My Advice for Emmy Voters

This year’s Emmy nominations are disappointing as a whole (despite some bright spots), and that statement has become as predictable as the nominations themselves. Every year, it seems the Emmy nominations are plagued by the same complaints: predictability and a very narrow view of what’s become a very broad medium.

In order to cope with my overwhelming frustration over this year’s nominees, I wanted to offer a little advice for Emmy voters. Follow these helpful tips, and maybe next year’s nominations will be met with something other than bored shoulder shrugs and frustrated sighs.

1. Stop nominating the same shows year after year when they’re not showing any growth.
Few things annoy me more when it comes to the Emmys than strong seasons of “dark horse” shows getting overlooked in favor of mediocre seasons of perennial “favorites.” Don’t get me wrong; I think Modern Family is still a very funny show, but maybe it’s time to open your eyes, dear Emmy voters, to see that there’s a whole world of network comedy beyond that show and The Big Bang Theory. Brooklyn Nine-Nine had one of the strongest freshman seasons I can remember. The Mindy Project created a season of television that was a better romantic comedy than any shown in movie theaters this decade. And Parks and Recreation continued to prove its underappreciated brilliance with a season full of brave storytelling that culminated in a truly genius finale. You have only one season left to honor Parks and Rec; don’t screw this up next year.

2. Don’t forget that TV dramas air on networks other than HBO and AMC.
I know that all of the shows nominated from those two channels are worthy (and I know that two nominated dramas aren’t from those networks), but maybe it’s time to shake things up in the drama category next year—especially with Breaking Bad out of the running. Maybe try heading over to FX, where there’s this little show called The Americans that just finished a season critics couldn’t stop raving about. Or maybe you can remind yourself that the nominees aren’t all contractually obligated to be from cable shows, and you can open your eyes to the smart, shocking, and fearless television being made by everyone involved with The Good Wife. Yes, it was kind of you to throw it a bone in terms of its acting nominations, but your failure to recognize the show as a whole for what was a singularly amazing season of dramatic television was probably your biggest oversight this year.

3. Surprise us. (And no, Jeff Daniels doesn’t count.)
Did you see the reaction you got when Lizzie Caplan’s nomination was announced for her work on Masters of Sex? People were thrilled because a new face was added in the mix of nominees who truly deserved to be there. You can have more happy reactions like that if you surprised us more often. Adam Scott on Parks and Rec, Hayden Panettiere on Nashville, Mindy Kaling on The Mindy Project, and Matthew Rhys on The Americans are just a small sample of deserving actors whose nominations could have breathed some new life into categories the feature many of the same names year after year.

4. Listen to the buzz—it exists for a reason.
Sometimes it seems like your finger could not be further from the pulse of the current television landscape. I understand not wanting to fall victim to rewarding a show or performance that might look foolish in hindsight, but Emmys should be given for one season—not a body of work or how good a show/performance is overall. If a show or an actor has a breakout moment that everyone is talking about, don’t ignore it as just a passing fancy. There’s a reason for the critical and audience buzz around performances like Bellamy Young’s on Scandal, Tatiana Maslany’s on Orphan Black, and Chris Messina’s on The Mindy Project: They were all excellent. In the same vein, also listen for when the buzz is dying down. Have you heard anything about Downton Abbey recently? How about The Big Bang Theory? Maybe it’s time to follow the crowd and replace some nominees from those shows with names critics and fans can’t stop talking about. (It does wonders for making the Critic’s Choice Awards truly fun to watch.)

