Five Key Takeaways – IndieWire

This year’s Primetime Emmy nominations once again prove how hard it is to keep up with all the changes in the television landscape. If the narrative last year was about there being too much TV coming out of the pandemic, this year swung in the opposite direction, with shows being canceled and expunged from their home platforms within months of airing, and a complete work stoppage looming due to the ongoing Writers Guild strike, and SAG-AFTRA negotiations still going downhill. Almost fitting that the final season of “Succession,” a beloved satire poking at corporate greed on such a minute level that there is even a plot point about a streaming service’s shaky viewership numbers, be the most nominated show of the year. 

Here we breakdown five key takeaways from the 2023 Emmy nominations, that both add to the doom and gloom, and offer some silver linings about the future of awards-worthy TV.

1. New Rules, Same Voters

Two young heterosexual couples toast champagne on a dock in front of the sea and mountains; still from
“The White Lotus”HBO

This year, the Television Academy was very purposeful about making rule changes that would push its voting body to change and adapt. “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” got moved out of what is now the Outstanding Talk Series category, so that the Emmys would do a better job of supporting traditional late night talk shows that have to produce episodes at a much higher frequency. Top-tier documentaries that had Oscar runs, like “The Territory,” “Moonage Daydream,” and “Last Flight Home,” were allowed back into Emmy contention. 

For the most part, those changes went over how the Academy seemingly wanted them to go. A less remarked upon change that everyone was looking at with the hopes that it would lead to more shows being recognized was a cap on nomination voting. TV Academy members used to have free rein choosing whatever actors they think deserved a nod, but got limited this year to only voting for as many nominees as there would be in the end (e.g. if there was going to be five slots for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, a voter could only suggest five nominees). 

Even with the options to choose as many possible nominees as they want, and then cut the list down to select finalists, categories like Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series prove that TV Academy voters just do not think about spreading the wealth in the same way outside Emmy enthusiasts do. And it is not exactly an unrelatable line of thinking. If “Succession” and “The White Lotus” are the Outstanding Drama Series in one’s eyes, why add any more limits on which stars deserve to be honored? As much as it would be nice to see the TV Academy open up to watching more deserving shows and networks, only one of them is going to win the category. The nomination can’t be the only win a show is going for.

2. Some of the Big Streaming Breakthroughs Came From Unexpected Places

Weird: The Al Yankovic StoryAaron Epstein / Roku

The lack of major Emmy nominations for some of the main contenders in the streaming wars like Peacock and Paramount+ would lead one to believe that voters only watch shows on a handful of channels, but TV Academy members honored a wider array of platforms than they’re given credit for. Just look at how many nominations The Roku Channel got in the Short Form and Limited or Anthology Series or Movie categories. Projects like “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” and “Die Hart 2: Die Harter” exceeding all expectations prove that the streaming device manufacturer is playing it smart with its entrance into original content, building a name for itself in the ever-changing TV Movie space, and giving its Quibi acquisitions their proper due.

Seeing the BET+ series “The Ms. Pat Show” get an Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series a second year in a row, or “My Transparent Life,” a film streaming for free on Tubi, get Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special nomination over something like Hulu’s “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields,” which had a campaign complete with a Sundance premiere, does give hope that the right projects get considered no matter their scope. However, all this mixed with the Outstanding Comedy Series nomination for Amazon FreeVee’s surprise hit “Jury Duty” points to accessibility being a major boost. Of the aforementioned services, only BET+ charges a subscription fee (though six dollars is well below average prices). FreeVee and Tubi are advertising-based video on-demand platforms, so anyone with an account and internet access can watch them. A Roku account comes with most smart TVs, so access to The Roku Channel is right on the devices homepage. 

It seems Emmy voters are more willing to consider all kinds of programs, they just are not too eager to have to pay a subscription fee to watch them.

3. TV movies have finally found their footing.

PREY, from left: Amber Midthunder, Dane DiLiegro as Predator, 2022. ph: David Bukach / © Hulu / Courtesy Everett Collection
“Prey”©Hulu/Courtesy Everett Collection

While on the subject of Roku, and its success with “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” one reassuring thing to see with Emmy nominations this year is TV movies get recognized in more than just their dedicated category. There was a time not too long ago where limited or anthology series and television movies shared a category, so when it came to recognize the actors, writers, and directors behind them, there would regularly be a mix of the types of projects that make the cut in those categories. But between the categories being split up and the Limited Series boom, that has rarely been the case (even though TV Movie candidates were still in the same pool of prospective nominees as series contenders).

