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In the years since streaming services began creating original scripted content, the number of TV series has ballooned to about 500 per year. And yet, if you watched the Emmys last week, you’d be forgiven if you thought there were only four: The Crown, Ted Lasso, Hacks and Mare of Easttown. Those four shows collectively won 17 major categories, while the rest of the television world combined for 10 trophies.
Last year was no different, especially on the comedy side, as Schitt’s Creek became the first drama or comedy series to sweep all seven major categories (series, directing, writing, actor, actress, supporting actor and supporting actress). That feat was matched a year later by The Crown on the drama side.
Were the Emmys always like this, or is did they used to spread the wealth a little more? Let’s dig into the data to find out. Specifically, let’s look at how many shows came away winners in those seven major categories each year since 1971 (in earlier years, the category delineations weren’t always consistent with today’s rules).
Each blue dot represents a single year at the Emmys. Higher points mean more comedies won Emmys that year; lower points mean a smaller number of shows hogged all the awards for themselves. The red curve shows the smoothed trend over time.
A few things jump out right away. First, that lonely blue point in the bottom-right corner: That is Schitt’s Creek in 2020, the only time a single show walked away with all seven statuettes. Second, the fact that no points reach a height of seven, meaning that there has never been a year in which all seven comedy awards went to different shows.
The red trend curve tells an interesting story. In the early days of the Emmys under the modern rules, the voters weren’t so inclined to spread the wealth. From 1971-83, an average of 3.3 comedies per year won Emmys. Just two shows apiece won awards in 1972 (All in the Family and Mary Tyler Moore), 1978 (All in the Family and Rhoda) and 1983 (Cheers and Taxi). From 1984-2017, that average jumped to 4.4 series per year winning awards.
Then, suddenly, these past four years have witnessed a real consolidation of riches. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Barry won everything in 2018. Those same two plus Fleabag were the only 2019 winners. 2020 was Schitt’s Creek alone, and 2021 went to just Ted Lasso and Hacks.
There are a number of similarities between the comedy and drama outcomes. Yet again, we see a lone point in the bottom-right, representing the only time a single show went 7/7 (here, it’s The Crown just last week). Still, no years saw all seven trophies going to different shows. And once again, the curve has fallen a bit recently.
But for dramas, the trend is not as sharp, and there’s no early rise. The only three times that just two shows shared the stage look more like outliers: 1981 (Hill Street Blues and Lou Grant), 1986 (Cagney & Lacey and St. Elsewhere) and 2001 (The West Wing and The Sopranos).
A big part of this data is surely driven by the randomness of when there happens to be a single series deserving of multiple awards. But there is some evidence to suggest it could also be driven by other factors influencing voters: There is a positive correlation (0.21, where 1 is perfect correlation and -1 is the opposite) between the number of shows winning major comedy and drama Emmys. There’s no reason to believe that years producing fewer comedy winners should also produce fewer drama winners, unless it’s due to the voters themselves being more or less inclined to honor multiple shows.
Given that, it’s hard to predict whether this recent trend will stick around. After all, we’re only talking about the last four years for comedy, and really just one year for drama thanks to The Crown, so we’re going to need to keep watching more television and more Emmys to find out just how much of this shift is permanent. If it is, we’ll see a few hit shows per year being showered with praise, and all the other nominees left watching from the audience.
Ben Zauzmer is the author of Oscarmetrics: The Math Behind the Biggest Night in Hollywood.
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