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A Plan to Fix the Emmys


The 2023 Primetime Emmy Awards, initially scheduled for September of last year, took place on a Monday night in the middle of January 2024, a shift caused by the writers’ and actors’ strikes as well as the 21st century’s never-ending appetite for chaos. Ratings indicate the decision to air the annual ceremony on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in the middle of NFL playoffs and the winter awards season, was ill-advised: Only 4.3 million viewers tuned in, the lowest number in the history of the broadcast.

Yes, this was an especially freaky year for the Emmys; it’s also true that awards shows don’t command the high ratings they once did. But post-pandemic, many of the major ceremonies — including the Oscars, the Grammys, and the Golden Globes — have seen upticks in viewership. If the show about the medium most Americans engage with every day can’t command attention, that suggests it’s time for a reboot. Stuck in an antiquated eligibility window and relegated to a late-summer/early fall ceremony slot, TV’s highest honors exist on a timeline far removed from the one where TV fans interact. It’s time to throw out the old ways and start afresh by slotting the Emmys into awards season permanently. Allow me to explain.

Wait, why are the Emmys in September anyway? And why does the eligibility period straddle years?

When broadcast television was still the cornerstone of the industry and its season started in September, ended in May, and, generally speaking, took a break in the summer, that June-to-June timeline reflected the ebb and flow of high-profile programming. Holding the Emmys in September allowed TV to celebrate itself at the beginning of its season, an ideal moment to hype new and returning shows during the Emmys broadcast.

But TV hasn’t worked like that for years. It doesn’t take programming breaks or function on the fall-to-spring timetable anymore. Some of the strongest shows debut in the spring and summer months; see the recent seasons of Succession, Beef, and The Bear, which dominated the wins on Monday night — although in some cases, that’s because the networks and streamers purposely schedule them to be top of mind for Emmy considerations. Others are reserved for the end of the calendar year (the nominated seasons of The Crown, Wednesday, and Fleishman Is in Trouble all came out in November), because the holidays are a heavy TV-watching time and that’s also when critics write their lists of the year’s top shows. You know: at the end of the actual year.

Obviously the 75th Emmys had especially bizarro vibes because of the delay. But even if the ceremony had happened in September as usual, the nominees would have still felt out of sync with the present moment. Honoring the first season of The Bear two months after the second came out is disorienting. So were the Emmy nods for Better Call Saul’s final season, which aired more than a year before September 2023. TV is an art form that, especially now, has a sense of immediacy and urgency around it. We consume a lot of episodes, and once we’ve consumed them we want to talk about them right away, not a year-plus after they premiered. There is no longer a persuasive reason for the Emmys qualifying period to begin in June and close the following May other than the fact that it’s always been done that way. And always, without exception, “It’s always been done that way” is the worst reason to continue doing anything.

Okay, fine: Let’s say we all agree that the timing of Emmy voting and the ceremony should change. How would that work logistically?

For starters, there would have to be one weird year where the Emmys included shows released from June through December of the following year. Limbo Emmys. Yes, the ceremony would still have that “This show came out how long ago?” problem. But after that, the Emmys would cover programming released from January 1 to December 31, and that weirdness would go away. We survived a 75th Emmys that felt way out of date. We can survive one more, especially if they put things on a more logical track for the long term.

Hold on, though. That wouldn’t be fair to all the shows and creatives who, for that transitional year, would have to compete against 18 months’ worth of programming.

That’s a good point. But if the number of streamers and total shows begins to contract in this post–Peak TV era as expected, then potential nominees would face a similar number of competitors as they have in recent years — maybe even fewer! In 2020, 199 shows were submitted in the outstanding drama category. In 2023, that number shrank to 163. Those numbers will keep going down. It’s the perfect time for this adjustment. Besides, a lot of things that happen in Hollywood are unfair. Better Call Saul never winning a single Emmy is unfair. Reservation Dogs not getting any Emmy nominations is unfair. Shows getting removed from streaming platforms willy-nilly is unfair. This transitional situation would only be mildly unfair for one year, which is a damn bargain by industry standards.

Okay, but what are you going to do, hold the Emmys in January when there are 8 million awards shows on?

No, we are not going to hold them in January, because all awards shows should be held on Sunday (this is not negotiable) and the NFL plays on all Sundays in January except one — the bye week between the end of the regular season and the Super Bowl, a date which is always occupied by the Grammys. As we learned Monday night, putting the Emmys opposite an NFL playoff game is a recipe for ratings failure. (It also was a real inconvenience for Rob McElhenney and no one wants that again.) There’s a simple solution here: Hold the Emmys on a Sunday night in February after the Super Bowl but before the Oscars. There’s certainly a Sunday in there that would work. And do not tell me that the People’s Choice Awards can’t be moved because those nonsensical trophies have been rescheduled on many previous occasions.

But there’s already so many awards shows at the beginning of the year! It’s too much!

I hear that. It is a lot. But there’s something to be said for having a true awards season where all the biggies — minus the Tonys, I don’t have the bandwidth to argue for them to move right now — happen in a matter of weeks and then they’re all done. Putting the Emmys in the mix during a period typically dominated by movie talk might also put an end to the stupid but nevertheless persistent notion that film is somehow “better” than TV.

Yeah, but the Emmys happened in the middle of awards season this year and look how that turned out.

True, but (a) they were competing against football, and (b) no one knew the damn thing was even happening that night. If it became a tradition for awards season to include the Emmys, viewers would be prepared for that and less likely to forget about the broadcast because they’d be conditioned to watch awards shows during that specific time period. Do people forget that there are basketball games midway through the NCAA tournament? They do not! It actually might help the Emmys’ cred to treat it as part of the awards-season club instead of some outlier who isn’t cool enough to sit at the popular table. It also would celebrate the year in television at precisely the right time: shortly after the year in television ended. That’s what TV, at its best, is so good at doing: capturing the spirit of a moment while that moment is still happening. The Emmys ceremony should at least be as relevant as the shows it honors.

All right, smarty, how are people involved in both movie and TV projects going to campaign for both at the same time? How many FYC events and galas do you think we can stand in a short period of time, you monster??

Again, I get it: Awards season is already overstuffed and adding the Emmys to it threatens to make the whole endeavor explode, leaving nothing behind but the distant sound of Laverne Cox telling a celebrity they’re iconic. But that’s because Hollywood has created a system where actors and other creatives are expected to circulate at a bunch of events that are supposed to boost their chances at a nomination even though, famously, the work should speak for itself.

So here’s an idea: Let the work speak for itself. Not entirely — there can still be parties and special screenings and whatnot. But maybe studios should limit how many of those events they host so people don’t feel overloaded. Then, they could take the money they would’ve spent on that seventh Barbie post-screening reception and spend it on other things like, I don’t know, paying smart writers and filmmakers their worth so they can put risky, original stories — you know, other Barbies — on TV and in theaters.

That’s what the strikes were about, after all. If those work stoppages taught us anything, it’s that the industry needs to reconsider how it does a lot of things. Including the Emmy Awards.

More From This Series

  • Trend Alert! The Emmys Score Record-Low Ratings for 5th Time in 6 Years
  • There Was a Green-Goblin Queen Roaming the Emmys Carpet
  • It’s Football Time for Rob McElhenney





Jen Chaney , 2024-01-18 15:54:46

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