Emmy Nominations: How They Work and Who They Benefit (2008)

[The following is a post I wrote last year around this time, explaining how the Emmy Awards nomination process works. Tomorrow is the deadline for the first stage of the process, where the popular vote will be completed and the Top 10s will be tabulated. Look for more coverage here at Cultural Learnings of the various categories as the process continues, but in the meantime enjoy this updated explanation.]

Tomorrow, June 20th, the first stage of the Emmy Nomination process ends. Getting nominated for an Emmy Award is not an easy task, and the entire process was recently made even more complicated in an effort to create fairness. To help you follow the process as it unfolds over the next month, here’s a rundown on how the decision is made and who benefits from each stage.

Stage One: The Popular Vote

How it Works: Voters select their favourite candidate from all individuals who have submitted themselves for nomination. They read For Your Consideration ads, watch screeners, but in the end likely just pick who they like, allowed to vote for as many as Ten candidates who gets more points the higher they are on their list.

Who it Benefits: Shows that are either perennial nominees or extremely buzz-worthy, and actors that are well-known in Hollywood. Thus, voters don’t really even need to see what these candidates have to offer, they just assume they’re really good. Examples of shows that perform well at this stage are big winners last year like 30 Rock, current awards season sensation Mad Men, or highly rated shows like Grey’s Anatomy, while perennial Emmy favourites like Julia Louis-Dreyfus (New Adventures of Old Christine) or William Shatner (Boston Legal) will place highly based on their past acclaim.

Who it Harms: Ratings-deprived, critically acclaimed programs without any of the above, and actors or actresses who lack star power or past Emmys attention. Friday Night Lights and The Wire are generally the two best examples, shows that so few people watch that their unquestioned quality (Mostly unquestioned, anyways) goes unrecognized when they can’t make their Top 10. Performers, meanwhile, have an even tougher time even on hit shows; multiple Lost performers will make it onto the next part of the process, but for relative unknowns like Yunjin Kim standing out amongst over 100 other names is tougher. It also does nothing for fan favourite shows, as Emmy voters don’t tend to watch recently canceled shows like Jericho or Moonlight, and therefore they have very little chance of emerging out of this round.

Stage Two: The Top 10 Run-Off

How it Works: The Top 10 series from the popular vote are isolated and screened in front of a blue ribbon panel. Each show/actor/actress selects an episode that will be screened for the panel if it makes the Top 10. They also prepare a short written statement explaining their show and the episode in context with the show. For example, should Mad Men make the Best Drama Series panel (Count on it), they will be screening the shows’s pilot, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.”

Then, each member of the panel will rank the shows from 1 to 10, and a final ranking will be decided.

Who it Benefits: Shows that are actually, you know, good, and actors or actresses who submitted great episodes. This is a stage where a show like Pushing Daisies will perform well, as while it has buzz as a strong show it doesn’t have the prestige to place highly in the popular vote. Here, however, the performances of Kristin Chenoweth and Chi McBride, in particular, will watch voters’ attention and give them a (reasonable) shot at a nomination. It also benefits series that are not as widely viewed as others, like Showtime’s Dexter which should build on its strong performance last year to a potential nomination (And there better be one for Michael C. Hall).

Who it Harms: Actors or Actresses who submitted the wrong episode or who only made it due to their pedigree or popularity. Someone like Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men will make the Top 10 based on the popularity of his show, but getting a nomination will be more difficult since he might pale in comparison to Steve Carell, Alec Baldwin, etc. And there are too many great performers, like the aforementioned Carell actually, that will submit episodes that don’t represent the best of their season’s work, and the result will be a potential snub.

Stage Three: The Final Tally

How it Works: The final nominations are decided by taking the Popular Vote data, the Blue-Ribbon Panel data and then combining them together. Each is worth 50%, and after that process the nominees are decided.

Who it Benefits: The popular vote winners. Unlike a few years ago, where the panel had final say (To REALLY strange results), shows that are popular and well-known but not all that good can still perform well and be nominated thanks to the popular vote still being counted towards the final nominations.

Who it Harms: Shows like Friday Night Lights, and actors who don’t already have awards on their mantles. They’re unlikely to rank much higher than 10th, if even in the Top 10, of the popular vote. As a result, they would need to do extremely well within the panel in order to be nominated, and it’s hard to place too much faith in a room of human beings to not be guided by the same types of bias that is seen on the popular side of things.

Stage Four: The Nominations

How It Works: On July 17th the nominees are finalized and announced to the public. And then the voting begins again, this time with the prize being an Emmy award.

1 Comment

Filed under Emmy Awards

One response to “Emmy Nominations: How They Work and Who They Benefit (2008)

  1. Pingback: A New Hope?: Emmys go from 6 to 5, but won’t go from Wrong to Right « Cultural Learnings

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