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Why Sci-Fi and Genre Shows Always Get the Emmy Cold-Shoulder

Why Sci-Fi and Genre Shows Always Get the Emmy Cold-Shoulder

Ahh yes: the Emmy Awards. All at once a television lover’s best friend and worst enemy. The latter particularly so if said fan is a science fiction and/or genre enthusiast. Because guess what! Your favorite show is probably not getting nominated, let alone a win. But why is this such a thing? And why does it keep happening, even as the quality and quantity of the stuff is on the rise? We’re apt to think it stems from a place of fear and the last straining vestiges of shunning nerdery in the mainstream.

Do sci-fi shows win Emmy Awards? Yeah sometimes, but not often. Heck, Lost‘s 2005 Best Drama trophy was the first time ever (ever!) in the history of the awards that a science fiction-laced series won top honors — and not a one has done it since. Not even a beloved juggernaut like HBO’s fantasy epic Game of Thrones has managed to nab a win in the Best Actor, Actress, or Drama categories — though they regularly sweep various technical categories. When these shows do win, it’s in those categories rather than for acting, directing, writing, or best overall… probably because the nerds that understand the true amount of work that goes into them are in those fields and vote accordingly. Peter Dinklage’s 2011 win for supporting actor is the only major category the series has won, even with a cast as impressive and large as theirs.

Overall, science fiction and genre series themselves cannot seem to grab hold in the more mainstream categories, and the snubs get more offensively short-sighted as the years wane on. Like Orphan Black, a show very notably — and outrage-inducingly — snubbed these past two years, particularly in the drama acting category thanks to the mind-bendingly good star, Tatiana Maslany. With all the buzz and press and accolades and general obsession the series warrants thanks to the many varied (and utterly splendid) clones she plays, it was shocking last year — and an egregious error this year — that the actress was not one of the nominees. How can the Critics Choice Awards tout her as the best drama actress two years running and the Television Academy not even give the series a single nomination?

A lot of it has to do with politics — let’s be real. Big-name, big-budget, big-network series will likely always get the lions’ share of the ceremony praise. People vote for who and what they know; the series or actors that are reliably good or popular. Or conversely, they’ll keep giving awards to The Big Bang Theory while the rest of us remove all the hairs on our heads.

To say there’s a lot of television out there — particularly in the burgeoning age of Amazon, Netflix, Yahoo, PlayStation, and more getting in on the original content game — would be a laughable understatement. The sample is vast and it’s easy to miss the myriad options and varied types of televised storytelling out there. But time and time again, the most shafted of all ends up being science fiction and its fellow genre ilk. For every The X-Files there’s a bevy of Battlestar Galacticas and Fringes.

Unlike the majority of television that’s come before it, science fiction shows put a lot of demands on their audience. And honestly, that’s just not what a lot of people want their TV to do. With sci-fi and other genre fare, one must pay attention; maybe have a certain understanding of things; appreciate all the bells and whistles while simultaneously looking past them. Almost always, the viewer must understand that the series is very likely an allegory for something else — and that, my friends, is primo controversy territory. The chance to offend the senses or highlight a bigger injustice within society looms large and sometimes people just don’t want all that. (It’s actually pretty similar to the argument against most broad-based comedies that win, too.)

Using Orphan Black as the example again: on the surface it is merely a show about some clones, but bubbling up within all that are conversations and dissections on bodily autonomy, reproductive rights, equality, sexuality, and gender roles. Nature versus nurture, government versus religion. Not so easy a pill to swallow for most people just looking to be entertained.

Could it be money? Admittedly, the Emmy Awards, like all award shows, often rely on one thing: the ability to pay to become a member of the Television Academy and/or the funding from the network to get the For Your Consideration game on. (Yard signs appear in Los Angeles around this time like it’s election season. No, really.) For all the critical and fan praise heaped on science fiction series, they’re often not the biggest money-getters for the network. And, well, a network is going to put money behind the shows it knows will have a return on investment. Smaller shows = smaller audiences = smaller chance that people are actually paying attention, or will pay attention should it actually win. Niche audiences are nice but they don’t bring home the bacon.

But it’s also the simple fact that to make good sci-fi often requires more money. Bigger special effects, more complicated shooting set-ups (hello, multiple clone scenes!), all of this requires a lot of extra time, cashflow, and effort — likely why these series get credit in the more technical categories above all else. And even for all that is put into them, still sometimes that effort does not pay off. Technology has its limits and audiences don’t always like to forgive when something is anything less than unrealistically perfect. (Because Hollywood!)