5. Don’t be afraid of “genre shows.” (Aka Give Tatiana Maslany a nomination—give her all the nominations.)
And don’t tell me that your support of Game of Thrones proves you’re not afraid. The only reason Maslany isn’t nominated for Best Actress in a Drama Series is because Orphan Black is a sci-fi show on BBC America. I’m not sure if you’re just scared off by the clone-centric concept or if you can’t find the channel on your TVs, but this is getting ridiculous. If I had my way, the show itself would be nominated for its smart, completely unique concept and the way it handles difficult but socially-relevant topics like science-vs.-religion, reproductive rights, and female agency. But I won’t even beg you to go that far, Emmy voters. All I ask is that you check your ridiculous genre biases at the door and appreciate Maslany’s work for the brilliance it is. I can only assume you’ve never watched the show and still fear that her ability to play over half-a-dozen roles is a cheap gimmick. Because if you actually took the time to watch even one episode, you would know that the nuance and depth she gives to Sarah or Helena or Cosima or Alison alone is worth a nomination. Maslany turns in multiple nominations’ worth of excellent performances with every episode; it’s time you joined the rest of the world and realized it.

6. Remember that writing nominations and series nominations don’t always have to be the same.
I understand that if a series is nominated as Best Comedy or Best Drama, that probably means you liked its writing the best, as writing is a huge part of what makes a series successful. But writing nominations are designed for single episodes, and sometimes I feel that gets forgotten. Even if you don’t love Parks and Rec enough to nominate the whole series, “Moving Up” was a rare comedy finale that took a season-long arc and showed how even the lowest points of it had a purpose (and it featured one hell of a twist ending—another rarity for the genre). The Mindy Project might not be your flavor, but there’s no denying that Kaling’s script for “Danny and Mindy” created in one half-hour a better romantic comedy than most recent movies. And The Good Wife’s “Last Call” had a script packed with deep, moving insights about the way we crave closure after a loved one suddenly passes away and also about the way we all handle grief in different but equally powerful ways. If a single episode is written brilliantly, it should be nominated—no matter what show it comes from.

7. Follow your own example.
This year’s supporting and guest actor categories are prime examples of the fun that can be had when new blood is brought in to a group of nominees. Andre Braugher, Lena Headey, and the multiple Orange is the New Black nominations made me smile because they were something different for their respective categories. They were names I’d hoped to see but worried would be overlooked (this is especially true of Braugher and Headey) because they weren’t traditional choices in their categories. Those nominations made me feel like you actually watched their work and took the time to evaluate it instead of just picking popular names. However, even many of the popular names are worthy choices in these categories, and I wouldn’t be upset to see Anna Gunn, Peter Dinklage, Josh Charles, or—especially—Christine Baranski—take home an Emmy.

Television is growing by leaps and bounds every year in terms of the platforms it’s presented on and the quality of the programming itself. I think it’s time for the Emmys to reflect that with new, narrower categories and more nominees. Increasing the number of categories or just the number of nominees in each category would add some suspense to the nominations, which have been lacking in that area for years now.

Fellow TV fans, what advice would you give to Emmy voters? Do you need a place to vent your frustrations? Who will you be rooting for on Emmy night? Let me know in the comments!

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18 thoughts on “My Advice for Emmy Voters

  1. There are some nominations that I’m incredibly excited about though I know one of them (Lizzie Caplan) has about no chance of actually winning. But other than the few exciting new nominees this year, these nominations were the same as last year’s. I can understand with repeated nominations for shows that are still doing great and exciting things but I can’t get behind the nominations that seem to just be there because they were there before.

    I’m actually OK with Jim Parson’s nomination this year because I think he got to do some different things with Sheldon as a character so at least there was growth there. I don’t understand Matt LaBlanc’s continued nomination, however. Even with the large number of critics I follow and general fan buzz, I have never heard anything about Episodes. It just seems to be a show that exists then gets inexplicably nominated for an Emmy. I was also amused that Modern Family has gone from a nomination for all 6 adult actors to only half of the adults getting nominated so maybe their stronghold on the supporting categories will eventually end.

    My biggest piece of advice to Emmy voters would be do something to fix the categories, especially the comedy ones. Shows like Parks and Rec and The Mindy Project, which are more traditionally comedic are getting lost in a category that includes non-traditional choices like Louie, Episodes (I think?), Shameless, and Orange is the New Black.

    • You were the first person I thought of when Lizzie Caplan got nominated—I knew you’d be ecstatic!

