TV Has Outgrown the Emmys

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TV Has Outgrown the Emmys

Every year for over a decade, I’ve dutifully put out an “Emmy nominations wish list,” woken up early to report on the nominations, and then written a “snubs and surprises” piece to break it all down. This year, I’m waving a white flag. I’m sending out at S.O.S. There’s too much television, and frankly, the Emmys do very little to reflect its variety and volume. What I’m saying is: TV has outgrown the Emmys. And so have I.

Look, there are certainly things to celebrate! (Yellowjackets, Squid Game, The Great to name but a few). I’m genuinely happy for every deserving creator and performer who gets nominated. Last year’s Emmy nominations and winners were pretty great, and this year’s are no different so far. It’s just that these awards don’t—and currently can’t—begin to touch the depth and breadth of current television.

I have complained before about Emmy categories being outdated. But that’s just the start of the problem, one that’s taking over all of TV. Consider the message board hand-wringing over whether FX’s The Bear on Hulu is a comedy or a drama, to which I say: who cares? Those distinctions no longer matter. We have dramatic half-hour shows and comedic hourlongs. Streaming has obliterated standard runtimes anyway. If you want to stand by strict definitions that dramas are an hour (or 42 minutes with commercial breaks—another relic), then what the heck is Stranger Things 4 Vol. 2? A mega-drama? A series… of TV movies?

Meanwhile, miniseries have certainly broken the boundaries of their Emmy category, going from forgotten occasional spectacle format to stock Emmy-bait. And half the time, something that is nominated as a miniseries or limited series ends up being an anthology, or just the first season of an ongoing series—which means it never should have competed there in the first place.

It’s a mess, and I’m tired. And I think maybe we all are.

So when we talk about surprises? Snubs? Throw a dart anywhere among the seemingly infinite streaming offerings from the past year and you’ll hit upon an underrated series, performance, director, writer. (Ghosts, Reservation Dogs… and many more from our best TV of 2022 so far list and the best of 2021 missed out, while some real head-scratchers made it in.) Snubs abound, although not necessarily because anyone was specifically shut out, but in some cases because there’s not enough room to name everyone who put in exceptional work. And frankly, it’s absurd to think that Emmy voters, let alone regular viewers, would have the time to really evaluate all the available material in the first place.

Here’s where we are with TV right now: Danny Boyle recently directed a biopic series about the Sex Pistols on a major streaming platform and… no one cared. It’s not about whether or not it was any good—we’ve sat down and watched all kinds of crap together in the past, y’all (cough, True Blood summers, cough)—it’s the fact that even when movie stars and movie directors are deigning to do television (despite calling it a “10-hour movie”), that doesn’t move the needle. We’ve even become cavalier at the volume of Star Wars and Marvel projects that now endlessly premiere. “Oh, another one? How is it?”

And then you get something like The Bear, a breakout that had very little marketing, an arty style, and no big-name stars. Everyone seems to be watching it, and that kind of mysterious alchemy drives networks crazy. It drives TV editors crazy. It drives FOMO-chasing critics crazy. In a way, that unpredictability is magical, but in more practical industry terms it’s very stressful. We operate like the kitchen in The Bear during that to-go orders fiasco episode. Critics and TV departments have become like the FDA, only able to monitor a tiny fraction of the massive amount of imports hitting our shores daily. And to what end? If a TV shows lands and nobody watches it, did it ever really exist? Does anyone care if it gets an award?

Like everything else in our 2022 world, Peak TV has reached something of a crisis point. Most of us are waiting for it to collapse upon itself, to start shrinking and constricting, until we’re back to a manageable amount of productions that those of us who cover the medium can—if not actually have time to watch—at least have a passing familiarity with (not to mention the average viewer!) The pandemic shutdown gave us a glimpse of that, and folks, it was Not Bad.

But there’s also a possibility that maybe we won’t get back to that. The crush of content that has followed the COVID break (and I say “content” exactly in the soulless way it is intended, because so much of this stuff is just churned out for algorithm-calculated volume despite some diamonds in the rough) has fundamentally changed TV and the way we consume it.

And the Emmys? Right now they’re a relic to an old TV system that no longer exists. Despite a strong nominations field, without a radical expansion and categories updated to reflect our current watching reality, the Emmys will continue to drift into obscurity. Besides, who has the time to keep up with awards when there are so many shows to watch?

Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.