Emmys’ Category Hogging Invades the Short Form Races, Too

The shorts categories are another sign that voters know what they like and like what they know

Die Hart 2 Die Harter
"Die Hart 2: Die Harter" (Roku)

It’s been clear for years that Emmy voters are creatures of habit, with Exhibit A always being the way that a few shows hog so many nominations in the acting categories. And even after the rules were changed in an attempt to push voters to spread the love, the stats are still sobering. In the drama acting categories, for instance, “Succession,” “The White Lotus” and “The Last of Us” grabbed a staggering 80 percent of all acting nominations, splitting 32 noms between them while “Better Call Saul” got two and “Bad Sisters,” “The Crown,” “The Diplomat,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Old Man” and “Yellowjackets” got one each.

But it’s not just those marquee categories that drive home the point that voters often have tunnel vision. If you want another illustration, look no further than the short-form categories, where almost every nominee is connected to a long-form program that voters also embrace.

The trend has been going on since the short-form categories began in 2011, but in this year’s Outstanding Short Form Nonfiction or Reality Series category, all the nominees sound like variations on a single theme — because, well, that’s what they are.

Four of the five nominees are from HBO Max, and all provide supplemental material for big HBO series. There’s “House of the Dragon: Inside the Episode” and “The Last of Us: Inside the Episode.” And then, to put a spin on the theme, there’s “The White Lotus: Unpacking the Episode” and “Succession: Controlling the Narrative.” And then there’s the closest thing to an outlier, because it’s from NBC, not HBO: “Saturday Night Live Presents: Behind the Sketch.”

In the other short-form category, Outstanding Short Form Comedy, Drama or Variety Series, things get marginally looser — but only marginally. “Better Call Saul Filmmaker Training” and “Only Murders in the Building: One Killer Question” spin off those two series, while “Carpool Karaoke: The Series” is an expansion of a “Late Late Show With James Corden” segment and “Awkwafina Is Hangin’ With Grandma” is a web series offshoot from “Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens.”

The final nominee, Netflix’s “I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson,” stars and was co-created by the former “Saturday Night Live” writer and performer, but it’s the one nominee unconnected to another existing show. It could be the closest thing to Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns” or Rob Corddry’s “Childrens Hospital,” to name a pair of original short-form programs that won Emmys.

You can blame voters for being a bit unimaginative, I suppose — but ever since the Television Academy instituted panels to weed out and disqualify the more amateurish entries, they’ve been forced to choose from a field of programs that are largely linked to existing shows. Among the short-form entries that weren’t chosen this year are spinoffs from “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” “Top Chef,” “Yellowjackets” and “Yellowstone.”

And then there’s the matter of the short-form acting categories, on which the “Succession”-style category hogging plays out on a smaller scale. Here, “Die Hart 2: Die Harter,” the Roku short-form series in which Kevin Hart plays a version of himself who is trying to become an action star, has a stranglehold on the two short-form acting categories.

In Outstanding Actor in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series, it landed two of the three nominations, with Hart and Ben Schwartz (playing Hart’s assistant) nominated alongside Tim Robinson for “I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson.”  And it repeated that feat in Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series, with the three nominees being Nathalie Emmanuel (playing Hart’s co-star) and Paula Pell (his mom) for “Die Hart 2” and Jasmine Guy for “Chronicles of Jessica Wu.”

“Die Hart” achieved this dominance after being one of the few survivors of the short-lived Quibi. The platform shut down in 2020, shortly before the first season of “Die Hart” landed acting nominations for Hart, Emmanuel and John Travolta. Hart, who has described the basic approach of the show as “I get to react to the world of crazy around me,” was able to secure the IP from Quibi and take the idea to Roku, while also editing the first season into a feature film that was released on Amazon Prime Video in February.

And now it’s in unprecedented territory. No other short-form show has ever received four acting nominations in a single year, or six in multiple years; Ryan O’Connell’s “Special” came closest in a single year with three, while the Nick Hornby/Stephen Frears collaboration “State of the Union” had two seasons with a combined four noms.

So yes, it’s crazy that, say, the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series category could consist of four nominees from “Succession,” four from “The White Lotus” and none from the other 121 shows that were in the running. But let’s not overlook the smaller, less star-studded version of that imbalance.

Even on a smaller playing field, Emmy voters simply know what they like and like what they know.