New Emmy Rules Are Flawed, But A Welcome Shift Toward Needed Change

Jane the Virgin Pilot Still - H 2014
Greg Gayne/The CW

Well, that’s a start at least.

When the Television Academy decided to shake up the Emmy rules on Friday, it was the right intention, if a bit late. But the problem is the new rules don’t go far enough and create some confusion even when they were really trying to provide specificity.

Here are some thoughts on the changes:

Bumping the drama and comedy series to seven nominees from six: Not enough. Not even close to enough. This should be 10 in both categories. If the rules were meant to better reflect the growth in television content, this is a woeful fix and my biggest disappointment of the changes.

Defining “comedy” as 30 minutes and “drama” as 60 minutes. Yeah, big trouble here. And things get more complicated with the announcement that producers could petition for a change/waiver. Here’s the wording:

“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.”

Hmmm. I certainly worry about influence and grandfathering and pressure on any panel, but especially one based in the entertainment industry. Let’s hope this panel goes in with the idea that they will be very, very resistant to change.

That said, defining a show by the number of minutes it runs is tricky, if not ridiculous. But I get that a baseline was needed. It keeps shows likeShameless out of the comedy category, where it doesn’t belong. However, it also keeps a show like Jane the Virgin, a full hour show, in the drama category where it will compete against Game of Thrones. Does that make any sense? No. So hopefully it gets a waiver. A show more difficult to pigeonhole is Orange Is the New Black, which is a pure dramedy. If it wants to be a comedy, it should petition (and I wouldn’t mind it winning – but I would mind Shameless getting the exemption and I really like Shameless). And shows that are 30 minutes might want to be considered as comedies, even if they aren’t, because the drama competition is flat-out brutal. However, is Transparent a comedy? I don’t think so. I think it’s a great show, though. Is Nurse Jackie a comedy? Nope. Is Looking a comedy? Nope. Is Louie? See, that one is more difficult. It will be interesting/worrisome to see how those decisions unfold.

The “limited series” category replacing “miniseries” with stricter rules: Yes, well done. It stops the splitting up of shows like Fargo andTrue Detective and American Horror Story, which should all be in the same category. Drama should be for continuing series, same cast, etc.

Definition of “Guest Actor.” Yes, thank you.

Split of “Variety Series” category: While it was smart to create “Outstanding Variety Talk” and “Outstanding Variety Sketch,” I don’t like the idea of moving the latter category to the Creative Arts Emmys. Sketch shows are funny. The Emmys as a telecast needs to be more entertaining. Like, immediately. Any chance to include Key & Peele shouldn’t be missed. And while they could be invited to perform, they should also be a part of the big show for awards consideration.

Lastly, the Television Academy also got rid of the Blue Ribbon panel format and will allow an expansion of final round voting for those who were eligible to nominate in a specific category. This makes sense – they should get a final round vote. The caveat that, um, they need to actually watch the submitted shows is too sad to even comment on. I just hope the opening up of votes improves things.

What Friday’s rule changes did, essentially, was take a first step. As a longtime critic of Emmy patterns, I applaud that. But there’s still room for improvement (more nominees!). Now all eyes will be on whether these new rules fixed the sketchy category-shifting of years past and whether Academy-appointed panels can figure out what’s a comedy or a drama without looking at the running time.


Twitter: @BastardMachine