The Emmys and How They Work

Emmy nominations came out this morning and after looking over them many of you might be saying things like, “How could they not have nominated so-and-so or such-and-such. They were robbed!” It’s certainly a common feeling this time of year when we find out that the shows that we truely love didn’t make the cut. But a little knowledge and understanding about the process that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences takes might give you a better understanding of why your favorite show or actor didn’t make it. Or it might just piss you off more.

The whole process starts when either a person submits their self for nomination or a show’s producer submits them. For the show categories submission for nomination is done by the producers of the show. So that part is pretty simple, but a lot of people seem to think that nominees are selected by a panel and that just isn’t the case.

The Member (popular) Votes

So once there are a list of possible nominees, ballots are sent out (or requested) to all of the members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Writers get to vote on the writing categories, actors in the actor categories, and so on. Producers that qualify for multiple areas, such as a producer who also has writing credits, can request additional ballots.

On the surface, these member votes are little more than a popularity contest of sorts. Sure, the members watch screeners and read For-Your-Consideration advertisements, but for the most part, they’re voting on the people that they know and they they like, which tends to be the most popular.

This benefits highly rated shows and popular spotlight actors more than anything, because they’re much more likely to have been seen by the members, and often votes are received simply because the member is familiar with the actors work and gives their vote based on that alone.

The losers in this part of the nomination are the shows that have high critical acclaim, but low ratings. In other words, critics and the few hard core fans they do have absolutely love the show. But it doesn’t have enough wide-scale popularity to beat the ratings rulers. Battlestar Galactica, for best series, is a great example of what I mean. Regardless of the high quality and critical acclaim the show received, in four season they were never nominated for best series. Chuck is another good example of a show that is extremely well put together and gets fantastic press from the critics. Yet it didn’t receive a nomination this year either, probably due to its less than stellar ratings.

The Panel Votes (on the top ten)

Once all of the members have voted, the top ten nominations in each category are selected. The academy’s blue ribbon panel is formed and sent specific episodes of the nominees to screen, along with details about the show and the context of the episode they are screening. The panel members then rank the nominations from 1 to 10 and ultimately a final ranking is decided from each of the panel’s lists.

This step typically benefits the actual good shows/actors/actresses more than anything else. Since the panelists are only comparing 10 nominations in each category they can focus more on quality and less on a popularity or ratings contest. So shows like Chuck and Battlestar Galactica would do well here. Unfortunately its unlikely that they’d get past the member (popular) vote and even be part of this stage. This is ultimately where most of your comments of “so-and-so got robbed” come into play. Had they made it past the popular vote, they might have ended up with an Emmy nom.

As you’ve probably already guessed, this step hurts the shows that are really only there because of popularity and not necessarily because of quality. Unfortunately, since the actor/actress/show already made it to the list, they still stand a good chance of getting a nomination now, regardless of quality. Charlie Sheen from Two and a Half Men is a good example of this. The show is tremendously popular and very very funny. But its also, pretty much the exact same show it was when it premiered in 2003. There’s nothing really groundbreaking in Charlie Sheen’s acting on that show, yet he still gets the Emmy nomination because of the popular vote piece of it.

Putting the two together – The final score

Before 2007 the blue ribbon panel just selected nominees based on their rankings of each nomination. However, since 2007 the academy has changed the rules, and now the final list of nominations is gathered from both the popular vote as well as the blue ribbon panel scores, counting each set of rankings 50%. This means that the popular vote was decided to get the top ten nominations in the first place. Then a panel was allowed to re-rank those nominations on what they truly thought was great. But then, in the end, the decisions the panel makes are only worth 50% of the vote, and the original popular vote rankings are worth another 50%.

I don’t think I need to say it again, but at this point its obvious who benefits the most in this final stage. Actors like Charlie Sheen stand a much greater chance of a nomination than actors like Zachary Levi. So even if Zachary Levi got lucky and was voted in 10th place by the popular vote, he’d have to do extremely well with the panel to even have a chance of beating the odds and getting the nomination.


Even with all of that said, and all of the statistics and averages that exist, sometimes strange things happen, such as with Mad Men this year. The series is on cable on AMC network and has ratings below two million viewers. It has tremendous critical acclaim, but typically that’s exactly the kind of show that misses out. But this year Mad Men received 16 nominations. And that’s 16 deserving nominations.

If you’re an expert on the Emmy nomination process and you think I’ve got it wrong, I’ll apologize in advance. I’ve done my best to read the sixty-six page rules and procedures document the Academy provides on their website, and interpret it in a short article that is fairly easy to understand. If you’d like to take a crack at it yourself, here’s the link!

So What’s Next?

Well, the nominations have been announced, and now the whole process starts over to pick a winner!

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