Let’s get one thing straight: I am not a fan of award shows. I mean, it’s great to acknowledge talent within television, music or film, but inevitably, I don’t approve of most of the award winners or the nominees, which means I usually don’t bother. However, as someone who hopes to go into the entertainment industry, I realize that the ceremonies are seen as pretty important, so I pay attention to who wins and the award show pageantry in general. This, more than anything, is how I heard about the changes the Primetime Emmy Awards are making to their rulebook.
For years, the Emmys picked up flak thanks to shows like Desperate Housewives, Weeds and Shameless that blur the lines between comedy and drama. Both Desperate Housewives and Shameless have been nominated for non-Emmy awards in comedy and drama categories, and last year Shameless made the switch from competing in the Emmys’ dramatic category to the comedic category. But now, the Emmys would like to clarify exactly what makes a show comedic or dramatic once and for all.
To do so, the Emmys have turned to the demarcation of time: for the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, the shows in the comedy category will be half-hour shows, while those in the drama category will be hour-long shows. It’s easy to see why many people still aren’t happy with these changes. A shift to the time division means forcing shows like previous nominees Pushing Daisies, Ugly Betty and Monk into the drama category because they run for an hour.
Of course, networks can petition to have their show accepted as a comedy instead of a drama or vice versa, and Jane the Virgin, Glee and Shameless have all received the go-ahead to submit in the comedy category even with a longer run-time. Orange is the New Black, however, lost their petition and will enter the Emmys pool as a drama in spite of winning several awards as a comedy series last award season. We’ll see in July whether this affects the number of nominations the show receives.
The main concern with pushing “dramedy” shows into the drama category should be the glut of very good dramatic programming on television. No one is petitioning to be considered a drama, and with good reason, considering the nearly annual presence of lauded television favorites Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Homeland, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Mad Men – I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. The comedy category gives dramedy shows a fighting chance that they may not have in the drama category, particularly since anything with comedic elements is often seen as inferior to purely dramatic work.
Thankfully, the Emmys also decided to up the number of shows nominated in the Outstanding Comedy and Drama categories because of an increase in series production – likely based on the fact that former streaming networks like Netflix and Amazon have gotten in on the original series game – but an increase of one show per category isn’t going to do much good.
So here comes the tricky part: with award shows losing credibility among the general public and critics, can these ceremonies be saved? Do the changes in Emmy rules ultimately matter? I don’t know many people who seek out a show simply because it was nominated for an Emmy. Although it may increase the word-of-mouth hype of the shows, people were watching and enjoying Orange is the New Black long before it was nominated and they’ll continue to enjoy it even if it never gets nominated again.
As an admittedly bitter fan of so-called “genre” shows that rarely get nominated for anything, let alone the Emmys, I’ve always seen the flaws in the system. Genre shows like Orphan Black, Hannibal and True Blood often don’t fit the purely comedy or drama model that the awards shows want them to fit, and as television sees the lines between comedy and drama get increasingly blurred, I hope that award shows can finally see beyond obviously arbitrary genre divisions and focus on the quality of the programming.
Will this ever happen? Probably not. The Emmys still hold sway and prestige, largely within the industry itself, because of the long-running and established nature of the awards. But it’s a tentative step in the right direction that the Emmys have even settled on rules changes in the first place, even if those rules seem to cause more problems than they solve.