“Succession” and “Ted Lasso” prove the Emmys should reconsider the comedy/drama split

Let’s face it: Over the past decade, the Emmy categories comedy and drama have become a joke.

For much of television history, the dichotomy has served the industry well. How could you compare “Cheers” and “The Golden Girls” to “LA Law” and “thirtysomething”, right? But streaming has broken many of the conventions that were absolutely necessary in the broadcast-dominated era, including the time and genre constraints that made scheduling and ad sales possible.

As a result, confusion now reigns in the Emmy nomination process. A case in point is “Orange Is the New Black,” the women’s prison story, which the Television Academy nominated for Comedy in 2014 and Drama nominated a year later.

And this series was just a harbinger of things to come. Some of the best shows in recent years – “Fleabag” andDead to Me” among others – feel like they’re not quite the right fit for either side of the divide, and it’s insane to just say that about 30 minutes makes comedy and about 60 minutes makes drama. (In fact, the academy agreed, and earlier this year ended the rule that used length as the determining factor.)

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Dozens of other shows, particularly the most critically acclaimed works on streaming services, similarly split the difference. The 2010s was a time of genre smashing in pop culture, particularly in music and television. The Emmys need to start recognizing that.

This genre breakdown is indeed questionable the major artistic advance seen on television over the past decade. We should celebrate totally undefinable works like “BoJack Horseman” (a comedy about a humanized horse, deadly serious drama and cartoon!) and “Veep” (very funny and one of the darkest indictments of American politics ever committed) on screen ). Recent sensation Ted Lasso is absolutely a conventional fish-out-of-water comedy about an American football coach in British football – save for the twist it took last season to address Ted’s mental health issues posed as a result of his father’s suicide.

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A modern take on Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and one of the defining series of our time, “Succession” has long had fans and critics arguing about whether it’s comedy or drama — and no one’s sure of the answer. Troubled heir Kendall’s rap about family patriarch Logan sure was funny. So is almost every interaction between son-in-law Tom and cousin Greg. But do the characters know they’re funny? Do we laugh at them or with them? And does that matter when it comes to the division between comedy and drama?

The fact that we cannot distinguish between what is comedy and what is drama marks another step in the evolution of television from stark, short-lived, lowest-common-denominator entertainment to a serious artistic endeavor. With categories as broad as Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Director, the Oscars do not discriminate between the emotions that their nominees evoke, rather the point is to honor artistic achievement as a whole. However, changing this nomination system for television would also present challenges; Most notably, it would reduce the number of grand prize nominees by about a third. (Some categories, like Outstanding Limited Series and Outstanding TV Movie, aren’t broken down by genre.) In an already crowded market of excellent work, the reduction in the number of beneficiaries of such an award is indeed a disappointment.

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For that reason, solving this conundrum might require some creativity—but given the downward trend in awards show ratings over the past decade and the vastly changed (and still changing) media landscape, some radical creativity might not be a bad thing. Maybe it’s okay to lump all kinds of shows into one bucket, like limited series and made-for-TV movies already do. Given that, maybe expand the number of nominations like the Oscars for best picture did.

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And here’s a crazy idea: you might have more than one winner to spread the love. Maybe you have a list of finalists and a list of winners. The Emmys allow for multiple winners in the 31 (of 118) adjudicated and domain categories, all technical or craft domains, but not in the vast majority of categories. The Peabody Awards – for which, full disclosure, I do commissioned work – publishes a simple list of 60 finalists and 30 winners each year. But they also don’t have to deal with complications like acting and writing awards. Or maybe you’re awarding a prize for first, second, and third place.

It’s also about getting Emmy voters to take comedy as seriously as drama, a hurdle Oscar voters have yet to clear. As the old showbiz adage goes, “Dying is easy. Comedy is tough.” It would be a loss to penalize shows that make people laugh, given the skills required to do so.

Categorizations and binaries break down, and that’s a good thing. (We’ll have to deal with that for gendered actor/actor categories as well, but that’s for another day!) Such boxes are mere constructs, destined to be destroyed by good art. When we recognize this art with awards, we need to reflect that change, whether we laugh, cry, or a little bit of both.

After all, real life makes no such distinctions.

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