Emmys: TV Academy Reclassifies 'American Horror Story,' 'The Sinner' and 'American Vandal'

American Vandal Season 2 - Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Netflix

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences on Tuesday announced that it will no longer consider FX's American Horror Story: Apocalypse, USA's The Sinner season two or Netflix's American Vandal season two — new incarnations of existing shows — as limited series, but rather as regular series, either drama (AHS: Apocalypse and Sinner) or comedy (Vandal).

The reason for this decision, the TV Academy said in a statement, is "continuing story threads, characters and actors reprising those same character roles from previous seasons." A limited series, according to TV Academy rules, is, among other requirements, one that "tells a complete, non-recurring story, and does not have an on-going storyline and/or main characters in subsequent seasons."

Tuesday's statement also noted, "This re-categorization is effective for the 71st Emmy Awards competition only."

Members of the TV community have long debated the classification of anthology shows like American Horror Story and True Detective, which have been eligible in multiple years, but under varying circumstances.

The first installment of AHS competed at the Golden Globes and SAG Awards as a drama series, but at the Emmys as a limited series (or miniseries, to use the parlance of the time). Subsequent installments tended to feature the same principal actors — among them, Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters — but in different parts and stories, which technically justified their classification as limited series. The most recent season of the Ryan Murphy anthology featured actors reprising characters they'd played in previous cycles. (The Sinner follows a similar trajectory. Its second season featured star Bill Pullman reprising his character from the freshman run, but with a new setting and case to investigate. While technically an anthology with a new story and new actors coming in to play different roles, it is Pullman's continued portrayal of the show's central detective that prompted the rule change as the TV Academy appears to have now set a firm line about what defines a limited series.)

On the flip side, the first installment of HBO's True Detective competed at the Emmys and SAG Awards as a drama series (the Golden Globes considered it a miniseries), but never returned with the same principal actors, parts or stories, hence the classification of its subsequent seasons as limited series. Each season of the HBO drama is completely different and features few, if any, nods to previous cycles.

Classification matters began to come to a head in 2017, the year in which Big Little Lies was being promoted by HBO as a limited series, when, right after the close of voting for Critics' Choice and Golden Globe nominations, the network announced that another season of the show was being commissioned with the same principal cast set to return to their parts, meaning it was never really a limited series at all. (To be clear, it was designed as a limited series to follow the events of the closed-ended book it is based on. Once it was a breakout hit, HBO had to ink pricey new deals with the cast and creators and come up with a story that goes beyond the events of its original source material.)

While Tuesday's reclassifications will probably make the road to Emmy nominations harder for all three shows because the quantity and quality of competition in the categories recognizing regular series is generally greater, they will also be hard to question, as all three of the impacted shows feature returning actors and characters.