Emmy 2023 Rule Changes: Replaced Variety Talk and Skit Categories

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The Television Academy is making another attempt to resolve the Emmy variety and variety sketch category dilemma. The organization announced on Tuesday that it would eliminate those two controversial categories and introduce two new ones: Featured Interview Series, which will focus on shows that focus on “improvised interviews or panel discussions between a host/hosts and celebrities or guest personalities.” ; and an excellent scripted variety series, which focuses on “programs that are primarily scripted or feature loosely scripted improvisation and consist of discrete scenes, musical numbers, monologues, comedy stand-ups, skits, etc.”

By creating these two new categories, the Television Academy is likely hoping to resolve two debates at the same time: what to do with the decline of sketch shows, which have shrunk to the point where they can no longer sustain a separate Emmy category; and how to separate topical, news-focused talk shows from more variety-centric speakers.

Whether or not this will resolve this debate is unclear. Shows like “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” can fall into either category: It features improvised interviews, but also includes plenty of free-scripted improvisation, musical numbers, monologues, stand-up comedy and skits. But it would likely mean that “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” which has dominated the variety category since 2016, would move to scripted variety series, where it would now compete with “Saturday Night Live” instead of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” or “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”. (“The Daily Show” also contains a hefty script segment in addition to its conversation segment.)

According to the new description for exceptional interview series, “an interview series may include script elements and other aspects of a variety series such as monologues, musical performances, etc., as long as the main intent of the program is interviews/ discussions”. That seems to keep shows like “Tonight” and “The Late Late Show with James Corden” in the field. But the new category of scripted variety also notes that it “may occasionally feature unscripted elements, but the series’ primary intent is scripted or staged entertainment.” That’s where shows previously in the sketch camp like “Saturday Night Live” would now reside. But could that also include “Tonight” and “The Late Late Show”? This could generate an interesting debate in the coming months.

The Television Academy has been struggling to figure out what to do with the variety interviews and skits for the last few years. In December 2020, the organization announced it would merge the two back into one category — and then, after an uproar from leading figures in the variety field, it reversed course a few months later.

But a change has been on the agenda for some time. In September, TV Academy President/CEO Frank Scherma said the organization would “make some kind of decision” soon. “It’s definitely one of the things that’s on the agenda for next year,” he said. “As television continues to change in general, we have to try to change with it. And we have to look at these things. We are talking to our network partners. We’re talking to streamers, we’re talking to everyone.”

But, as Academy President/COO Maury McIntyre added, there was no easy solution – hence the delay in finding one. “If it was an easy decision, we would have done it by now,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest and we want to make sure we do this right. We clearly made a decision a few years ago [in announcing a talk/sketch category merge] that people didn’t like and we revisited it. It just goes to show that we are willing to listen to our partners with what they have to say. We will have to make a decision at some point.”

Variety talk and variety sketch series were awarded in one category until they were split in 2015. This decision came when the number of sketch shows was increasing, with series such as “Inside Amy Schumer”, “Portlandia”, “Drunk History” and “Key & Peele”, in addition to the robust “Saturday Night Live”.

But this trend turned out to be short-lived. And rules introduced in 2019 determining the number of nominees in each category have had a negative effect on the variety and variety sketch conversation fields: in the setup, categories with between 20 and 80 entries compete with five nominees; for six, there must be at least 81 participants. If there are less than 20 entrants, it’s a sliding scale for even fewer nominees.

As of 2022, only eight shows have been entered into the variety sketch, which has led to just two nominees for the second consecutive year: “SNL” and “A Black Lady Sketch Show”.

Meanwhile, the variety talk is also seeing its numbers drop. Last year, only 19 shows were entered in the category, but the TV Academy has increased that number to 20 in order to retain at least five nominees.

Still, with shows like “Desus & Mero” and “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” ending, and the fate of CBS’s 12:37 p.m. likely the conversation count will continue to drop. And it doesn’t help that some shows that might have fallen into that category, like “My Next Guest Needs No Hosting with David Letterman” and “The Trouble With Jon Stewart,” chose to go into the hosted nonfiction series or special field. These shows would likely now fall into the talk show category under the new configuration.

