Last call for Emmy voting. The deadline to submit ballots for the 24,000 or so eligible Television Academy members is tonight at 10 PM PT. Nominations for the Primetime Emmys will be announced July 16.
One of the interesting aspects of this year’s contest will be to see how a few new rules affect the outcome — in positive or negative ways.
The Academy, with its vast number of categories (well over 100), is forever working on rule changes and adjusting to the realities of the multi-channel, multi-choice TV universe. This year, changes have been made in categories short to long. On the short side, all entries must be at least two minutes long because some jokers entered Tom Thumb-sized shows last year. There also is now a committee that first determines whether your short is even Emmy nominatable in the first place, something that has sparked new controversy this year from the makers of at least one disappointed hopeful called Donna on the Go, who say it is unfair in many ways. That short, among others, didn’t make it past the committee and thus is not even on the ballot for consideration by the larger voting bloc.
The new guidelines are there to insure a proper process in line of what is expected in the Emmy race, much the same way the Oscar short films are vetted before being eligible to earn a nomination. One member involved says it is a carefully layered process with peer group volunteers making sure everything is fairly pre-vetted. Of course, you can’t please everyone, but the Academy felt it had to make this change because of unprecedented interest in the shorts categories which are fairly new to the Emmys.
On the long side, TV movies must now be at least 75 minutes — something that would have ruled out 2017’s winning episode of the Black Mirror anthology San Junipero, which ran only 61 minutes, as well as 2016’s Sherlock episode The Abominable Bride. In fact, the past three winners of the Outstanding TV Movie category have actually come from continuing enterprises like Black Mirror and Sherlock. Of course, tightening running-time requirements doesn’t begin to address the idea of this type of anthology entries passing themselves off as “movies,” or failed pilots or canceled series suddenly showing up as a “Movie” or “Limited Series.”
On this year’s ballot, episodes from Hulu’s horror anthology Into the Dark, Amazon’s The Romanoffs and Netflix’s Sense8 and Black Mirror are vying for slots in an otherwise weak field for the once-proud “television movie.” Sometimes though, re-categorizing yourself in other ways can work just fine outside of the Emmys. In 1996, David Frankel’s pilot Dear Diary was rejected by a network, so he turned it into a live-action short and won an Oscar(!) instead.
The TV Academy is always adjusting its rules on projects, mostly documentaries, that overlap with the Oscar race, but somehow every year we see several turn up at both. The television and motion picture Academies have rules that allow participation in both, as long as you qualify for each separately.
This year there is a big campaign for the reigning Oscar-winning feature documentary, NatGeo’s Free Solo, where because it played theatrically for more than 70 days is ineligible to be considered in the Outstanding Documentary or Non-Fiction Special Emmy category, but is hoping for noms in various other categories like Directing, Cinematography and Editing to name three. Lots of Oscar short-listed or -nominated docus including Minding the Gap, Three Identical Strangers and RBG are crossing over where they can in the Emmy contest too.
Another standing TV Academy rule involving Limited Series vs Drama Series will have a particularly interesting test this year. As Deadline reported in April, FX’s frequent Emmy juggernaut American Horror Story is now forced to compete for the first time in its eight seasons outside of the Limited Series category that it fought to get into initially as it does not feature recurring characters or stories. Producer Ryan Murphy petitioned the Academy’s Board of Governors in its first season and it passed – barely. (I was on the board then and the vote was almost evenly split, but went through with the narrowest of margins at the time.)
For this year’s edition, AHS: Apocalypse brings back some of the witches and characters from that first season’s Coven, which received a whopping 17 Emmy nominations including the then-named Best Movie or Miniseries, and even won a couple of Emmys. Due to the rule that a Limited Series can’t have recurring characters, however, it will now compete, this season only at this point, in the Drama Series categories. The previous high-profile example was Downton Abbey, which competed as a miniseries in 2011 and won before being picked up and recatergorized as a Drama Series in subsequent seasons, where it failed to win in five tries. In 2017, Big Little Lies dominated the Limited Series category winning eight Emmys, but the new edition currently playing on HBO will only be eligible next time around in the Drama Series categories. It became controversial when the second season was announced in December 2017. The Producers Guild immediately recalled ballots — voting for nominations was in progress — and reclassified it as a Drama Series for its PGA Awards. The series lost, but won as Limited Series in other key awards of the period that year which did not follow the PGA’s lead including the Golden Globes, DGAs, SAGs and WGAs.
Other previously classified Limited Series affected by this rule this year include USA’s second season of The Sinner, which has a completely new storyline but has one shared character, the detective played again by Bill Pullman, thus shuffled off to Drama Series; and Netflix’s now-canceled second season of its mockumentary limited series American Vandal, which now must compete in the Comedy Series category despite it being a completely new storyline but one that had the two “documentarians” returning to the cast.
In terms of new rules, the most complicated but major change regards “hanging episodes,” this year particularly benefiting past Drama Series winner The Handmaid’s Tale, which is ineligible in that marquee category since it didn’t debut its third season until after the eligibility deadline of May 31. However, the new rule changes the wording from “airing prior to the nomination-round voting deadline” to “airing prior to the start of nomination-round voting.” That means as long as Handmaid’s and anything else followed the correct and very specific qualifying dictums, it can see specific episodes from its second season that were “hanging”– or outside normal eligibility cutoff dates — now allowed in other categories such as directing and writing and guest acting. So even though Handmaid’s Tale is ineligible in the Drama Series category as well as lead and supporting acting categories, an episode from Season 2 titled “Holly” that aired June 27, 2018 is on the ballot for consideration in categories like writing, directing and for Cherry Jones as Guest Actress in a Drama Series.
And so there you have it. A show that was thought ineligible this year is eligible after all — sort of. Kind of. Get the picture?