      I share your confusion about Episodes. I religiously read various TV critics and like to think I follow a bunch of smart, well-rounded TV fans, but I have never heard anyone talk about this show except when it’s nominated for Emmys. Even when it’s nominated, no one seems to have much of an opinion about it. It’s very strange.

      I completely agree with everything you said about the problem with the comedy categories right now. There are too many different kinds of “comedies” on TV right now for all of them to be put into the same category. It’s impossible to compare Parks and Rec and Orange is the New Black or The Mindy Project and Shameless. I don’t know if it means putting cable shows into their own categories or doing something else entirely, but there needs to be a change in the categorization of shows even before they’re nominated.

  2. I wish some emmy voters would read this post because you are totally right.
    I didn’t watch a lot of drama show lately so I didn’t have a lot of actors/actress to root for, my only concern was for Tatiana Maslany and I’m so disappointed for this missed nomination, I mean, what does she need to do to get their attention? Jump off a roof? Swimming with the sharks? I’m so mad that they haven’t added the sci-fy category yet, it’s 2014, there are some good sci-fy shows with great actors, why won’t you give them the chance to get nominated too? Yes, I’m still angry for the Anna Torv missed nominations over the years.
    Also, I can bet on a Jim Parsons nomination even for the Emmy of 2099. I love Jim, I think he’s fantastic but Ibelive too that it’s time for him to leave the spot in the nomination to someone else. The same thing goes with TBBT. I loved that show over the years but I ended up just liking it.
    In my opinion, emmy voters shouldn’t follow public or critics opinion blindly but surely they should start following it.

    • Thanks for the comment, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my frustration. The lack of support for Tatiana Maslany is mind-boggling. The bias against actors in sic-fi TV shows really needs to stop.

  3. I don’t follow this stuff very closely and I don’t watch many of the shows you mention, but I think you’re right about needing to shake things up. There are so many great shows and actors that get missed every year while the same popular shows get nominated year after year no matter what. Surely the people who run the Emmy’s actually want people to be excited about the nominations and the awards? I haven’t watched Orphan Black but everyone is talking about Maslany’s performances! How can they be so out of touch with what people are excited about and talking about? I haven’t heard ANYONE mention Matt LeBlanc or his show anywhere for any reason (except in the pre-Emmy panels). I literally had never heard of it when they were talking to him last year, and I haven’t heard a single mention of him since. I just don’t get it.

    I guess we should be grateful that we have so much good TV and such a diversity of programming! If the Emmys chose to ignore the good stuff pretty soon people will learn to ignore the Emmys.

    • Your reaction to Tatiana Maslany’s snub mirrors mine from last year. I hadn’t watched Orphan Black yet, but even I knew it was a glaring oversight by the Emmy voters. This season—now that I’ve seen her excellent work week after week—I’m left not just confused like I was last year but downright angry.

      You are right about the silver lining to these gray clouds of Emmy disappointment. We really are living in a wonderful time to be a fan of television as a medium.

  4. I’m definitely in the same boat as you, super excited about a few, but disappointed overall. You’re totally right about the biggest problem being that voters are afraid to move away from old favorites. And honestly, even though I still watch and largely enjoy many of the shows that are declining (or at the very least plateauing) in quality, like Modern Family and Big Bang Theory, I still rolled my eyes at the number of nods they got. I guess one silver lining is that awesome surprise nominees like Lizzy Caplan and Andre Braugher will probably be on the list next year, since voters have proven themselves to be so terrified of change lol

    • Thanks for the comment, Becca, and it’s always nice to know I’m not alone in my frustration.

      “I guess one silver lining is that awesome surprise nominees like Lizzy Caplan and Andre Braugher will probably be on the list next year, since voters have proven themselves to be so terrified of change lol” – I love this because it’s so true! I always say that the one good thing about their fear of branching out when it comes to nominees is that Amy Poehler is always nominated. 😉

  5. When I was young, the Emmys were my everything. I looked forward to the Emmy’s every year to a point where I would put the date on my X-Files calendar. When my much younger sister made me play barbies with her I would make her play Emmy night complete with pre show red carpet interviews and after parties at the barbie dream house. So it really pains me that the Emmy’s have become something that I don’t even bother watching anymore. If I am lucky, the nominee pool might be 20% filled with shows and performances I have actually seen, and that is on a good year. And the monotony has gotten ridiculously bad. Do we need to implement a radio contest rule where if you win you aren’t eligible to be nominated again for the same show for a least 365 calendar days?