The TV Academy has also had to deal with grumblings from within the variety ranks about the vastly different tone and structure of the shows: topic-based shows like “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” compete with variety-focused shows (“The Late Late Show with James Corden,” “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”), talk shows with a heavy dose of politics (“The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” and “Late Night With Seth Meyers” ) and concerts with a little bit of everything (“Jimmy Kimmel Live!”).

The Television Academy Board of Governors met last week to discuss the rule changes. “The Television Academy Awards Committee and Board of Governors carefully review Emmy rules annually and adjust and refine competition requirements, often with input from television leaders, to reflect and support the current industry environment,” he said. Frank Scherma, President and CEO of the Television Academy.

Here are other rule changes:

Threshold on nominating round voting: “The number of selections each voting member can make per category in the first round vote will now be limited to the number of nominations specified for that category. Members will no longer be able to vote for an unlimited number of selections in any category.” This should keep nomination voting more specialized and remove the temptation to vote for everyone (or, more worryingly, every member of your employer).

Changes to tracked categories: Until now, it was always guaranteed that multi-camera series would at least receive nominations in categories exclusively dedicated to them, such as multi-camera picture editing for a comedy series. But that is changing now. “The single-camera and multi-camera image editing categories for a comedy series have been combined into the image editing tracked category for a comedy series. The Cinematography for a Single Camera Series (half hour) and Multi-Camera Series categories have been combined into the Cinematography for a Series (half hour) tracked category.”

But also, “A trigger has been added to all tracked categories so that during any year where the number of submissions for each track is 20 or more, the category will automatically be split into separate categories for that year. In 2023, there will be 16 categories with clues, which can be divided.

These categories are Animation Program, Series Cinematography (half hour), Contemporary Costumes, Fantasy/Sci-fi Costumes, Period Costumes, Comedy Series Direction, Variety Series Direction, Period/Character Hairstyling, Character Makeup, Season/Character, Image Editing for Comedy Series, Image Editing for Variety Programming, Production Design for Narrative Program (half hour), Sound Mixing for Comedy or Drama Series (half hour), Sound Mixing for Series variety or special, sound mixing for non-fiction/reality, technical direction and camera work for a series.

“Finally, the minimum number of submissions required to include a nomination banner in a tracked category has been changed to 5% of the total number of submissions, but not less than three submissions.”

Line growers to receive eligible credit for variety categories: Line producers are now Emmy-eligible in the categories of Outstanding Talk Series, Outstanding Scripted Variety Series, Outstanding Variety Specials (Live) and Outstanding Variety Specials (Prerecorded).

Previously Announced – Game Shows Come to Prime Time: As revealed in August, the Television Academy (the West Coast organization formerly known as the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences) and the New York-based National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences have agreed to migrate the Daytime game show categories Emmys for Primetime Emmys starting next year. Moving forward, the new Primetime Emmy category for Outstanding Game Show “will be awarded to shows with game elements that take place primarily in the studio and involve mental challenges.” As part of the change, the Primetime Emmys will also add an Outstanding Game Show Host category, “awarded to the ‘Master of Ceremonies’ host(s) for an ongoing performance on a game show.”

previously announced 🇧🇷 The rule at the end of hanging episodes: As announced in June, “the Suspended Episode Rule has been lifted; only episodes that premiere on a platform available to domestic audiences by May 31 will be eligible for an Emmy. The required number of episodes for a series must premiere nationally by May 31 to be eligible in the current Emmy competition: six episodes are required for series in the animation, comedy, drama, variety, short, and reality categories; three episodes are required for documentary series and hosted non-fiction series; and all episodes are required for limited series and anthology series.

Among other rule changes:

• Time limit for commercials changed from 30-120 seconds to 30-180 seconds.

• The Costume Consultant position is generally not an Emmy-eligible credit, but may be revised on a case-by-case basis.

• In documentary programming, “recreations, including the use of performers or animations, if such recreations are based on fact and used for illustrative purposes, are limited to a percentage of no more than
50% documentary special or series, with the remaining content being primary source documentary elements.”

• Performers: “If the narration is performed as a character and not as a narrator, even if he is credited as the
narrator, the interpreter must register in the character voice-over category.” Also in character voiceovers, any performance where the performer’s voice has been manipulated with AI requires the submission to be screened for eligibility. And “an artist playing the same character in more than one show can only apply to one artist category in the current eligibility year.”