Emmy Awards shake-ups: Plurality vote, shortened seasons redefined, new short form series

The Emmys recently announced a slew of rule changes regarding eligibility and voting. The best way to understand what they mean for this year’s races is to consider how they would have affected past ones.

Eliminated preferential/ranked voting in the final round
Emmys will now be awarded through simple plurality votes instead of preferential ballots, in which voters had ranked all nominees; the winner was the one with the best average.

The new system could favor more polarizing choices rather than consensus picks. For example, the Producers Guild and Emmys usually agree on Best Comedy Series, but not last season when the former awarded “Transparent” while the latter went with “Veep.”

How much of the “Transparent” loss at the Emmys can be attributed to voters ranking it low because they felt that it was too dramatic? Under the plurality system of vote counting, a show in a seven nominee category could win with just under 15% of the ballots.

Changed categorization of shortened seasons for regular series
Seasons of series with under six episodes in a given eligibility period had competed as miniseries. Under the new rules, the final seasons of such series will now only be reclassified if they have fewer than three episodes. (Continuing shows like “Luther” and “Sherlock” that regularly have short episode orders will not be reclassified because the new rule applies only to shows that have been comedy or drama series at some point.)

Laura Linney (“The Big C”) was nominated for Best Comedy Actress in 2011, but won Best Miniseries Actress in 2013 for her show’s final season. That season’s presentation as four (double-length) episodes disqualified it from the comedy categories, which were so competitive that Linney had actually been snubbed the year before.

Treme” had similarly struggled in the drama categories, managing only two nominations — Best Drama Directing and Best Music and Lyrics — in 2010 for its debut season. It received no further nominations until it moved to the miniseries races in 2014 for its five-episode final season. It won Best Movie/Mini Sound Mixing and was nominated for Best Miniseries, Best Movie/Mini Writing and Best Movie/Mini Casting.

Nominees for Best Variety Series Directing will now be drawn from two tracks
You might not know it from the nominees in recent years, but late-night talkers are not the only shows eligible for Best Variety Series Directing. The ballot also lists sketch shows and even competition shows, although the latter has not been nominated since 2011 or won since 2009 (both “American Idol“).

Following similar changes in costume and production design categories, Variety Series Directing nominees will now be proportionate to the submissions. Four of the five nominees last year were talk shows, but only two would have been allowed under the new rules, as 13 of the category’s 31 submissions were from talk shows.

Ultimate winner “The Daily Show” probably would have been safe, as would have “The Tonight Show” since it sandwiched its Emmy loss with a pair of wins at the Directors Guild Awards. “The Colbert Report” (never won) and “Late Show” (not nominated the year before) likely would have born the brunt of the proportionate rules to the benefit of “Portlandia” (nominated the previous three years) and “Saturday Night Live” (won the previous five years).

New and expanded categories for short-form series
Not only are there new and expanded short form categories, but the Emmys have also redefined them as being for “series” (minimum six episodes) instead of “programs” (no minimum).

Of last year’s five nominees for Best Short Form Live-Action Program, only “Childrens Hospital” (with 14 episodes) would qualify this year. Of the other four:

“Van and Mike: The Ascension” lasted only five episodes and the Super Bowl Halftime Show is an annual one-off event.

Although “Billy on the Street” produced enough episodes the previous three Emmy cycles, it produced only one last year.

“Between Two Ferns” has won the award the last two years, but has never produced six episodes in a single Emmy cycle.

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