New Voting Rules Could Change the Race

There have recently been alterations to the voting process in the Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy races. In the past when casting ballots for the winner of these categories, Emmy voters would view two episodes from each of the shows nominated and were asked to judge based on what they saw. The Television Academy members who were voting in these races were divided into three groups and watched episodes exclusive to each group.

For instance, the episode submissions for Drama Series winner Breaking Bad last year were:

Tape A – “Confessions” & “Rabid Dog”
Tape B – “To’hajiilee” & “Ozymandias”
Tape C – “Granite State” & “Felina”

But now, that method of voting is over in the big races. The previous process will continue to be used for the acting races where each nominated actor submits a single episode to the judges for the win. Instead, the tape system will be abolished, and voters will have the option to watch all six of a show’s submitted episodes. The six episodes will be posted online, rather than having two episodes being sent to voters via DVDs. So, if the race last year would have been conducted using these rules, voters would have the opportunity to view all of the Breaking Bad submissions on the voting web site, listed as such:

  • “Confessions”
  • “Rabid Dog”
  • “To’hajiilee”
  • “Ozymandias”
  • “Granite State”
  • “Felina”

While this could benefit shows that take time to develop impact if voters take the time to watch all six episodes, there are a several different ways the adjustment to the Emmy’s informed, democratic process could be problematic.

The Emmys, especially in the acting races where the old method is used, hold a certain degree of fairness because voters were required to watch all of the best work selected by the nominees themselves prior to making their final voting decision. But under the amended rules, the Emmys may be strolling down an avenue where popularity and momentary buzz is taken more into account and will have similar types of winners as the Screen Actors Guild or the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. This could be the first step in the quality of episodes becoming irrelevant.

Because there is no clear frontrunner in the drama category, the new method could be of advantage to some shows while others could find themselves victims of the loss of a suffocating buzz even if they manage to break into the nominee circle and have winning episodes to submit. Arguably, the following are the top ten shows competing for the 2015 Drama Series honor, and the dynamic of each of these shows will now shift under the rule modification:

  • The Affair
  • Better Call Saul
  • Downton Abbey
  • Game of Thrones
  • The Good Wife
  • Empire
  • Homeland
  • House of Cards
  • Mad Men
  • Orange is the New Black

The Good Wife and Homeland are the two contenders most damaged by the switch from a controlled two-episodes per tape consideration screening to a more casual online presentation. These shows were once at the top of Emmy favorite’s list and fell out of the race around their third year. But they both had critical resurgences, The Good Wife in its fifth season last year, acclaim and enthusiasm by fans that carried over to this year’s sixth season, and Homeland’s fourth season this year after a dismal third season. If they manage to pull themselves back into serious contention, both have a plethora of episodes from the 2014-2015 season that would have compelled voters to be swayed their way for the win. And these are not just individual episodes of sterling quality, but ones that fit perfectly together as a combo-pack for the tape system—such as sharing similar themes/storylines, a variety of emotional and thrilling drama, accessibility to voters who do not watch the shows regularly.

For example:

The Good Wife

  • Tape A: The Line and Oppo Research
  • Tape B: Sticky Content and The Trial
  • Tape C: Hail Mary and Mind’s Eye
  • Alternates: Loser Edit and Undisclosed Recipients


  • Tape A: From A to B and Back Again and Redux
  • Tape B: Halfway to a Donut and There’s Something Else Going On
  • Tape C: 13 Hours to Islamabad and Krieg Nicht Lieb
  • Alternates: Drone Queen and Long Time Coming

But the problem with both shows being competitive in the Drama Series category under the new system is the Emmy’s tendency to forget about a show after said show misses the cut for a nomination once. The Golden Globes are much better at detecting the shows that really accomplish something in their current seasons, whereas it seems the Emmys rely on the previous year’s nominees to guide them through the initial voting process. The Good Wife, for example, had its greatest season last year and was handsomely rewarded by critics and the HFPA, but the Emmys snubbed it in the non-acting major categories and most credit that to the fact that it dropped out of the Drama Series race after its second season. Like The Good Wife, Homeland enjoyed a vacation period as one of the most rewarded shows its first two years (it won Drama Series in 2012), but fell from grace in Season Three.

These shows are not considered novel anymore (at least when compared to the likes of Empire and The Affair), so if they did manage to get voted back into the race, then voters would probably disregard their worth just based off a “been there, done that attitude.” If Academy members were required to watch the shows under the tape system before voting, then they could see killer strengths in their storytelling and maybe feel prompted to rank the shows higher in their final tally. Without the standard of the tape system and the assurance that voters undoubtedly watch the contenders, some of the best quality could go unnoticed.

