The CableACE Awards remain a quippy industry punch line two decades after their demise. But during last month’s TCA summer press tour, CableACE jokes by NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt and CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler carried extra edge. Each half-facetiously talked of reviving the cable-only honors to allow broadcasters to regain the Primetime Emmy Awards throne.
The Emmys have been a touchy topic since nominations were announced July 10, with broadcast executives including Greenblatt and Tassler grousing publicly about the dearth of nods for acclaimed shows such as NBC’s The Blacklist and CBS’ The Good Wife. On the cable side, HBO, Showtime and FX execs fielded press-tour questions about why certain series were entered in particular categories.
“I know there was a flurry of industry chatter online,” HBO programming president Michael Lombardo told B&C in an interview published on the Web the day the nominees were revealed. Lombardo—whose HBO anthology series True Detective earned 12 nods in drama series categories—argued that viewers don’t care how a show is classified. And, he added, “If the Emmy voters, who are in the know here, disagreed strongly, they would respond accordingly”— presumably by denying nominations to the offending show.
The image of a select group of industry professionals making informed decisions is one that officials at the Television Academy—which oversees the Emmys—like to tout. “In this academy, the peer structure is a through-line that goes from nomination to final judging,” said John Leverence, Television Academy senior VP, awards.
All the Academy’s roughly 17,500 eligible members vote to determine nominees in show categories such as best comedy and drama series. But for most other categories, such as acting and directing, the nominees are selected only by the members who work in those fields. In the second round of voting, winners are determined by smaller panels of judges taken from those same peer groups.
Which show fits into which category is increasingly where the process becomes sticky. “It used to be that if you had Gunsmoke, you had a drama series,” Leverence said. Those days are gone.
This year, Showtime moved awards-poor Shameless from drama to comedy consideration. The move paid off as the series earned a best actor nod for star William H. Macy. Netflix, meanwhile, grabbed a genre-leading 12 nominations for Orange Is the New Black, a “comedy series” whose first season ended with one character nearly beating another to death.
Networks and producers do choose which categories their shows compete in, but their power is not absolute. Shameless executive producer John Wells had to appeal to the academy for a move into comedy, arguing that it’s where he always wanted the show.
“We do have very specific rules, but those rules are designed to be as creatively flexible as television,” said Maury McIntyre, Academy president and COO. “We don’t want to be so regimented that we can’t incorporate or flow with what’s going on in the times.”
One of those rules involves the creator’s credit, which, according to the Writers Guild of America, indicates that a program is a series. “We follow the WGA’s lead,” said McIntyre. So while FX’s Fargo, which bears no such credit, can and will compete as a miniseries, HBO would have had to petition to move the similarly structured True Detective, created by Nic Pizzolatto, out of the drama series category.
The Emmys process is continually evolving. This year, the academy introduced Internet balloting in the first round of voting. Next year, both rounds will be Web-based. Without offering specifics, McIntyre said that this year saw “a significant increase in participation.” Another possible change being discussed is making screeners available via the same website as digital ballots.
The academy has considered creating a dramedy field and increasing the number of nominees in certain categories but has thus far declined to do either. With the number of hours of original programming across all platforms continuing to grow, the Emmys will only become more competitive.
Not everyone is unhappy about that. Like Greenblatt and Tassler, Fox Networks Group chairman and CEO Peter Rice contends that broadcasters, with their content restrictions and demanding production schedules, face challenges that cable networks do not. But he doesn’t believe that’s reason to change the Emmys. “I’m a little old fashioned when it comes to awards,” Rice said. “I think that less is more.”