Jalal Haddad looks at what goes on behind the scenes as members of the Television Academy select the winners of the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards.
The 69th Annual Primetime Emmy® nominations were announced last week celebrating new shows from Atlanta and Stanger Things to old favorites like Veep and House of Cards. With nearly a month until Television Academy members make their final decisions on the best television of the past year, now is the perfect time for a quick refresher on just how winners are decided.
Who decides the winners?
The Television Academy consists of 22,000+ industry professionals including actors, directors, sound mixers, and casting directors. Three years ago, voting opened up to the entire eligible membership. That meant that the massive voting body helps to decide the winners in the 19 program categories including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding TV Movie, and Outstanding Short Form Series.
The individual achievement categories, on the other hand, are more restrictive. Only members of a given branch are eligible to cast a vote. The Television Academy holds 29 various branches including performers, television executives, interactive media, and the newest peer group choreography. Members of each group are the only members eligible to cast votes in those specific categories. That means actors vote for actors, writers vote for writers, and so forth.
In recent years, the Television Academy put a lot of effort into modernizing the Emmys voting process. They completely moved on from paper ballots and instead vote electronically through a secure platform tabulated by the accountants of Ernst & Young. The official submitted episodes are now available online, although throughout the season networks send most voters physical copies of all of the main competition as well.
Prior to 2015 in order to vote in the final round, Television Academy members volunteered to be a part of a blue ribbon panel for a randomly assigned category (either a program category or one within their peer group). Each category was then voted on by dozens of members in the individual achievement races or a couple hundred members for the program categories. These blue ribbon panels were then counted on to screen the official submitted episodes and decide the winners. From 2002-2014, voters screened all of the submitted tapes on official Emmy DVDs in the privacy of their own homes. However prior to that, the jury panels met at the Television Academy and local hotels to view the material.
Now that voting opened up to the entire membership, there have been many questions on whether voters actually screen and judge the submitted episodes or simply mark off their favorite shows. The Television Academy does not heavily police the voting process, and voters are entrusted with an honor system of an electronic signature stating they viewed all of the material before voting.
Starting last year, the winners were decided on by a simple popular vote with the hope that it opens up opportunities for shows with passionate support to be rewarded. After voting was opened up to the entire membership and the popular vote was enacted, we saw a lot of surprise winners like cult-favorite Tatiana Maslany for Orphan Black as well as Kate McKinnon finally breaking the SNL curse and becoming the first regular cast member to win a supporting award.
Before the Television Academy switched to a popular vote, the winners were determined by ranked ballots. Voters ranked their ballots from their favorites to their least favorites, leading to winners with a strong consensus support. These ranked ballots came under scrutiny after the Emmys were overcome with repeat winners mostly from well-respected actors within the industry like Jim Parsons, Tony Shaloub, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who has been able to win under every rule change).
Now with a popular vote, no prediction is too crazy. Categories with six nominees could potentially be determined by a mere 17% while the categories with seven nominees theoretically could win with only 15% of the vote. Shocking wins last year like Ben Mendelsohn and Peter Scolari (who wasn’t even originally nominated) might be accredited to this.
After Television Academy members cast their ballots in the 2-week voting period, the winners are tabulated through the secure online platform and then physically double-checked by the accountants of Ernst & Young.
The 2017 Calendar
The nominees were officially announced last week, and now voters have an entire month to catch up on all of the nominees before final round voting begins on August 14th. Then all eligible Television Academy members will have two weeks to cast their online ballots until voting closes on August 28th. Then, votes will be tabulated, and the winners will be announced at the Creative Arts Emmys on September 9th & 10th and the Primetime Emmy Awards on September 17th.
This year with the announcement of the nominees, the Emmys also released an infographic detailing just how an Emmy is won.