While some shows will ultimately expire in this race because of the new rule, others have the opportunity to prosper. When the final seven Drama Series nominees are selected, I cannot imagine even the most scrupulous voter reserving 42 hours to watch each of the six episodes from all seven shows before turning in their ballot. Having voters watch 14 hours (two episodes per seven shows) seems more feasible. But the freedom from the tape system could unleash a harnessed show like Game of Thrones. I challenge even the most stalwart fans of the epic saga to affirm that the older members of the Academy would enjoy sitting through hours of watching Game of Thrones, trying to invest in an alienating genre-based series, staying awake amidst the slower pace, and following the muddled storylines if one hasn’t read the books. But voters could exhibit a single episode (or simply skip the episodes and vote based on what they know about the show), appreciate something like the much heralded zombie fight in “Hardhome” and rank it higher on the ballot due to the spectacular visuals and sheer ambition of the HBO project.

Other contenders that could positively be affected by the changes in the voting process are Empire, The Affair, and Orange is the New Black because of their freshness and cultural impact. Emmy judges not being required to delve too deeply into Empire’s slightly off-putting soap opera tone could be its biggest boost for the win. The show is a smash-hit with viewers and has taken off like so few have in recent years with the mainstream viewers, and that buzz could open up a door for it to sneak up behind the more prestigious shows. Voters could also view the pilot for The Affair, be impressed with its structural creativity, and vote for it as a cool, new contraption. Orange is the New Black is required by the Academy to transition from the comedy race to the drama category this year. Many thought it could have given Modern Family a run for its money last year. It didn’t, but that buzz is still floating in the air, especially with its status as a “must-see” show among new-age television buffs.

If there were any show that was the topic of conversation amongst people in the industry over the past year, it was Mad Men and its final seven episodes, and in particular, the finale, “Person-to-Person.” Who wasn’t trading thoughts with a friend about the final revelations the following morning? An idea that has been considered for the Emmys this year is the notion that voters will want to embrace the show one last time and say goodbye by showering it with Emmy-love. Initially, I rejected the idea because of the beginning episodes feeling so dry, thinking they would not hold up if judged on the tape-system. But Mad Men is now free for voters to pick and choose whichever episodes they desire to watch, and it can be assumed that most will bid for the satisfying, clever finale. I would guess that most of the industry probably has already seen the final Mad Men episodes, which is a huge plus for a show Emmy voters have already demonstrated their respect for (remember when it won four consecutive the Drama Series titles?). Chances are, they probably were moved by events and resolutions that transpired in the final chapters, which also helps its case. Having the old rules discontinued could allow the good will from the past eight years of Mad Men to reach a rewarding zenith.

Better Call Saul and Downton Abbey are two options whose support remains stationary regardless of the voting process. Better Call Saul is the spinoff to the incumbent drama series winner, so being associated with Breaking Bad should be enough for voters to recognize with a nomination. The chances of another Vince Gilligan-flavored drama (in its first season no less) winning feels less favorable. Downton Abbey is to an older Academy member what Game of Thrones is to fantasy-genre devotees. It’s what want they watch. It’s where they want to place their vote. The show has served well as an easy ballot-filler show (though never triumphed in the Drama Series category) and just completed one of its most acclaimed seasons. If voters want to show their love for Downton Abbey in a big way, then this may be the time.

House of Cards is a possibility that could win Outstanding Drama Series under the retired tapes system and newly ratified online episode process. It was put on the backburner for its first two seasons because Breaking Bad was such an unbeatable force. With Breaking Bad complete and the star-studded True Detective not in competition, House of Cards is positioned as the default frontrunner. It’s the type of the show that is more appealing to voters than we tend to give it credit for. The production values are rich, it’s led by two highly regarded movie stars, the political subject matter is a sexy topic for the Emmys, and most importantly, the narrative is very much in-tune for what voters will want to watch (strong story, comprehensible, entertaining, snob appeal, ect.)

Many fans have been skeptical of its chances since the third season focuses less on the diabolical, sinfully funny rise to power for the Underwoods and more of a more character-driven investigation of their marriage. Internet buzz seems to consider Season Three of House of Cards weaker than the first two, but I can see the Emmys being enticed by it in a different way. There’s more of a human element to Frank and Claire this round. They aren’t portrayed as evil cartoon characters but as two people being engulfed in a complicated marriage while trying to maintain professional power. It’s easier to root for the Underwoods this time and empathize with the story more as we see most of it through the perspective of Robin Wright’s Claire who was mostly an untapped resource in the first two seasons. House of Cards also represents a new milestone in television exhibition, Netflix’s growing streaming services, which is something more important to industry-based Academy members voting than to the fans watching at home.

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