Emmy Tracker: A 2016 Emmy Postmortem

The 2016 Emmy season is finally over. As to be expected, Television Academy voters threw curve ball after curve ball with their selections for the best TV of the year. After gratingly endless months of speculation, there was a bizarre mixture of first-time and repeat winners taking to the podium. Vote splitting occurred sometimes, but suddenly the Television Academy shocked everyone by proving they paid attention to the material. These are the biggest takeaways from the biggest night in television.

Vote Splitting Happened…

After all of the “What if?” buzz of whether or not a popular vote would enable vote splitting, it turns out that in the drama and comedy races vote splitting was a factor. No one was able to overcome their co-star nominee obstacle except for Game of Thrones in the directing race. Veep won the top prize for the second year in a row, but it lost both the directing and writing race where its episodes represented half of each category. The acting branch clearly loved Game of Thrones, but the entire cast went home empty handed. In the future, it will be interesting if this affects how shows and networks submit their work to be considered. Will we see fewer episodes submitted for writing and directing? Will certain cast members be left out when they don’t have the material to warrant a nomination?

…Except When It Didn’t

It seems that the Limited Series/TV Movie winners are able to overcome vote splittingvance2 in a lot of areas. From Courtney B. Vance to Sterling K. Brown to Sarah Paulson, the argument can be made that the best performances prevailed. The writers were able to overcome vote splitting by simply choosing the best episode of American Crime Story, “Marcia Marcia Marcia.” The main factor that led to this might be that most voters actually watched the limited series and TV movies since they don’t require that much of a commitment. Voters are able to make thoughtful decisions and determine Sterling K. Brown was the standout of his ensemble and that Bryan Cranston’s LBJ can’t hold a flame to Vance’s Johnnie Cochran. With the drama and comedy races voters simply don’t have the time to catch up on anything so they probably rely on outside factors to come to a decision.

How Did Tatiana Maslany Pull Off The Biggest Upset of The Night?

With the plurality vote replacing the ranked ballot, there might be a new form of “vote splitting” happening that has nothing to do with co-stars or shows. Tatiana Maslany was able to win her first Emmy because she gives one of the most unique and skilled performances on TV and because she is essentially the apple in a bag of oranges. In the old ranked ballot system, similar performances were able to battle it out and attract similar voters. Now that voters are simply marking off their favorite performances, actors like Maslany are on an even playing field because they can attract their passionate fans without fear of being ranked at the bottom of voters who might have biases against a show like Orphan Black. Actresses like Davis and Wright (both very respected actresses in their 50’s) probably attract similar voters.  The same could be said for a newcomer like Rami Malek when he’s nominated against well-liked and well-known actors like Kevin Spacey and Kyle Chandler.

Fandoms Prevailed

Some of the biggest surprises of the year came from the popular vote allowing fresher, fandom-based winners. From RuPaul’s Drag Race to Tatiana Maslany to Sherlock and even Rami Malek, shows and performances that lean towards the genre-specific geek fandoms took home multiple awards. Performances like Rami Malek and Tatiana Maslany clearly appeal to actors on a craft level, but a couple of years ago the two drama winners would have never been from BBC America and USA.

Newcomers Finally Embraced

Eight of tonight’s acting winners were first time winners which made 2016 the most successful year for first-time winners since 2011. Kate McKinnon, Louie Anderson, Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, Courtney B. Vance, Tatiana Maslany, Rami Malek, and Ben Mendelsohn all won their first Emmys this year. For five of these winners, it was even their first time being nominated. The excitement behind the first-time winners was often the best part of the night, especially with the cast for Brown and Vance who have gone unrecognized for so long.  The worry that new shows and performances couldn’t win under the new popular system proved to be wrong, at least once the Television Academy eliminated the ranked ballot.

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The Biggest Surprises of the Night

  • Sherlock: The Abominable Bride – The PBS show proved in the past that it’s a force to be reckoned with at the Emmys, but after an underwhelming turnout in nominations no one took the newest installment seriously.
  • Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline  – Mendelsohn has an appeal that a lot of people (myself included) don’t understand. More voters than anyone was expecting clearly watched Bloodline, and, even though he didn’t have the material to warrant a win this year, we know that voters are always a year or two behind.
  • Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black  – Tatiana Maslany might be the biggest shock of the year as well as the single biggest triumph of the internet pushing a performance to awards triumph. It took a couple seasons, but voters got over their sci-fi bias and realized how legendary Maslany’s endless pool of characters is.
  • Louie Anderson, Baskets – All season long, I underestimated Anderson appeal on a low-rated show. Instead, there was a lot of passion behind his performance and him as a comedian.
  • The Night Manager, Directing – Foreign film Oscar-winner Susanne Bier beat out big names like Ryan Murphy, John Singleton, and Emmy-favorite Jay Roach to become the biggest shock of the behind-the-camera races of the night.
  • Key and Peele Key & Peele finally earned the recognition it always deserved in its final season. In a habit of rewarding the same shows year after year, Inside Amy Schumer won the directing award last weekend. It was poised to win the top variety sketch award for the second year in a row, but voters instead rallied behind Key & Peele. We should have seen this coming after the attention they earned from their first summer blockbuster Keanu and that surprise SAG ensemble nomination earlier this year.

Readers, what were your takeaways from this year’s Emmy awards? Sound off in the comments below and check back in next week for our continued awards tracker as we begin to take a look at the end of year awards races including the Golden Globes, SAG awards, and the Critics’ Choice.

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