When Orphan Black premiered last year, critics and fans alike were dazzled by the lead performance of Canadian newcomer Tatiana Maslany. The role required an immense task from her: playing no less than seven different characters, each with different accents, mannerisms, and personalities. Maslany managed to make each work a distinct, fully realized character, even when she was asked to play scenes opposite herself, or take on the daunting task of playing one character impersonating another. So when television critics hailed her performance as transcendent, should an Emmy nomination not follow? When the Emmy Award nominations were announced, however, Maslany was left out in the cold. So if one of the best performances on television is on Orphan Black… why no Emmy love?
The first and most simple explanation for this oversight is that the Emmy voters are not watching that much television. Though that may sound insane, a closer examination reveals a disheartening trend. The Emmys are voted on by the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences, similar to the way the Oscars are voted on by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. The academy is made up of many senior members of the entertainment industry who have had success, i.e. often older, white men… men who may not necessarily choose to watch a show like Orphan Black. In fact, they may not watch most shows airing, and they are not required to. If they were, they would be television critics.
There are two major bodies of television critics who give out awards. The first is the Television Critics Association, who every year give out TCA Awards. Their 2013 award for Individual Achievement in Drama, which encompasses all performers, male or female, supporting or lead, went to Tatiana Maslany for Orphan Black. Essentially, those who actually watch television found her performance to be the best of the year. The second group of critics is the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, who annually give out the Critic’s Choice Awards. Their drama winners for 2013 included Maslany for lead actress in a drama, Michael Cudlitz from Southland for supporting actor in a drama, and Monica Potter from Parenthood for supporting actress in a drama. Those three performances have two things in common: first, they were some of the most stunning and raw pieces of acting for the year. Second, none of them were nominated for Emmy Awards. Once again, this is why there is no Emmy love for Orphan Black and many of the other best performances of the year.
The Emmy voting base simply does not watch those shows, and therefore regardless of what were the true best shows or performances, they will only nominate what they already know. The best way to be nominated for an Emmy is to have already been nominated–this is how shows like Two and a Half Men, though critically reviled, get repeated nominations year after year. Emmy voters are generally older and do not care for shows in the science-fiction genre, the one exception being the writer’s branch. The writing category is where critically beloved genre shows that were overlooked by the Emmys, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Battlestar Galactica, did in fact score nominations. So while fans may question why Orphan Black gets no Emmy love, they should take comfort in knowing it is because the Emmy voters simply are not informed television fans. It is the television critics who truly know where television’s best is.
Opinion By Alex Warheit