TCA Awards mystery solved: ‘Breaking Bad’ vs. ‘Game of Thrones’

Why was “Breaking Bad” named Program of the Year at Saturday’s TV Critics Assn. Awards but “Game of Thrones” beat it for Outstanding Achievement in Drama? (Read full report on winners here.)

The latter is the TCA’s equivalent of the Emmy for Best Drama Series and the roster of recent champs includes three wins apiece for “Lost” and “Mad Men” and two victories for each of “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad.” That is a pretty good sampling of the best dramas on television.

The Program of the Year prize is missing that adjective of ‘Outstanding.’ The shows that win this award are not necessarily the best in terms of quality; rather, they simply were THE program of the year. Those that captured the zeitgeist include “Glee,” “Heroes,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Desperate Housewives” and “American Idol.”  

This difference in criteria explains how “House of Cards” and “The Walking Dead” reaped bids this year for Program but not Drama. “House of Cards” may not have been one of the five most critically-acclaimed dramas of the year but it ranks as one of the five most important programs of the year due its innovative delivery method. Likewise, “The Walking Dead” made history as the first cable show to beat all of the broadcast network shows in the key sales demographic ratings.

While “Game of Thrones” enjoyed both critical acclaim and zeitgeist penetration, it won this award last year. And in the twenty-eight year history of the TCA, only one show has ever be named Program of the Year twice — “The Sopranos” (1999, 2001). 

The fifth nominee for Program of the Year was “The Americans,” which reaped a leading four bids from the TCA, including one for Drama. 

So, how did “Game of Thrones” win the Drama race?

With the TCA bias against repeats for Program of the Year, the Drama award makes for a great consolation prize. At the rival Critics’ Choice Awards bestowed by the Broadcast TV Journalists Assn., “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones” tied for Best Drama Series.  

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