The Emmys Make Huge Rule Changes

P.T. Philben ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

On the weekend of the Academy Awards, the Emmy’s has announced some new rules to reduce ambiguity of certain categories and expand opportunities in an ever expanding and increasingly dynamic industry. The rules have up to this point been so vague about what fits what genre (comedy/drama/miniseries) that if you could make any sort of weak argument for a series fitting the category you wanted, they let you have it. That, among other things, has just changed. Here is an overview of the new rules and how they are going to shake up the game. Heads up; this is bad for Orange is the New Black.

Kate Mulgrew, Natasha Lyonne, Laverne Cox, Laura Prepon, Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Selenis Leyva, Danielle Brooks, Samira Wiley, Dascha Polanco, in Orange is the New Black. Photo Credit: Netflix
Kate Mulgrew, Natasha Lyonne, Laverne Cox, Laura Prepon, Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Selenis Leyva, Danielle Brooks, Samira Wiley and Dascha Polanco in Orange is the New Black. Photo Credit: Netflix

7 Series nominees:

Seeming to take inspiration from the Oscars (because they have never done that before), the Emmys are expanding the “Outstanding Series” categories from 5-6 nominations to 7. Not particularly controversial and good for acclaimed programs that would just miss out otherwise.

Comedies end after half-an-hour

Any continuous series with episodes longer than 30 minutes is considered a drama. This is almost certainly targeting Orange is the New Black, a program that even Emmys host Seth Meyers poked fun at for actually being a drama submitted as a comedy. Being forced into the drama categories will seriously hurt OITNB’s competitive chances at awards. Let’s be real here; the term “New Golden Age of Television” is mostly, if not exclusively, referring to the dark HBO style dramas that have dominated the scene. Last year, OITNB was really only competing with Modern Family, which of course ultimately won almost everything under the sun. Now they will be competing with House of Cards, Game of Thrones and Better Call Saul (which some where speculating would submit as a comedy but now can’t). The spin off drama Saul has been said by some critics to be better (yes, you read that right) than the first season of its predecessor, Breaking Bad. Essentially; OITNB has been screwed over. They will certainly get some nomination recognition but they won’t be getting 12 nods and they can count themselves out of serious contention for series award. For OITNB and series such as Shameless, a brutal revelation as far as award season is concerned. It is however great news for any comedy that is still a considered a comedy such as Modern Family and the new series Transparent; less competition. Its not clear in the literal sense why a show can’t be funny after 30 minutes but the rule does work on a practical level.

“Outstanding Miniseries” is now “Outstanding Limited Series” and Anthologies are included whether HBO likes it or not:

A less catchy title based on an buzzword from young TV execs in the recent resurrection of the miniseries (or whatever you want to call it) format. Seems insubstantial at first glance but there is also a new, more, shall we say specified, set of qualifications. Limited is now defined as “programs of two or more episodes with a total running time of at least 150 program minutes that tell a complete, non-recurring story and do not have an ongoing storyline and/or main characters in subsequent seasons.” Thats a mouthful.

Last year the hit HBO series True Detective, which is a seasonal anthology (each season is a self-contained story), could have submitted as either a miniseries or a drama and opted to enter into the fiercely more competitive drama category; basically to show off how cool they are. They can’t do that anymore. The competition will be thinner in “limited series”, but competition is what they wanted. They may still get it. The limited series category is shaping up to be a lot more interesting as the miniseries , or whatever, is making a huge comeback in the new golden age.

It is unclear how this will affect British dramas such as Sherlock and Luther that traditionally enter in either the miniseries and/or TV-Movie categories due to their distinctly British style of “few movie-length episodes” season format. They will probably be considered full series due to the “150 minutes” clause, but may be able to continue to enter individual episodes as made for TV movies. They will probably try to do this since the TV-Movie category is kind of a joke if you take out the Brits and HBO.

Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul. Photo Credit: Netflix
Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul. Photo Credit: Netflix

Talk Shows and Sketch Comedies are not the same thing.

Seems obvious right? Well, apparently the Emmys just got that memo. In years past talk shows hosts such as Jon Stewart, Bill Maher and Jimmy Fallon have competed in the same category as sketch comedies such as Saturday Night Live and Portlandia. Outstanding Variety Series has been split into “Talk Variety” and “Sketch Variety”. This is good news for everyone involved as, naturally, more programs get recognition. HBO’s news satire Last Week Tonight with John Oliver surprisingly didn’t manage to slip into the Emmys race last year and now is basically a lock for a nomination. This is particularly great news for sketch comedy programs. The variety series award, since its inception in 1951; has consistently given the majority of its nominations and the actual trophy, year after year, to late night talk shows. Not even Saturday Night Live, ever broke this streak. They actually couldn’t even count on a nomination. Now SNL, Portlandia, Key and Peele, etc are in a real race.

Guest Actors have to actually be guests:

It has been previously been very unclear what separates a supporting actor from a guest actor in a series. For example; John Lithgow won the Emmy for “Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series” for his role in Dexter even though he was a one-season regular; in fact being the main villain of that season, appearing in every episode. These categories had the similar issue with ambiguous rules. Now the rule is if the actor appears in more than 50% of the episodes that season, they are not guests. This more than fair fair.

This will be a welcome change for recognizing actors in smaller roles. This is bad news, again, for Orange is the New Black. At the last ceremony 3 of the shows actresses, namely Natasha Lyonne, Laverne Cox (first openly transgender actor to be nominated) and eventual winner Uzo Aduba were nominated in the guest actress in a comedy category. If this rule was in place last year, none of them would have qualified due to exceeding 50% (by a lot). Once again, more than fair. Now they will presumably have to compete in the much more loaded supporting actress in a drama category which, frankly; could use some spicing up with Anna Gunn gone anyway.


Being blunt: Orange is the New Black is a drama, True Detective is an anthology and an actor who appears in over half a season’s episodes is not a guest. The categories now present more opportunities for great programs and what defines these categories is now sharper and more meaningful. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences made a solid call here. It almost makes up for Modern Family winning best comedy last year.


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