Will the New Emmy Rules Really Lead to More (and More Diverse) Nominees?

If the rules had been in place last year, they actually would have resulted in fewer nominees

Emmy Awards
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steve pond The Television Academy changed the way it determines the size of its Primetime Emmy Awards categories last week, and in the process declared that the change was made “to allow for more inclusiveness in the recognition of excellence.” The implication is that the new rules will lead to more nominees, and that those will in turn be more diverse. We’ll know for sure about the size of the categories when the Academy posts this year’s Emmy ballots at the beginning of voting on July 2 — but if the new rules had been in place last year, according to a Wrap examination of the 2019 ballots and nominations, they would have actually led to fewer nominations, not more. Of the 124 categories at last year’s Emmys, the new rules would have increased the number of nominees in 21 of them, but it would have reduced the number in 36 of them. The rest would have remained the same, which in most cases would have been five nominees. The new rules do have the potential to enlarge the number of nominees in some of the long-form acting categories, where an increase in diversity would be most noticeable. The new system makes the size of every category proportional to the number of entries in that category: 20 to 80 entries mean five nominees, 81 to 160 mean six nominees, 161 to 240 mean seven nominees and more than 241 mean eight nominees. But at the same time, the rules eliminate the existing “2% rule,” which had been used to expand the size of at least a dozen Emmy categories every year. That rule specifies that in a category of, say, five nominees, the sixth- and seventh-place finishers also receive nominations if their vote totals are within 2% of the fifth-place finisher’s total. The rule can and has expanded certain categories to up to eight nominees, as happened last year in the Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series categories. In 2019, the 2% rule also pushed Outstanding Supporting Actor and Actress in a Comedy Series to seven nominees. And outside the performer categories, the rule expanded the size of some comedy writing, makeup, music, art direction and directing categories. If the new format had been in place in the 16 long-form acting categories last year, it would have increased the size of three categories and reduced the size of five, with the remaining eight categories remaining the same. This year, based on an expected small increase in the usual number of entries, it’s almost certain that we’ll see the maximum of eight nominees in the supporting drama categories, seven or eight in the supporting comedy categories and possibly seven (instead of the usual six) in the guest comedy categories. But the limited series and movie categories for lead actor and actress will in all likelihood be downsized from six to five. And many of the program categories, which were set at six nominees in the past, will be allotted just five under the new rules. The program categories that would have suffered this fate last year included Outstanding Variety Talk Series, Outstanding Variety Sketch Series and all three of the reality program categories: Outstanding Structured Reality Program, Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program and Outstanding Competition Program. A separate new rule, though, eliminates the proportional category size in the two marquee categories, Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Comedy Series — those will both have a flat eight nominees, making them the two largest Emmy categories. That’s good news for the eight past comedy-series nominees and the 12 former drama-series nominees competing to be nominated once again, as well as the scores of other shows hoping to crack the top categories. In addition, the Television Academy said that this year’s submissions have been 15% higher than last year’s. If you apply that increase across the board to last year’s figures, 14 additional categories would have gained an additional nominee under the new rules. That’s enough to make the net change very small — but by the same token, we don’t know how many of those larger fields would have triggered expansions under the old rules. The bottom line is that the new rules will certainly make the size of Emmy categories more standardized and more proportional to the number of nominees. But until we see how this plays out, we shouldn’t assume that they’ll give us more Emmy nominees, or more inclusive ones.