New Emmy Rules Put Thumb on Scale for SNL, Last Week Tonight

With late night favorites Saturday Night Live and Last Week Tonight facing the prospect of being shut out of this year’s Emmy race for Outstanding Scripted Variety Series, the Television Academy has quietly changed its rules just weeks before nominations are set to be chosen.

As we’ve previously reported, with just five scripted variety shows expected to submit for consideration this year (down from 13 last year), a special Emmy rule designed for categories with fewer than eight submissions kicks in that calls for nominations to be decided by a jury rather than being included in the ballot that goes out to Academy voters.

Instead of going to the top vote-getters, nominations in juried categories are determined by an up-or-down vote of jury members. Emmy rules had stipulated that any show in a juried category that got a thumbs up from 90 percent or more jurors would earn a nomination, while shows falling below that threshold would not.

Amid concerns that this could lead to only one (or fewer) of the submitted scripted variety shows earning a nomination, the Television Academy has now lowered its approval threshold for juried categories from 90 percent  to 70 percent. Concurrently, new language has been added to this year’s Emmy rules that limits the total number of shows that can be nominated in juried categories to just two. (It’s not clear what would happen if more than two shows earn over the 70 percent threshold, although presumably the shows receiving the highest percentage approval would be selected.)

While in line with other Academy rules that determine the number of nominations in a given category based on how many shows are submitted for that category, the Academy’s newly imposed two-show limit for juried categories would seem to seal the fates of the three shows other than SNL and Last Week Tonight who’ve submitted in the Scripted Variety category, namely: After Midnight (CBS), Painting with John (Max), and The Magic Prank Show with Justin Willman (Netflix).

Outstanding Scripted Variety Series and its late-night compatriot Outstanding Talk Series have long been square pegs in the Emmy ecosystem. Prior to 2015, variety series and talk shows competed in a single “Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series” category—meaning shows like The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson would compete against SNL

With the number of shows submitted in both existing categories dramatically down this year, it’s been speculated that next year could see the two categories combined yet again.

We’ll see how this all shakes out when the  76th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards nominations are announced on July 17. This year’s ceremony is scheduled to air live on ABC Sunday, September 15.

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