The most important rule change at this year’s Emmys can’t even be found in the 78-page “Primetime Emmy Awards Rules & Procedures 2022-2023” book. But when nominations are announced on June 12, that change could make Emmy voters look a lot more open-minded and a lot less lazy than they’ve seemed in recent years.
Or it could do nothing at all.
The new rule, all of two sentences long, was dropped into a press release several months ago announcing changes for the 75th Emmys: “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.”
Readers of this space may understand why I consider the change so consequential. At the end of the 2022 Emmy season, I wrote a column noting the trend toward fewer and fewer programs hogging more and more acting nominations, which reached a sorry peak last year when “Succession” got a record 14 acting noms while “The White Lotus” and “Dopesick” grabbed an astonishing 13 of the 14 nominations in the limited series supporting actor and actress categories.
(Poor Sebastian Stan from “Pam & Tommy” was left as the sole representative of the other 107 programs that were eligible in the categories, 106 of which were shut out completely.)
For years, I’d been blaming the increasing lack of variety on voters being lazy in not looking beyond a handful of favorite shows — but last year, it became clear that the problem might well have been that the Academy rules were making them look lazier than they might really be. Those rules asked voters to peruse ballots with hundreds of contenders and then gave them this instruction: “Vote for all entries in this category that you … feel are worthy of a nomination.” (Boldface mine.)
In other words, voters could – and, apparently, did – vote for everybody from “Succession,” everybody from “The White Lotus,” everybody from “Dopesick,” everybody from all their favorite shows without thinking twice. That rule, I wrote at the time, “is guaranteed to overload the slate of nominees with contenders from the shows that everybody has seen.”
But now, after six years of increasing concentration among fewer shows in the acting categories, that rule is gone. Now, if you’re voting in a category that will have five nominees, you can only vote for five contenders; if it’s going to have eight, you can vote for eight.
The hope, no doubt, is voters with a limited number of spots to fill on their ballots will become more thoughtful about who they choose to fill those spots. Sure, you can use all your slots for actors from “Succession” if you want, but common sense suggests that you might want to spread the vote a bit, to pick an actor or two you really love from your favorite show while leaving space for a few worthy candidates from other programs.
The new rules have given Television Academy members — particularly the ones in the performers peer group — an opportunity to show that they can cast a wider net and not just let a few shows engage in nomination domination.
There are no doubt a few shows that could still rack up large numbers, and put multiple nominees in a category: “Succession” in actor, supporting actor and both guest categories, “Abbott Elementary” in the comedy supporting categories, “Saturday Night Live” in supporting and guest, “The Last of Us” in both drama guest categories, “Beef” in comedy supporting.
But the prospect of one of two shows dominating categories seems less than usual just based on the year in TV – and when you throw in a new rule that may make sweeps harder to come by, things appear to be looking up.
We could be on the verge of a welcome change — or, I suppose, a bitter disappointment.