Emmys upheaval: Get ready to see series regulars on guest acting ballots

Last year’s Best Drama Guest Actor Joe Morton (“Scandal”) and Best Comedy Guest Actress Uzo Aduba (“Orange is the New Black”) were the latest Emmy winners in the guest categories to be guests only in the contractual sense of the word, as they appeared in every episode of their eligible seasons.

To address this, the TV academy recently announced that any performer who appears in at least half of the season’s episodes will be ineligible as a guest; among those disqualified is two-time guest nominee Jane Fonda (“The Newsroom”) who appeared in half of this season’s six episodes. Conversely, series regulars may now enter the guest races if they are in fewer than half of the season’s episodes as the Emmys nixed the use of contracts and billing to determine category qualification. 

Emmy shockeroo: Guest actresses Jane Fonda and Laverne Cox must go supporting

Starring-billed performances that will take advantage of the new rules include Best Drama Guest Actor contenders Michael Mando (“Better Call Saul”) and Sam Shepard (“Bloodline”) and Drama Guest Actresses Jessica Pare and Kiernan Shipka (“Mad Men”), but there are sure to be more that will be revealed when the ballots are posted online Monday.

Had this rule been in place last year, might Morena Baccarin (“Homeland”) have immediately followed up her 2013 Best Drama Supporting Actress nomination with a Best Drama Guest Actress bid as her character’s role was reduced to just five of the dozen episodes? January Jones (“Mad Men”) was nominated in 2010 for Best Drama Actress but understandably submitted as supporting last year, having appeared in only three of the seven eligible episodes. As the eventual six Drama Supporting Actress nominees appeared in every episode of their seasons or missed just one, perhaps Jones might have felt even more comfortable being categorized as a guest. 

In addition to those actors who find themselves with an uncharacteristically light workload for the given season, other beneficiaries might be main cast members whose characters are killed off early in a season, like Jack Gleeson (“Game of Thrones”) last year, who appeared on the supporting ballot despite his character’s death in the second episode of the 10-episode season.

Of course, just because submission as a guest is now an option does not mean that all who qualify will opt for it. Actors have been similarly stubborn about leaving the lead category. After a Drama Actor win in 2012 and a nomination in 2013, Damian Lewis (“Homeland”) appeared in only six of the 12 episodes in 2014, yet he entered as a lead. And Rob Lowe (“Parks and Recreation”, “Brothers & Sisters”, “The West Wing”) seems to consider himself a lead whenever he appears on television.

Emmy upheaval: Rule change bounces ‘Orange is the New Black’ from comedy

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