TCA Awards nominations: Here’s why TV critics snubbed ‘The Leftovers’ for Best Drama Series

The Television Critics Association announced the nominations for its 33rd annual Awards on June 19. Amid many various deserved nominations was a massive oversight — the TV critics snubbed “The Leftovers” for Best Drama Series. That’s particularly strange when you consider that they nominated “The Leftovers” for Program of the Year as well as Best Drama Individual Achievement for Carrie Coon (shared with her performance in “Fargo”).

Struggling with awards is nothing new for a show that was infamously shut out by the Emmys for its first two seasons. But the critics, especially this year, are supposed to be different. “The Leftovers” was more critically acclaimed than ever in its third and final season and had appeared to be the most lauded show of the year.

“The Leftovers” Season 3 scored 98 on Metacritic. That website usually needs to be taken with a grain of salt when it comes to television because scores are based on advance reviews that take into account only the episodes that the network provides to the press ahead of the premiere, which is usually around three. However, HBO provided seven out of the season’s eight episodes and the series finale would go on to be more praised than any of them, so 98 is representative.

How then did “The Leftovers” get snubbed for Best Drama? The answer is twofold.

The TCA is first of all not synonymous with Metacritic, which tracks only the most esteemed and active critics. Metacritic tops out at 45 reviews for any given program, but over 220 journalists comprise the TCA. Uproxx (formerly HitFix) produces an aggregate ranking every December of the year’s most acclaimed shows; they received 58 lists last year. Simply put, outside of the TCA Awards, there is little means to gauge the preferences of over half of the voters. But based on how the voting patterns of the TCA compare to the Uproxx aggregate, this silent majority is relatively conservative.

For example, broadcast network multi-camera sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” ranked only 23rd in the 2013 aggregate, being a top-ten show for nine critics and a top-five show for only two of them. However, it won the TCA Award for Best Comedy Series that same year and it was actually the second time that it had done so, after 2009. The season of basic cable experimental dramedy “Louie” that it defeated in 2013 had actually ranked fourth in the aggregate, appearing on 25 lists and in the upper half on 17 of those. Similarly, broadcast network family sitcom “Black-ish” (#21) won Best Comedy Series last year over the likes of premium cable political satire “Veep” (#6), basic cable satirical talk show “Full Frontal” and streaming release dramedy “Master of None” (#11). A niche show like “The Leftovers” is less likely to be seen by voters who push mass-appeal fare to wins. Consider also how “The Wire” — arguably the most critically acclaimed show ever — never won Best Drama and its contemporary “Battlestar Galactica” was never nominated.

The 98 for “The Leftovers” on Metacritic is based only on the reviews of 17 critics, but Metacritic tallied 42 critics who reviewed (four episodes from) the first season, which scored 65. Seemingly about half of those critics did not stick with the show to review it when it improved in the (first three episodes of its) second season, as its 80 score was the result of only 22 reviews. “The Leftovers” clearly has visibility issues even among the elite critics tracked by Metacritic, let alone the more populist TCA general membership. Compare “Fargo,” another show that premiered its third season this spring. Metacritic aggregated 40 reviews for its first season, 33 for its second and 32 for its third.

The other part of how “The Leftovers” likely missed has to do with changes in balloting. Prior to last year, TCA members got only two nominating votes per category, ensuring that everything that was nominated had passion behind it and also leveling the playing field for shows that might be lesser seen. The TCA nominating ballot now has four slots per category and votes remain unweighted. A show like “The Leftovers” might have been the first pick for the voters who stuck with the show, but the new voting system favors a widely seen consensus choice that consistently rounds out voters’ ballots.

Note that “The Leftovers” still had enough support to bag those two other nominations for Carrie Coon and for Program of the Year, which the TCA ballot defines as an “Award given to the best program that has also had a major impact on the medium and the culture.” The last Program of the Year nominee not nominated simultaneously in a Best Program category was ratings juggernaut “The Walking Dead” in 2013.

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