The Emmy Awards 2019 will take place this Sunday, handing out gongs to the supposed best TV of the past year, but ahead of the ceremony it’s worth remembering that the Emmys don’t really matter. Of course, the same can be said for its equivalent from other mediums - the Oscars, Tonys, and Grammys - but the Emmys is a particularly odd awards ceremony.
Although it dates back to 1949, although there have been two different shows since 1974 - Daytime Emmy Awards and Primetime Emmy Awards, with the latter the one that’s typically thought of when you hear the word “Emmys”. That itself is split, though, into the main event and the Creative Arts Emmys, which were handed out this weekend. That’s why, say, Game of Thrones has 32 Emmy nominations this year, but if you look at what it can win on Sunday, you’ll only find 14 awards.
Those quirks are just the start of why the Emmys don’t matter. It’s not just that they’re a little more confusing for general audiences than the Oscars, but that even more than most other awards the Emmys loves to play favorites. That's a big reason why Game of Thrones has so many nominations: yes, it has a lot worth rewarding, but it's also a perennial Emmy contender because the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences leans heavily into familiarity. If you've won an award once, then chances are you'll win it again, hence why Modern Family won the award for Outstanding Comedy Series five years in a row. It's also why The West Wing beat The Sopranos on a regular basis for Outstanding Drama Series, and most recently The Simpsons won Outstanding Animated Series over BoJack Horseman. With such heavy favorites being played, it's hard to say that the Emmys actually reward the best TV shows (best exemplified by The Wire gaining just two nominations, and zero wins).
The Emmys also lacks relevance in a way the Oscars doesn't. Not that the Oscars is clear of problems in that area, but at least it rewards movies that have mostly played within the past few months. The Emmys eligibility period, however, runs from June 1 of one year to May 31 the next, with at least half of a season's episodes having to air in that time. It means that if a Netflix series dropped on June 1, 2018, it could win an award on September 22, 2019. Something like this happened last year, when GLOW was competing for its first season, but season 2 had already aired. TV, both the ways it's made and consumed, have evolved rapidly over the past decade, and while the Emmys has tried to keep up, it's not always been successful. The lines have blurred so much recently between drama and comedy, half-hour and one-hour shows, that the old ways don't really work. A show like Succession is labelled a drama, while Barry and Atlanta are comedies, but in truth they all have a great blend of both that defy such categorization (this is something the Golden Globes, the drunk uncle of awards season, also struggles with).
They do get some things right, but the Emmys also has a pretty high miss rate (the likes of The Leftovers and The Americans being mostly overlooked being two recent examples, although they did correct the latter somewhat last year). As TV changes so quickly, and the medium continues to offer a much greater breadth of stories than it used to, the Emmys still feels like a somewhat outdated way of rewarding what the best TV shows actually are.