Emmys: When will genre wins like those for 'Game of Thrones' be the norm and not the exception?
Let’s say my favorite show is "Mad Men," and I tell people as such. They’d probably think, “Good show” or, “I like when Don Draper smokes that cigarette.” They’d probably not think, “Well clearly you love period television and shows about advertising.” Because TV has the power to present layered, nuanced character studies no matter the setting. Showrunners, with multiple seasons at their disposal, have plenty of time. We all know this.
Imagine that same conversation, but instead of "Mad Men" I say "Battlestar Galactica." The new one, not the original. I bet most people would have the same thought: “Neeeeeeeeeeeerd!” Why? The answer is the core of a larger trend in Emmy voting.
Science fiction, horror and fantasy shows -- hereby known as “genre” television -- are notoriously snubbed. Viewers and critics revolted when major Emmy categories failed to even recognize "Battlestar Galactica" or its excellent actors, just as they did years before with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." The venerable "Twilight Zone," with hundreds of episodes and a fervent fanbase (and recently voted the third best-written show of all time by the WGA) only a pair of wins for writing and cinematography.
There have always been hurdles to genre television. Namely, the stigma that shows like "Alias" are elaborate, jargony whiz-bang, or that "The Walking Dead" is "just some zombie show." But the hurdles are illusionary: Those shows, like others, are just as much about relationships as they are excuses to learn the finer points of flying a spaceship. Much like "Mad Men" subverts its original conceit and hooks viewers with the time-honored tradition of “good acting and writing”, so does "Battlestar Galactica" -- a layered political commentary that shares more DNA with "The West Wing" than "Geeky Geek Nerd Show For Dorks."
It didn’t take much convincing for "Beauty And The Beast," airing on CBS in the late 1980s. As they sing in the Disney film adaptation, it’s a “tale as old as time” -- people knew at its heart, the fantasy series was a love story, and thus it garnered Emmy nominations in the Best Drama category, as well as both Best Actor and Best Actress for Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton respectively. "The X-Files" also managed to pick up major nominations in its day. Viewers who can overcome their preconceived notions of genre television will be in for a pleasant surprise.
It seems starfleet has heard the transmission, so to speak. Recent years have seen a resurgence in genre Emmy victories. "Game of Thrones" is high fantasy with the backing of tastemaker network HBO. They have the financial and cultural cachet to attract stellar talent, earning Peter Dinklage a Best Supporting Actor win two years ago, and a nod last year. And while the idea of a perpetually evolving horror mini-series may sound obtuse, it’s FX’s faith in "American Horror Story" that provides a launching pad for some enjoyable, engrossing soap. These channels have built up enough good will that loyal viewers will watch whatever new shows they’ve concocted, and recently they’re mainlining genre into the mainstream.
Networks with niche appeal are doubling down on even nicheier programs, and they’re wise to do so. Audiences are becoming more segmented by the day as DVR technology comes cheaper and Netflix Instant beefs up its offerings. Advertisers are now afforded the luxury of knowing exactly who they’re targeting, and the prospect of an ad during "Friday Night Lights" -- empirically proven to have one of the wealthiest audiences of any TV show -- was a premium.
There’s big-time money to be made from this approach: "The Avengers," one of the highest grossing films of all time, was made by Joss Whedon, the guy whose "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" caught only minimal Emmy breaks, to put it generously. The guy whose "Firefly" barely lasted a season and despite remaining a critical darling to this day, merely took home the trophy for visual effects.
It won’t be long before The Big Four get in the game, trusting audiences to barrel through those invisible hurdles to genre television, when "Lost" will be the norm, not the exception. The snubbing of "Battlestar Galactica" in major Emmy categories will feel less egregious.