    There is absolutely no credibility to a group of people that chose not to nominate Maslany for her performance. Last year was disappointing, but slightly understandable due to the shows “new-ness”. But this year, there is absolutely no excuse. Zero. I don’t care if the show is “not your thing”. Maslany is flawless on that show every single week. I am beyond being disappointed, I am flat out insulted and bordering on angry.

    I think its a huge sign that the most exciting category is the “guest actor” one. Its because we are craving something new. Anything new at this point. Is it possible to overthrow the academy? I am ready to revolt.

    • First of all, you and I would have been great friends as a kids—playing “award show” with Barbies was a common pastime of mine, too. Although, if I remember correctly, I favored the Oscars back then. 😉

      “Do we need to implement a radio contest rule where if you win you aren’t eligible to be nominated again for the same show for a least 365 calendar days?” – I was actually just talking to my father about how sad it is that this seems like something we need to do in order to guarantee new names on the ballots.

      I’ve crossed the border from insulted to angry about Tatiana Maslany at this point. You’re not the only one ready to revolt.

      • I enjoy movies, but for me, TV has always been my media of choice. Its requires a devotion and commitment more than others, which is ironic seeing as how I am a huge commitment phobe. Or maybe its because of all the emotional pain TV has caused that I am a commitment phobe…hmmm

  6. It has taken me a full week to come down from my blind rage that were the Emmy nominations. I love the points you make here, but my chief problem with the Emmy’s is laziness. It is egregious how they allow shows/individuals to submit their categories. I screamed this when American Horror Story submitted in mini-series/movie (and continues to do so how many seasons later)?

    The gerrymandering of category fraud is rampant across the board and it makes it impossible to have a level playing field or even categories that qualify as apples to apples let alone make sense. The Emmy’s need stricter/clear parameters for categories. Robert Bianco called it best — ‘category shopping’ and it is everywhere from True Detective to Orange is the New Black. It’s a shoehorn method to category selection.

    Moreover they need to better define seasons and eligibility. With the changing face of television, cable shows, streaming full season drops and the year round programming we are also no longer seeing a clear cut ‘season’ for new programming, nor a traditional slate for shows. I think there needs to be a minimum episode count for best drama/comedy. Everything else should get booted to mini-series. Take best drama for example. How is it even feasible for Mad Men to qualify when their ‘season’ consisted of a measly 7 episodes. Yet The Good Wife’s 22 episodes ignored. It’s crazy town.

    The absence of Maslany speaks to many things. Mostly however it speaks to people being able to select nominees without actually watching television. That is why we see so much repeat offense long after even worthy shows have hit their prime. Just as the Oscars, I really think that the Academy for Television Arts and Sciences needs to rethink who they allow to select and ensure these folks are actually WATCHING the shows in question.

    • I love this comment. You are 100% correct in labeling the entire Emmy process as lazy—for all of the points you stated. I will NEVER understand how American Horror Story is allowed to be a mini series every season, but True Detective is a drama.

      In addition to season lengths, episode lengths need to be taken into account—as do the parameters set by cable versus broadcast networks. It’s hurting broadcast comedies (like my beloved Parks and Rec and Brooklyn Nine-Nine), and it’s also hurting broadcast dramas like The Good Wife. I don’t think anyone would object to new categories that reflect the changing face of television. It’s just that the Emmys are simply too lazy to reflect their medium anymore.

  7. Yeah, I want to see sci-fi in all its dazzling forms get more respect from award shows too. But I’m sleepy and grumpy and say that shall never happen until we are old ladies griping about this in a nursing home and they just do it to shut us up.

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