Emmys: How the New Guest-Star Rules Shake Up the Acting Categories

Gone are the days when an actor could game the system and score a guest-star trophy for a full-season arc.
Associated Press

A version of this story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

For years, the Emmys’ line between supporting acting and guest acting has been blurry. Many began to question it when John Lithgow won a 2010 guest actor Emmy for a season of Dexter in which he appeared in every episode. And last year’s results apparently served as a tipping point: Uzo Aduba, who appeared in all but one episode of Orange Is the New Black’s season (and later won the best actress SAG Award for it), and Joe Morton, who appeared in every episode of Scandal’s, both took home guest acting prizes.

At the time, TV Academy rules decreed that people who were signed to be a guest actor could submit themselves for consideration as a guest actor (even if they were elevated to a series regular, as Aduba was before the season) or as a supporting actor (as several of Aduba’s costars did, to no luck, but as Justified’s Margo Martindale did in 2011 en route to a win).

Now, thanks to rule changes implemented this spring, the grey area is gone: an actor must appear in fewer than 50% of a season’s episodes to qualify as a guest actor. That means that most of the Orange ensemble will be competing in supporting categories this year, as will many others who might have snagged a guest acting nom in the past, including Masters of Sex’s Betsy Brandt, GirlsGillian Jacobs—and The Newsroom’s Jane Fonda, a guest acting nominee in each of the last two years, but out of the running this year because she appeared in three of her show’s six final episodes.