest” actor’s in season long arc’s almost every year.

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