New Definitions of Comedy, Drama for Emmy Awards

Emmy Awards

Television shows like Orange Is the New Black, Downton Abbey and Girls offer some great laughs and some truly bittersweet, dramatic moments. Fans like them and many other “dramedys” (drama and comedy combinations), but the entertainment industry has never known how to categorize them. So the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which presents the Emmy Awards, has developed new definitions of comedy, drama, limited series and other categories for their purposes.

The TV landscape is changing dramatically as more people watch “television” shows from Netflix and Amazon or stream shows from more traditional networks via computer. So, the television academy decided to make numerous revisions to its categories awards for the purposes of the Primetime Emmy Awards and set rules on what is a comedy versus a drama.

The academy decided that a “comedy” series will be defined as a show that is regularly 30 minutes or shorter per episode. They decided a “drama” series is a show that is regularly more than 30 minutes long. This clearly shows that the content does not matter or is so blurred in both genres that the labels are meaningless for the Emmy Awards. Why not label the categories “30 minutes or less,” “one hour,” “two hours (TV movies),” and “longer” for miniseries?

In the past, they asked the people who made the show which Emmy Awards category they wanted to compete in. This meant that some shows would compete as a comedy in one awards competition and as a drama in another, adding further to the confusion.

The new definition will affect several fan favorites. Shameless and Orange Is the New Black have always competed in the comedy category for the Emmy Awards, the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, etc. But they are one-hour shows, so they will no longer be a comedy (at least for Emmy purposes). Furthermore, in the past, Uzo Aduba, Kate Mulgrew and Taylor Schilling were nominated for comedy acting categories in several awards competitions. Looking back in time, Sex and the City and Allie McBeal, both of which had funny and dramatic twists, won Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series in their heyday. However, under the new rules, both shows would have been considered to be dramas. The Emmy Awards rules change did leave shows an out; producers will be able to petition the academy to allow a show to compete in a different area on a case-by-case basis.

The Emmy Awards also changed the miniseries category to “Limited Series.” It used to be that a miniseries aired for a few episodes and then was over (Think last year’s The Honorable Woman.). But, True Detective and American Horror Story have forced the academy to better define this area.

The academy defined a “limited series” as one with two or more episodes and is at least 2-1/2 hours long. Furthermore, it must tell a “complete, non-recurring story” and the characters or ongoing storylines cannot reappear in following seasons. By this definition, True Detective is a limited series since its cast, locale and plot for the next season will not resemble the previous one. However, shows such as Luther, American Horror Story and Sherlock will no longer be eligible for this category because characters appear in more than one season.

There were rule changes in several other categories too that better defined eligibility for nominations. For example, “supporting actors” are in most episodes of a series, but guest stars make appearances for a particular storyline. In addition, they changed the number of shows that can be nominated and who votes for them.

Lastly, the timing for the annual Primetime Emmy awards show is going back to its old late September date, This year’s Emmy Awards will be held on Sept. 20 and, for the industry, everyone can see what impact the new definitions of comedy and drama shows will have.

By Dyanne Weiss

Los Angeles Times

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