So, yeah: maybe our beloved science fiction series don’t hold up to whatever arbitrary standards the Emmy voters have — but who cares, right? We like them and that’s all that matters. As long as we keep watching — and as our obsessive nerdlove for these things keeps infiltrating the wider masses — they’ll keep making them. And they’ll only get better and better until, who knows? Maybe one year we’ll have a bevy of science fiction nominees and winners.

We’ll still call bullshit on that Maslany snub, though. Always and forever.

Comments

  1. Michele says:

    Outlander deserved a nomination…….best drama on TV.

  2. otto38dd says:

    And that is why there is the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror that presents the Saturn Awards each year for achievements in genre television and film.

  3. Joel Rolston says:

    Alicia, you may want to review the history of the Emmys a little more. From 1959 to 1962, Rod Serling was nominated four times for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama with “The Twilight Zone.” He won twice. It’s tough to find good writers that want to explore real, humanitarian themes within genre television. If they take away the spectacle and the story doesn’t stand alone, then it’s not worth the nomination.

  4. BtcWriter says:

    So if Orphan Black and other quality scifi shows were a bit more superficial (without so much depth or required the viewer to think as much) then they might garner the awards they justly deserve?

  5. Doug O'Donnell says:

    I am upset that television/channels (in general) continually compete against each other during favorable time slots. On top of that some shows do not show reruns of their new episodes and/or they overlap their reruns AGAIN in a later time slot.
    True, if you have something like the Hopper (?) which has the ability to record multiple channels at the same time, you do not have this problem.
    I, however, can only record one channel at a time and miss out on some (critical) pilots/season ones which I generally only catch up on at the end of the 1st season marathon, beginning of season 2 marathon, and/or miss altogether.

    • I certainly feel your pain, and have pondered the rerun question. Most main stream television reruns multiple times, really adnasum at times. I now have the Genie system and no longer have the rerun issue.

    • Ibex says:

      And networks wonder why people pirate…

    • Seamus says:

      Even with the Hopper, or the Genie, the networks deliberately work against you by setting a show to start or end at one minute before or after the hour. That sets up a conflict with recording other shows.

    • BtcWriter says:

      I have to agree. I have 5 shows all on at the same time frame on one night (Sundays). Then the rest of the week, hardly anything. Maybe one on Tuesday and Wednesday. Why do the networks have to put all those shows on at the same time to make the geeks of the world have to decided?

    • jdge says:

      What cable company do you have that only has the ability to record one show? I can record 2 in HD and 4 in SD… at&t.

  6. Bill Roth says:

    The Emmy’s are about as relevant to the Sci-fi genre as the Grammy’s are to Heavy Metal. It’s a self-congratulatory party for the jocks and cheerleaders, and they want nothing to do with the geeks and nerds. 

    The Emmy’s are not about what’s good, they’re about what is popular. The popular shows get nominated in hopes that the viewers of those shows will also watch the Emmy’s broadcast. It’s all about the ad revenue. 

  7. Battlestar does not deserve an Emmy. Not even close.

  8. Horea Scalat says:

    Seriously, how can anyone write an article on the topic of Emmy snubs for genre shows and not even once mention BTVS?

    • Abel says:

      I’m a scifi guy – but BTVS? I don’t even know what that is…

      • Buffy was the best show to never be nominated in a major emmy category. think about others…Deep Space Nine had some of the best written episodes of any Trek spin off, TNG won a Peabody but no emmy nods, TWD nada, Fringe even The X-Files and i could go on and on and on.

  9. Andrew says:

    How can you write an entire article about genre shows and Emmys and not mention that awards are nominated and win based on one episode. How can you determine that one of these shows is the best, let alone good, based on one episode? This is the main reason why serial shows that don’t have a large mainstream following, like Battlestar or The Wire, don’t win or even get nominated.

    • Danielofthedale says:

      Then how do you explain the success of shows like The West Wing, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad? They are just as serialized. 

      • Mell says:

        Politics, as the article suggested. These are usually voted by people in the industry, right? So they want people to think actors are smart and watch high brow shows, or also to voice their opinion on political issues (such as your 3 examples), or something weird like that. Actors also want to be portrayed as cool and not geeks, so that is also why Sci-Fi shows continue to get snubbed. Even though they do probably watch them like the rest of us, they don’t want to admit it for the sake of their “image”. It’s very high school, if you ask me.