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The nominations for the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards, which were announced on Tuesday morning, hammered home something that has become increasingly apparent in recent years: the Emmys, in the age of Peak TV, are ridiculous.
Even the most diligent member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences watches only a small fraction of the massive amount of content that they are expected to judge each year. There is simply too much out there.
The average member, meanwhile, checks out the handful of shows that are getting the most buzz — due to organic word-of-mouth, high-priced marketing and PR campaigns or the mere fact that a show airs on one of the few platforms that are considered cool at the moment — and then picks nominees from that very limited pool.
How do we know this? A couple of ways.
For another, look at the acting categories. In 2017, the TV Academy began instructing members to select as many candidates on their nomination ballot as they deem worthy of a nomination, as opposed to a fixed number. (“Vote for as many achievements in this category that you have seen and feel are worthy of a nomination.”)
And this, my friends, is how we wound up this year with a handful of popular shows utterly dominating the acting categories — Saturday Night Live (11 noms), The Handmaid’s Tale (10), The Crown (nine), Ted Lasso (seven) and, yes, Hamilton (seven).
Many of these nominated performances were excellent — but so, too, were many other performances that were bounced by them because, I would submit, they never got a fair hearing.
Were none of the performers from the limited series The Underground Railroad (from Thuso Mbedu to Joel Edgerton to Chase W. Dillon) or Small Axe (from John Boyega to Letitia Wright) worthy of a nom, or were they done in by coattail voting for Hamilton? (It’s another conversation whether Hamilton, a filmed stage play that happened to debut on TV due to the pandemic, should have even been eligible for Emmy nominations in the first place.)
Were none of the female performers from the drama series Bridgerton worthy of a nom, or were they done in by coattail voting for The Handmaid’s Tale and The Crown?
Were none of the performers from the comedy series Girls5Eva or Mr. Mayor worthy of a nom, or did voters simply not check out the new Peacock streaming service?
I could go on.
The fundamental question is this: Do the Emmy nominations reflect the depth and breadth of quality TV in 2021? The answer: Not even close.
One could argue that the current system of selecting nominees is — to paraphrase Winston Churchill — the worst except for every other one. But I think the TV Academy can and should do better.
Does it make sense to restore a cap on the number of performances that can be marked on a ballot, in the hope that voters will then make a more deliberate decision to shine their spotlight on a broader pool of shows? Perhaps. Does it make sense to go back to a system of small committees of truly diligent TV viewers selecting the nominees, from which the full TV Academy then picks the winners? Perhaps.
One thing is for sure. In this day and age, the TV Academy should be expanding the size of its categories, not contracting them. It is utterly absurd, given the quantity of quality TV these days, to have, say, only five slots for the lead comedy acting categories, the variety talk series category and the limited or anthology series category, to say nothing of just two for variety sketch series. Forget about tying the number of nominees to the number of eligible candidates. Just expand the tent and shine a spotlight on a larger number of shows and talent associated with them.
Then, perhaps, we won’t have to settle for only a few examples of thinking outside-the-box — e.g. Pose‘s MJ Rodriguez, Genius: Aretha‘s Cynthia Erivo, Shrill‘s Aidy Bryant and Conan — when we study the list of nominees.
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