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The Television Academy has decided to keep separate its variety talk series and variety sketch series, reversing a previous plan, announced last December, to merge the two categories after much debate.
“While the Academy remains concerned about the number of series produced and the relatively small pool of entries in the variety sketch genre, it acknowledges that the differences between variety sketch and talk programs merit separate consideration,” reads the Academy’s statement in part. “As the Academy continues to engage with industry leaders and constituents, it will always endeavor to uphold the integrity of the competition and be as fair as possible.”
The Academy’s December announcement was met with widespread dismay within the TV community. Although the current landscape isn’t exactly flush with sketch series, talk is thriving. In addition to the stalwarts on network television (one of the few areas in which broadcast still leads the way), cable and streamers have a growing number of contenders. And there is increasing diversity in the field, as well, with recent additions like Showtime’s Desus & Mero and Peacock’s The Amber Ruffin Show.
However, due to a new TV Academy policy tying the number of nominees in a category to the total number of eligible contenders, there was a year-over-year reduction in the number of talk and sketch nominees at the most recent Emmy ceremony — both had six nominees at the 2019 ceremony, but just five and three in 2020. And now, under the policy announced in December, even a merged field would potentially feature as few as five or six nominees total.
This provoked the ire of many associated with late night, not least because Emmy hosts have almost exclusively come from their ranks. And a concerted pushback against the policy yielded Friday’s walkback.
Such a reversal is not without precedent. The TV Academy has expanded and contracted categories over the years, reacting to both the volume of eligible projects and pressures from the various voting bodies. Miniseries and made-for-TV movies have existed both on their own and grouped together, with performances in both also existing together and alone.
Given the current glut of programming, however, category contractions — especially ones as high profile as both variety races — seem out of step with the overall TV climate.
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