Tim Goodman on Emmy Nominations: Academy Needs to Adapt After Atrocious Snubs (Analysis)

The rubber-stamping seemed especially gratuitous and the Big Mistakes seemed more prominent and damning.
Steve Wilkie/BBC America
Tatiana Maslany in BBC America's "Orphan Black"

It's easy to find outrage every year when the Emmy nominations are announced. But if you temper it for the sake of the Big Picture, some of the smaller surprises can be a salve.

Yeah, not this year.

This is not one of those years when Emmy voters get forgiveness on their oversights simply because they seemed to be progressive in a few categories. That's because the rubber-stamping seemed especially gratuitous and the Big Mistakes seemed more prominent and damning.

Tasked with celebrating and rewarding the achievements from within their own industry, Emmy voters continue to come off as half-involved, behind-the-times clock watchers instead of guardians. It's as if the admittedly daunting task of actively sampling the industry's ever-changing content makes them crumble before even making an effort.

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I mean, even by the low bar of Emmy standards, 2014 is a real omnishambles.

If you're paying attention at all, Tatiana Maslany from BBC America's Orphan Black is not a dark-horse contender anymore. She should have been a slam dunk, not a snub for the second year running. Overlooking The Americans and The Good Wife as best drama is almost startling. In a world where Downton Abbey is going to get a slot, add Masters of Sex and The Walking Dead to that list.

Part of the yearly problem with the Emmys is the institutional habit of returning an ungodly percentage of past winners into the nomination ranks despite downturns in series' quality or superior acting performances from competitors. Modern Family has been on a creative slide and shouldn't have been rubber-stamped again this year (same goes for Downton Abbey), while an actor like Matthew Rhys loses out to Jeff Daniels, who's a fine actor, but neither he nor HBO's The Newsroom had the quality of Rhys or FX's ascendant series The Americans.

Even if Rhys was considered a long shot, James Spader was not. His exclusion qualifies as baffling even in a category so insanely competitive as best actor.

Perhaps the biggest issue that the Emmys haven't addressed adequately is reconfiguring the rules to reflect the magnitude of the industry. Even though "who got snubbed" stories will always be a staple of awards shows, the ferocity of those addressing Emmy snubs should be a clarion call for the Emmys to allow nomination totals to flex where necessary.

Television is clearly too vast for Emmy voters to adequately reward deserving participants within it. This is only a problem if your job is to do just that. Ahem. So what's holding back the notion of expanded totals in the categories? There need not be some hard and fast rule that each category will have 10 nominations (instead of five or six). Even though we're in an era where that kind of number could be filled pretty easily, concerns over padding are legitimate if there's ever a downturn (though, looking back over the last decade, the trajectory of both content and quality is skyrocketing north, not dipping south). But if such concerns are impeding an overdue fix, simply allow for expansion on a per-category, per-year basis.

That way even when Emmy voters find room for, say, a comedy newcomer like HBO's Silicon Valley — a deserving contender — they don't also leave out Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, NBC's Parks and Recreation or ABC's The Goldbergs. It would also allow for broader representation of comedies like FX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (and the worthy inclusion of that show's Kaitlin Olson among the actresses; or Wendi McLendon-Covey from The Goldbergs, as another example).

Expanding the categories also reduces the damage done by, say, having a wonderful actress like Edie Falco, whose role on Nurse Jackie is not particularly funny, squeeze out the aforementioned Olson or McLendon-Covey. Because when that happens, as it did this year, it magnifies the egregious mistakes of Emmy voters — highlighting such elements as ongoing historic snubs (It's Always Sunny) and modern mistakes (Brooklyn Nine-Nine and its own Andy Samberg, The Goldbergs and McLendon-Covey, etc).

Expanded nominations would reduce the damage done by allowing a show like Nurse Jackie to be considered a comedy, or Showtime's other overt drama, Shameless, to shift into the comedy category. Yes, it got William H. Macy a nomination but did nothing to help the fact that Emmy Rossum has been one of the best drama actresses of the last few years with nothing to show for it. Larger categories also, by the way, eliminate the need to use fine actors like Daniels and Falco as the culprits behind larger snubs; they can rightly be recognized on their own merits. 

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Clearly something has to be done to the Emmys so that what happened this year doesn't continue to happen. It's great that HBO's True Detective and Netlix's Orange Is the New Black had such strong showings. But the former is really a miniseries and should be in that category. However, since HBO was clearly of the mind that True Detective was likely its best shot for a drama win (since Game of Thrones has been ignored), allowing it in the drama category doesn't hurt The Americans or Masters of Sex or The Walking Dead or Orphan Black if the category itself is allowed to expand. Without that flexibility, critics like myself are left to smack our heads and weep about The Americans (including Keri Russell's omission in the best actress category, plus some wonderful acting work on those other aforementioned dramas).

You're seeing a pattern here, yes?

Perhaps the biggest gripe generated by so many oversights this year is that it didn't need to happen but will most assuredly happen again if something isn't done — and fast — to fix it. With Netflix and Amazon and Hulu generating content from their platforms and niche cable channels delivering quality dramas and comedies and the acting performances to go with them, it's glaringly obvious that the Emmys have been caught flat-footed at the evolution of their own industry.

There's an embarrassment of creative riches in television right now. If the Emmys can't find a way to recognize that, then the emphasis shifts off of the creative riches and onto the embarrassment. Which is precisely where we are now.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine