The Emmys are, by their nature, a reactive body, typically rewarding the sorts of things that worked reasonably well in the past, and frequently playing a cranky game of catch-up with a television industry that’s been radically mutating for the last 20 years. Case in point: The Academy’s Outstanding Television Movie category at the Prime-Time Emmys, which was originally designed to reward big, prestige-y films produced by networks, but which has, in the age of the TV anthology series and the relaxed runtime limits afforded by streaming services, become the unofficial spot for shows like Netflix’s Black Mirror to clean up.
That’s about to get a lot trickier, though; the Television Academy released its annual list of rule changes last night, and among them, they included some new length requirements that would have knocked at least one of Charlie Brooker’s Emmy-winning contributions out of contention. Specifically, the awards’ governing body is now specifying that a Television Movie has to be at least 75 minutes in length, which means that, for example, Black Mirror’s “San Junipero”—which won in the category in 2017, and clocked in at a scant 61 minutes—wouldn’t have been eligible. (“USS Callister,” which won this year, still would have made the cut, as would Sherlock’s Christmas special “The Abominable Bride,” which won in 2016.)
What the rule changes mostly highlight, of course, is how badly the Academy’s language for defining these categories has lagged in response to the streaming generation and the rise of limited series that are a lot less limited than they initially seemed. Black Mirror is, after all, essentially a series of medium-length films with a vaguely connected theme (more so than, say, Sherlock, which is far more serialized, despite its short episode orders and long episode lengths), so why shouldn’t they count as a “television movie”? That’s to say nothing of the way miniseries that aren’t actually miniseries get lumped into the category, like when Downton Abbey, a “miniseries” that ended up clocking in at a scant 52 episodes and a (soon-to-be) movie, won back in 2011.
Really, the only person who seems to have any sort of handle on all this nonsense award taxonomy is comedian Megan Amram, whose Emmy-nominated An Emmy For Megan is being credited in certain places for inspiring a different rule change this year: A requirement that the Academy more firmly vet nominees for the short-form category her series of delightful anti-Emmy jokes was nominated in.