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.

The 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.

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