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

Michael Schneider
·6-min read

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. And the Academy unveiled its Emmy calendar for 2021, providing dates for everything except the actual Creative Arts and Primetime Emmy ceremonies, which will be announced at a later date. (Scroll down for more.)

“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.

The decision to merge variety talk and sketch back together comes as the Academy simultaneously changes its “Rule of 14” to become a “Rule of 25,” perhaps as a nod to Peak TV: “If for two consecutive years the Board of Governors identifies that there are 25 or more entries that define such a significant, specialized and distinct achievement that they no longer are represented adequately within an existing category, they may separate these entries into a new category. Additionally, if for two consecutive years there are less than 25 entries in an existing category, they may be combined into a related category.”

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.”

Other rule changes include:

• Combine all interactive category awards into one category – outstanding interactive
program.

• Sound editing and sound mixing for nonfiction/reality programming: An individual credited as a sound editor and a sound mixer for the same nonfiction or reality program can enter as a sound editor or sound mixer, but not both.

• Outstanding costumes for variety, nonfiction or reality programming has been
converted to a juried award.

• Period and/or character makeup and hairstyling categories have been converted to area awards.

• Music composition for series and for a limited or anthology series, movie or special
will have a two-step voting process to determine nominations.

• The outstanding choreography for scripted programming award has been modified to allow for
nominations.

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.

Additionally, 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.”

The TV Academy confirmed its 2021 calendar as well:

June 1, 2020 – May 31, 2021

Eligibility period for Emmy entries

February 11

Online entry process begins

March 31

Deadline to apply for membership to guarantee voting eligibility for both rounds of the 73rd Emmy competition and for members to secure member entry fee discount. This date also applies to former members. Application must be completed and paid in order to qualify.

April 6

Deadline for current voting members to apply for hyphenate voting status

May 13, 6 p.m.

Entry deadline for ALL entries that were originally presented 6:00 PM – 2:00 AM, June 1, 2020 – May 31, 2021 (including hanging episodes); upload deadline for all entry materials

June 17

Nominations-round voting begins

June 28, 10 p.m.

Nominations-round voting ends

Tuesday, July 13

Nominations announced

July 27

Deadline for errors and omissions to the nominations

August 13

Final-round videos available for viewing

August 19

Final-round voting begins

August 30, 10 p.m.

Final-round voting ends

September TBD

Creative Arts Emmy Awards and Ball

September TBD

CBS Telecast and Governors Ball

(All dates are subject to change.)

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