2015 will undoubtedly go down in history as the year that Emmy voters decided to keep all of us on our toes. After lulling us into a false sense of security by nominating — and giving trophies to — the same shows year after year, the awards show finally mixed things up. But, I have to wonder: were the Emmy Awards' rule changes to thank for this? After all, the show seemingly made a 180 turn by finally snubbing repeat nominees like The Big Bang Theory, and finally nominating repeat snubs, like Tatiana Maslany for Orphan Black. (Of course, not everything changed: Downton Abbey still scored its fifth consecutive nomination over such critically-acclaimed shows as The Americans, Empire, and The Good Wife.)
The nominations were certainly a mixed bag. While some under-appreciated series slid into surprise nominations on the back of the Emmys' alterations, others suffered some unexpected side effects. But even in spite of the shows whose chances may have been hurt by the changes, I think we can all agree that generally they're a good thing — and that there are even more to be made. As Television Academy chair Bruce Rosenblum said when he announced the changes, "Our over 17,000 voting members represent a dramatically changing television industry, and we need to continue to make sure we honor their creativity in the most relevant and fair ways possible. As our growing membership creates and produces more content for ever-changing platforms, today’s changes in the rules and procedures are vital. We’re sure that in coming years we will continue to evolve our rules as our dynamic industry grows.”
Here are all the changes that were instituted, along with which shows these changes helped — and which they hurt:
1. There Are More Series Nominees
Reflecting the fact that there are simply more programs on the air now than ever before, both the Drama and Comedy categories were expanded from six to seven in order to include a wider range of shows. Obviously this particular change didn't hurt anybody's chances at nabbing a nom. And while the rosters are still filled with a lot of the usual suspects (Game Of Thrones, Mad Men, Modern Family, Veep), there is at least one show that undeniably benefited from the addition of one extra slot: NBC's Parks And Recreation — which had only earned one Outstanding Comedy Series nomination in its previous six years — was rightfully recognized for its critically-acclaimed final season.
2. Comedies Are Defined As Half-Hour Shows
Attempting to tackle the increasing prevalence of "dramedies" on the air, the Television Academy finally defined a "comedy" as any show that ran for 30 minutes per episode, and a "drama" as any show that ran for an hour. Of course, they immediately blurred this hard line by allowing shows to petition to change categories: Glee, Jane The Virgin, and Shameless all did this successfully. (For all the good it did them; those three series landed a total of four nominations between them.) However, Netflix's Orange Is The New Black was unsuccessful in its petition, and was forced to compete in the Drama category despite having been a Comedy at least year's ceremony. This definitely hurt the popular prison dramedy, which only managed to rack up five nominations in comparison to last year's 12.
3. The Mini-Series/TV Movie Category Is Split
As anthology series like FX's American Horror Story and HBO's True Detective become increasingly popular, the Television Academy was forced to make room for them by splitting up its previous Mini-Series/TV Movie field into two separate categories: one for the made-for-TV movies, and another for the newly-renamed "Limited Series" (which are defined by the Emmys as "programs of two or more episodes with a total running time of at least 150 program minutes that tell a complete, non-recurring story, and do not have an ongoing storyline and/or main characters in subsequent seasons"). The division of the categories means that some underrated gems like HBO's Hello Ladies: The Movie and ABC's American Crime got to sneak in alongside such heavy-hitters as American Horror Story: Freak Show and Olive Kitteridge.
4. Guest Actors Are Actually Guests
The Television Academy put down their foot this year when it comes to guest performers, no longer indulging shows with a habit of sneaking in crucial players by simply calling them "guest stars." In order to be considered for the Guest categories, actors are now required to appear in fewer than 50% of a season's episodes — otherwise they have to compete in the Supporting category. This change would have put the kibosh on the past three consecutive winners of the Guest Actor in a Drama Series: Justified's Jeremy Davies (who appeared in seven of his season's 13 episodes), Scandal's Dan Bucatinsky (12 out of 22 episodes), and Scandal's Joe Morton (18 out of 18 episodes). Yes, Morton somehow won the award for Outstanding Guest Actor last year even though he appeared in every single episode of his show that season.
5. More Variety Programs Get Nominated
Miniseries and TV movies aren't the only programs that broke up this year. The Outstanding Variety Series was split into Variety Talk Series and Variety Sketch Series (even though only the former will be broadcast live during the ceremony; the latter will be relegated to the un-aired Creative Arts Emmys). This means that while usual suspects like The Colbert Report, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, and Jimmy Kimmel Live! continue to dominate the Talk category, other woulda-been-snubbed shows like Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele, and Portlandia get a chance to shine in their own category.
Images: Greg Gayne/NBC; Jessica Miglio/Netflix; Ryan Green, Nicole Wilder/ABC; Comedy Central