My recent column on the plight of rewards consultants in the era of Too Much TV clearly struck a chord. Of everything I’ve written about the Emmys this year, it’s gotten the most response — mostly from publicists nodding in frustration at the stuff of events and campaigns.
Since I’m apparently in a solemn mood, this time I’ll turn my attention to the award makers at the Television Academy – the people who receive the lion’s share of the wrath at this time of year. , including in columns like this. And I’m sure some of my wackiest ideas, such as nominating every eligible program in the area of variety talk or creating a special category for broadcast series, have gotten plenty of eyes in North Hollywood.
But I feel their pain. It’s impossible to keep up with the evolution of television these days, which must make it particularly difficult to stay on top of how to reward the best media. Remember when comedies were comedies, dramas were dramas, and limited series were actually “miniseries”?
And then there are those aforementioned nifty consultants, who find ways to play by the rules — submitting episodes of anthology series as movies; split the seasons in two to distribute them among several eligibility periods; play fast and loose with the definition of “lead” versus “support”.
But the most confusing: determining what would be considered a “limited” or “anthology” series.
After all, this is a voting body that awarded an “outstanding miniseries or movie” Emmy to “Downton Abbey” in 2011, only to see PBS and Masterpiece turn it into a full-length drama. It happened again, in 2017, with “Big Little Lies,” which won a limited run before returning as a drama.
Fool me once, shame on you, etc. But the confusion is much more than that. Helen Mirren’s “Prime Suspect” was a frequent contender. And there’s the tricky question of FX’s “American Horror Story” and “Fargo,” both of which had seasons with different cast members, but tonal similarities and threads that continued from year to year.
“AHS” was notoriously thrown into the drama in 2019, when “Apocalypse” had too many connections to previous episodes. That same year, the Academy moved the second seasons of “The Sinner” to the United States and Netflix’s “American Vandal” for the same reason. Last year, the anthology series – which existed in a bit of a gray area, depending on what kind of anthology it was (standalone episode vs. standalone season arc) – was merged into limited.
Now get ready for more hand wringing. As Variety first reported in March, the TV Academy is allowing HBO’s “The White Lotus” to compete in limited series/anthologies, even though original cast member Jennifer Coolidge is returning for a second season.
The organization ruled that “in this case, the reappearance in a subsequent ‘season’ of a character from a major set does not preclude eligibility based on the Academy’s primary criteria for limited series.” .
“The White Lotus” is another show that exists somewhat as a hybrid of limited series and drama, made even more confusing by the return of Coolidge. There are no easy answers, especially since episode counts are shrinking on almost all but the biggest of the shows airing.
What if everything was now in a limited series? My apologies, once again, to the Emmy Rules and Procedures team. I think I just added to the confusion.