Voting for Primetime Emmy nominations began on Monday, and Constance Wu’s chances of landing a nomination for “Fresh Off the Boat” are much better than they were a year ago.
Meanwhile, some performers in first-year series have also caught a break, among them Patrick Warburton for “Crowded,” Michaela Watkins for “Casual,” Natalie Zea for “The Detour” and Constance Zimmer for “UnReal.” Their Emmy prospects are looking up because of the thing that has probably bedeviled them since the first time they endured a roll call in grade school: the alphabet.
This year, the Academy has taken a step that’s akin to the teacher calling the roll in reverse order every other day. Sometimes, actors like Wu, Zimmer and “Togetherness” co-star Steve Zissis will still be at the back of the line when voters go to cast their ballots, but other times they’ll be right up front.
In 2014 and 2015, the first two years in which online voting was available for the Emmys (optional the first year, mandatory the second), the online ballot listed Emmy hopefuls alphabetically, the same way it had done on the old paper ballots. Voters were asked to scroll through the list of eligible contenders and click on their choices, choosing five in most categories.
But in the acting categories in particular, the number of potential nominees was enormous. Last year, there were more than 100 contenders in almost half the categories, including 254 in Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series and 360 in Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
That meant that for a voter to get to the contenders toward the end of the alphabet, they’d have to scroll through hundreds of names. And when the nominations were announced last July, it struck many observers that maybe they didn’t do that — that a lot of voters might well have filled up their ballots as they went along, voting mostly for people whose last names began with the letters A, B, C and D, not W, X, Y and Z.
Of the 99 nominations in the Emmys’ acting categories, for instance, 79 of them — fully 80 percent — went to people whose names came in the first half of the alphabet. Half of all nominees came from the first third of the ballot, and 35 of them, more than a third, went to actors whose names began with A, B, C or D.
Four of the 15 acting categories didn’t have a single nominee whose last name began with N or later; another seven categories had only one such nominee.
In the four Emmy categories with the largest number of entries — the supporting actor and actress in a comedy and in a drama categories — only one out of 26 nominees came from the second half of the ballot.
That’s not to denigrate any of the actors who did land nominations. But the pattern was troubling enough for the Academy to address it. So when a voter clicks on a category this year, it might display all the eligible contenders from A to Z — or it might list them the other way around, from Z to A.
The order will be assigned randomly, with voters as likely to see the names back-to-front as front-to-back.
Academy officials didn’t come out and say they were worried that some of last year’s potential nominees had been hurt by their position in the alphabet, but they admitted that they were aware of the potential problem.
And since the Television Academy is the awards body that probably changes its rules more frequently than any other and is determined to stay on top of an entertainment landscape that is shifting by the minute, this kind of tweaking is child’s play.
We won’t know until July 14 whether the new system will result in a substantial change in the actors and actresses nominated, or in a boost in the end-of-the-alphabet dwellers.
But as voting takes place over the next two weeks, you couldn’t blame a few Emmy hopefuls from singing a new version of the alphabet song: “ZYXWVUT, SRQPONMLK….”
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