Television Academy Merges Variety Talk and Sketch Back Together, Among Other Emmy Changes For 2021

The Television Academy revealed several rules changes late Friday for next year’s 73rd Emmy Awards, including the surprising decision to merge variety talk and variety sketch back into one category. The org has also clarified that anthology series eligibility will now be firmly in the limited series field, and the category has been renamed outstanding limited or anthology series.

Additionally, the org merged the short form comedy/drama series and short form variety series merged into one category, outstanding short form comedy, drama or variety series.

“Our annual review of Emmy rules and procedures is more important than ever,” said Television Academy Chairman and CEO Frank Scherma. “Our Awards Committee and Board of Governors undertake this annual evaluation with a very thoughtful and analytical approach to ensure that the Emmys remain relevant and in step with our industry’s ongoing evolution.”

Variety talk and variety sketch series were awarded in one category until they were split in 2015. Despite the growth in talk, the number of sketch series has declined in recent years, likely convincing the org to once again combine them into one.

Variety talk has been a source of frustration in recent years as some entrants have argued that it’s not fair to place weekly, single-topic news-based shows like perennial winner “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” in the same competition as nightly variety-based shows like “Late Late Show with James Corden.”

But last year’s new rules determining the number of nominees in each category had a negative effect on both variety talk and variet sketch fields: Under the new rules, categories with between 20 and 80 contenders compete with five nominees; for six, there must be at least 81 entrants. As a result, variety talk was reduced to five nominees because there were just 24 submissions, while variety sketch held just 14 entries, that meant only three ballot slots.

This now sets up an unusual smackdown in the category between “Last Week Tonight” and another annual winner, sketch comedy leader “Saturday Night Live.” And it’s likely to make contenders in both fields less than thrilled.

According to the Academy, categories for individual achievements in variety series will continue to include both variety talk and variety sketch series.

Meanwhile, in launching the new Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series category, the org said, “This will align storytelling formats throughout the competition. Individual achievements will compete in the relevant categories as defined by the program category.”

Previously, an anthology series could enter the competition in either the comedy or drama Series categories; or entrants could break up the series into individually entered, stand-alone movies.

This will somewhat solve the frequent complaints that anthology series were gaming the system by submitting episodes as films — something Netflix successfully did three years in a row with “Black Mirror.” Two years ago, the Academy attempted to clarify things be declaring that a TV movie had to be at least 75 minutes. But with anthology series still frequently including episodes at that length, it didn’t completely solve the problem.

The decision will at least silence those concerns, but it may bring up some new ones: Mainly, that limited series is already a jam-packed, competitive field. This past year, limited series submissions accounted for more than 250 project submissions. Now throw the growing anthology genre in the mix, and there may be calls to find a way to divide the category.

Among other changes, the Academy has also added outstanding stunt performance by an individual or team in a drama, comedy, limited series or movie as a new category.

“This new award will recognize stunt performers themselves; previously, there have only been stunt coordination categories,” the org said. “The award will acknowledge actual stunt artists whose performances across the global television medium are integral to storytelling each season. Team entries will be capped at four entrants.”

Also, the Academy continues to clarify eligibility for projects that have also entered the Oscar race: “To clarify the distinction between theatrical motion pictures and television movies during the ongoing pandemic, any non-documentary film placed on the AMPAS viewing platform for Oscar consideration will be deemed a theatrical motion picture and thus ineligible for the Emmy competition.”

As previously announced, effective this coming year, any programs that have been nominated for an Oscar are no longer eligible to enter the Primetime Emmy Awards competition.

Addiitonally, as first revealed last month by Variety, “the Television Academy and the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences have agreed to migrate all potential Children’s Programming entries previously submitted in the Primetime Emmys to the Daytime Emmys. In addition, Children’s Animated Programs, which target an audience aged 6-12, will also migrate to the Daytime Emmy competition.”

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