Emmys rule change pits ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’ against ‘SNL’

The TV academy has shaken up the Emmy races for Variety Talk and Variety Sketch after seven consecutive victories for HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and six straight for NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”. It rejiggered its rules to revise the categories and force Oliver to move to a new Scripted Variety Series grouping. The popular weekly offering will now compete directly with shows including “SNL,” HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show” and Comedy Central’s “Drunk History.”

Late-night talk shows had dominated the Variety Series Emmy category before it was split into Variety Talk and Variety Sketch in 2015. Since then, it’s been pretty much all “Last Week Tonight” and “SNL.”

SEE ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’ wins 7th consecutive Emmy, ending tie with ‘Late Show with David Letterman’

Considering the long winning streaks of both shows, something will now have to give. Because of their Emmy dominance and the diminishing number of sketch and late-night talk contenders, the changes were considered overdue to bring about something resembling competitive balance again.

The two hosts who had long presided over the earlier combined category — David Letterman and Jon Stewart — have been competing recently in another category, Best Hosted Non Fiction Series/Special, for their new shows “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman” and “The Problem with Jon Stewart.” With the rule changes, they will now instead be among the contenders for Best Talk Series.

Said Frank Scherma, Television Academy President and CEO: “The Television academy’s awards committee and Board of Governors carefully review Emmy rules annually and adjust and refine competition requirements, often with input from television leaders, to reflect and support the current industry environment.”

The announced changes for the 75th Emmy Awards competition in 2023 include formation of the new categories of:

  • Best Talk Series: This is described as comprising “programs where a significant portion of the running time consists of unscripted interviews or panel discussions between a host/hosts and guest celebrities or personalities. A Talk Series can include scripted elements and other aspects of a variety series such as monologues, musical performances, etc., s long as the main intent of the program is interviews/discussion.
  • Best Scripted Variety Series: This will be “programs that are primarily scripted or feature loosely scripted improv and consist of discrete scenes, musical numbers, monologues, comedy stand-ups, sketches, etc. Scripted Variety Series may occasionally feature unscripted elements, but the main intent of the series is scripted or performed entertainment.

Other rules changes for 2023 include the following:

Cap on Nominations-Round Voting

The number of selections each voting member is allowed to make per category in first-round voting will now be capped at the number of nominations specified for that category. Members will no longer be allowed to vote for an unlimited number of selections in any category.

The announcement of the cap on nominations-round voting in particular drew a huge positive reaction in the Gold Derby Forums, where comments have included, “I am elated to see the unlimited ballot go…Now there’s more room for passion picks again (hopefully!)” and “We desperately needed this” and “Unlimited voting being gone is HUGE!!!”. There was also this: “The scrapping of the unlimited ballot could change everything” and “That’s huge. It’s been killing the supporting categories.”

Also among the revised rules:

Changes to Tracked Categories

The Single Camera and Multi-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series categories have been combined into the tracked category Picture Editing for a Comedy Series. The Cinematography for a Single Camera Series (half-hour) and Multi-Camera Series categories have been combined into the tracked category Cinematography for a Series (half-hour).

In addition, a trigger has been added to all tracked categories such that during any year in which the number of submissions for each track is 20 or more, the category will automatically be split into separate categories for that year. In 2023 there will be 16 categories with tracks, which could potentially be split.

Finally, the minimum number of submissions required to include a nomination track in a tracked category has been changed to 5% of the total number of submissions but no less than three submissions.

Line Producers to Receive Eligible Credit for Variety Categories

“Line Producer” has been added as an Emmy-eligible credit in the following categories:

  • Outstanding Talk Series
  • Outstanding Scripted Variety Series
  • Outstanding Variety Special (Live)
  • Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded)

Migration and Creation of New Game Show Categories

The previously announced migration of Game Show categories to the Television Academy-administered Emmy competition will go into effect for 2023 as the result of the joint decision by the Television Academy and the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to award game show programming categories by genre instead of daypart.

The new category of Outstanding Game Show will recognize programs with game elements taking place primarily in-studio and involving mental challenges. They must be self-contained or carry-over (winner continues to next episode) and cannot be arced. The new category of Outstanding Host for a Game Show will be awarded to the “master of ceremony” host(s) for a continuing performance in a game show.

To avoid confusion between Outstanding Game Show and Outstanding Competition Program (which awards programs with reality-style, skill-based competitions), the latter category has been revised to Outstanding Reality Competition Program. Additionally, game shows and reality competition programs with children as the sole contestants must enter in the Children’s & Family Emmy Awards.

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