Seeing the Outstanding Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie category be split evenly between three limited series, and the films “Fire Island,” “Prey,” and “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” shows that the TV Movie space still has a lot of potential. The latter two films getting unexpected nominations for Outstanding Directing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie nomination and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie, respectively, is a cherry on top. It took years of adjusting to the streaming landscape, and the blurred lines on what makes a streaming film be grouped with theatrical releases versus TV movies, but Emmy voters have found their way back to giving these projects the proper consideration and recognition they deserve.

4. TV Has to Take Precedent

Jessica Chastain as Tammy Wynette in GEORGE & TAMMY, ìWeíre Gonna Hold Onî. Photo credit: Dana Hawley/Courtesy of SHOWTIME.
Jessica Chastain in “George & Tammy”Dana Hawley / Courtesy of SHOWTIME

Many of the “snubs” already mentioned, and even more that are related to these takeaways like HBO’s “Reality” not getting an Outstanding Television Movie nomination as expected, could in part be blamed on a perceived lack of esteem for TV as a medium. While HBO was once a power player in the TV Movie category, often winning for films they produced that were based on a true story, they recently have made a habit of acquiring their primary Outstanding Television Movie candidates at film festivals. Though it paid off in 2020 with “Bad Education,” a Sundance premiere, similar films like “The Survivor,” a TIFF acquisition, and now “Reality,” nabbed at this year’s Berlinale, have struggled to shake off the perception that TV was never the launchpad filmmakers intended for their projects. 

Though “Prey” and “Fire Island” in particular had similarly circuitous routes toward TV, the talent involved made it seem like Hulu was always the intended destination for their films—and that really makes a difference. Compare Jessica Chastain, who was flying back and forth from her Broadway run to Los Angeles to promote her Showtime limited series “George & Tammy,” to “1923” stars Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford, whose roles in films like “Fast X” and “Captain America: Brave New World” prevented them from even doing much awards press. Both parties are primarily known as movie stars, so part of their awards campaign required a lot of work convincing Emmy voters that they found their TV work just as fulfilling. The Emmys are voted on by peers from the TV industry, and voters take their professions very seriously. Established talent looking for an Emmy nomination really have to pound the pavement to show that TV is not just a quick detour for them, especially when there are winners like Zendaya that prove how prestige television itself now has the potential to launch global superstars. 

5. Diversity Takes a Step Forward

The Last of Us Episode 6 Joel Ellie
“The Last of Us”Liane Hentscher/HBO

Writing about diversity wins can be a double-edged sword because while four Black women being nominated in the same year for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series—the most Black women to be nominated in any one acting Emmy category ever—is worthy of applause, the Primetime Emmys have existed for 75 years. At the very least, we’re mostly talking about people who are the second or third performer of their racial or ethnic background to be nominated, indicating that the ball has gotten rolling on the Emmys becoming more inclusive.

This is an especially big year for Latino stars in particular. Not only is Pedro Pascal now the most-nominated Latino in a single year, earning nods for his star turn in “The Last of Us,” hosting “Saturday Night Live,” and narrating the docuseries “Patagonia: Life on the Edge of the World,” he is also now the second ever Latino nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Similarly, “Wednesday” star Jenna Ortega is now the third Latina in history to be nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, following in the footsteps of Rita Moreno (“9 to 5”) and America Ferrara (“Ugly Betty”). The former Disney star turned modern day scream queen is also the second youngest nominee in the category’s history. Finally, Aubrey Plaza, who is half Puerto Rican, is the third ever Latina to be nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama. 

Even the consolation of actors Selena Gomez and Diego Luna only being nominated as the executive producers of “Only Murders in the Building” and “Andor,” respectively, contribute to Latinos, the largest minority group in the United States, becoming bigger players in the Emmys space.

There are still plenty of unique accomplishments to point out like “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” director Paris Barclay becoming the first Black person to be nominated in all three series directing categories, or “Beef” star Ali Wong, an Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie nominee, becoming the second Asian American woman ever to be nominated in a lead actress race, but diversity encompasses more than just race and ethnicity.

“The Last of Us” star Bella Ramsey is only the second nominee ever to identify as nonbinary, and their co-star Keivonn Montreal Woodard has the distinction of being both the second deaf actor ever to be in the running for an Emmy, and at 10-years-old, the youngest male actor ever nominated for any acting Emmy. Compare that to 97-year-old “History Of The World, Part II” creator/star Mel Brooks for example, who scored a Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance nomination, and one can feel better knowing that even in a difficult year for television, Emmy voters are still trying to make room for deserving talent of any age, race, gender identity, etc.

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