Emmys: Ongoing Dispute About Whether or Not ‘Hamilton’ Performers Are Eligible for Acting Noms

The TV Academy says members of the cast can be recognized in the categories designated for performers from limited series, anthology series or TV movies, even though it has classified the production as a variety special, prompting backlash from Disney+ competitors who say their performers have been treated differently.

Hamilton, the filmed version of the Broadway phenomenon, is eligible for Emmys recognition because it debuted on the streaming service Disney+ last July 3. But, just days before the start of Emmy nomination voting on June 17, there is growing debate about where it belongs — and doesn’t belong — on the ballot.

The production itself is hard to define. It was eligible at the most recent Golden Globe Awards for best motion picture (musical or comedy) and the corresponding acting awards; at the most recent SAG Awards for best TV movie or miniseries and the corresponding best actor and best actress awards; and at the most recent Oscars not at all.

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For the Emmys, it has long been reported — correctly — that Disney+ would have no choice but to enter Hamilton in the variety special (prerecorded) category. Indeed, according to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Rules and Procedures for the 2021 Primetime Emmys, “Programs exclusively originated for or derived/adapted from a medium other than television or broadband (e.g. taped concert tour performance, Broadway play, opera, night club act), and entertainment components of sports programs (e.g. halftime show) are eligible as appropriate in Variety Special (Live) or Variety Special (Pre-recorded).”

But where does that leave the members of Hamilton’s celebrated ensemble, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Jonathan Groff, Christopher Jackson, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo?

It has been conveyed by Disney+, and repeated by many media outlets, including this one, that these performers would be Emmy-eligible in the acting categories designated for performers in limited series, anthology series or TV movies — e.g. best actor in a limited series, anthology series or TV movie, best supporting actress in a limited series, anthology series or TV movie, etc.

However, the title of those acting categories would suggest that they are reserved for people who performed in, yes, a limited series, an anthology series or a TV movie, not a variety special. Moreover, the TV Academy’s rules explicitly state where a performer from a variety special can be nominated, and it is not in those categories. Indeed, under the “Performer Awards” section, it states, “The principal host for variety series and the principal host/performer for variety specials are eligible to be entered with the program categories. Secondary performers are not eligible.”

That is further addressed under the “Program Awards” section, which states that the individuals who can receive recognition for a variety special (prerecorded) are an executive producer, co-executive producer, supervising producer, producer “and the principal host/performer,” which, in this case, would presumably be Miranda. But there is no other provision for recognizing performers from variety specials. (The Emmy for best individual performance in a variety or music program was discontinued after 2008.)

Asked to confirm this understanding, a spokesperson for the TV Academy replied that it is actually incorrect, “provided the variety special meets the minimum 75-minute runtime requirement for a television movie.” The spokesperson elaborated, “Performers playing a role in a musical that has been categorized as a variety special (live or pre-recorded) enter the performer categories for limited series, anthology or movie, and have for at least the past decade. So, for example, performers in the many live musicals aired in the recent past all entered the performer categories for limited series, anthology or movie. Likewise, performers in pre-recorded musicals would enter the performer categories for limited series, anthology or movie. The rule regarding principal host, et al. you cite applies to talent appearing as themselves, primarily stand up comics, etc.” The spokesperson says “the Television Academy’s interpretation of the rule” has been in place “ever since the [aforementioned individual performance in a variety or music program Emmy] went away over a decade ago. This is similar to how sketch comedy performers playing roles have been allowed to enter the comedy performer categories.”

It is certainly the TV Academy’s prerogative to enforce its rules as it sees fit. The only problem is that no such guidance, or anything even approximating it, appears in the actual wording of the rules. Consequently, some Disney+ competitors are crying foul after having had a project that was shorter than 75 minutes designated by the TV Academy as a variety special, only to be told that the performers from their project are not eligible for Emmy recognition.