Emmys: Do Voters Care When a Show Airs?

In recent years, proximity to balloting appears to have boosted contenders like 'Handmaid's Tale' and 'Game of Thrones,' though it's no guarantee of success.

The average Emmy voter’s attention span appears to be shrinking.

For the past three years, the TV Academy’s best drama nod has gone to a series whose eligible season either was airing or had just wrapped at the start of nomination voting. It’s a striking reversal from the previous five years, when the winners had been off the air for an average of eight months by the time nominations ballots went out. 

Now, for both programmers and awards-campaign consultants, one of the most pressing questions is how to time a series so it will grab the most eyeballs and, ideally, awards. “I truly don’t know how to game the issue of Peak TV or when to avoid the cacophony of shows being launched on every platform,” says BBC America president and GM Sarah Barnett, whose first-year drama Killing Eve premiered in the seemingly sweet spot of early April — subsequently garnering ratings growth and Emmy buzz. But the launch timing, per Barnett, was more about advertising than anything.

The chatter is a fortunate side effect. Says Barnett, “I would not plan my scheduling around such a long shot.” Recent history shows that a spring run is a smarter bet across all categories — see Veep’s timely comedy streak or Big Little Lies’ sensational limited run in early 2017 — but multiple Emmy strategists tell THR that the hurdle of getting voters to watch series differs from platform to platform. “Unless a streaming show comes out and gets everyone talking, like The Handmaid’s Tale did in 2017, I think it really pays to have them sit on the service for as long as possible,” says one FYC consultant, noting that no all-at-once release has ever taken a top prize. “It’s really hard to know if voters are watching the streaming shows.” 

Complicating the drama race for the many newcomers and veteran hopefuls is the fact that a previous heavy-hitting winner (Game of Thrones) is back in the mix after a year of ineligibility. That means reigning champ The Handmaid’s Tale must face HBO’s pricey fantasy for the first time. But while the auspiciously slotted sophomore season of Handmaid’s is airing new episodes through the nominating period, when balloting opened June 11, it had been 288 days since Thrones last dropped an original episode. And with hundreds of shows in the mix, it's no longer clear if absence makes the heart grow fonder. 

This story first appeared in the June 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.