Should TV Episode Count Matter When It Comes to the Emmys?

We write about every one else’s awards shows all the time, so I’d like to take a moment first and let Variety take a victory lap for its recent record 96 nominations for the Los Angeles Press Club’s SoCal Journalism awards. My colleagues earning top “journalist of the year” nods in various fields included Tim Gray, Clayton Davis, Owen Gleiberman, Chris Willman and Dan D’Addario. And humble brag alert, I received nine nominations myself this year. Now it’s my turn to say, “For Your Consideration.”

I bring all this up not just to boast, but also to note that one of the categories in which I was nominated was for “feature under 1,000 words,” for a piece I did giving a behind-the-scenes account of how Netflix revived the comedy “Girls5eva” after it was canceled by Peacock. It was a fun piece to report, and I got to tell a quick, first-hand account of how things all went down. But it wasn’t a sweeping, long piece of magazine journalism, and so it rightfully shouldn’t be compared to a 3,500-word opus. (Those go in another category.)

It honestly reminds me of the ongoing debate over whether it’s fair to lump broadcast shows with full 22-episode seasons in with shorter-order, more bespoke 8-episode seasons that are now found on streaming and premium cable.

Broadcast is a different beast. I sometimes ask film auteurs who have moved to TV — and make a six-episode passion project — whether they could ever fulfill a massive 22-episode order. They just laugh. No way.

And yet, that used to be the TV norm. The last full 22-or-more-episode show to win a series Emmy was “Modern Family” in 2014. Last year, in drama, no show produced a season with more than 10 episodes. And in comedy, only “Abbott Elementary” even hit 13 episodes (because it was a midseason premiere; this year, “Abbott” produced 22).

“It’s hard to make 10 episodes of good television, and to try and do it 22 times is pretty difficult,” “Abbott Elementary” exec producer Patrick Schumacker told me prior to the strike. “It’s just gratifying to hear that despite the volume of episodes, I don’t think anyone thinks that the quality has gone down.”

Schumacker’s fellow exec producer, Justin Halpern, notes that the 22-episode season gives the audience a completely different experience. It allows stories and characters to breathe. Viewers can develop a deeper bond with shows — that’s why so many of the library titles on streaming services are comedies and dramas with deep episodic counts, like “NCIS,” “The Office” and “Friends.”

“The thing it allows you to do is you can do smaller stories that are very character based,” Halpern says. “And you can’t do that in a show that has 10 episodes. Those 10 episodes all have to be a part of a piece, and there’s no real wiggle room.”

The last broadcast series to win a drama Emmy was Fox’s “24,” in 2006. We remember that show’s conceit — every episode represented one hour in a day, which meant 24 episodes for 24 hours. “The West Wing,” “Law & Order,” “The Practice,” “ER” — all were signature shows of the 1990s and early 2000s that won the drama prize and are considered classics of their time.

Broadcast still has strong shows. And people are still watching. Perhaps we’ve been looking at it the wrong way. Maybe there needs to be a category for shows that produce 18 or more episodes in the course of an eligibility window. A full season order is a different beast and deserves its own accolade.

Halpern has an apt analogy for the current moment: “You’re comparing one restaurant that is in a tiny space versus this restaurant that has to serve hundreds of people every single day.”

Schumacker, reminded that the excellent “The Bear” (one of his key Emmy competitors) produced just eight episodes last year, pipes in: “I thought you were gonna say, like, a small sandwich shop in Chicago, perhaps.”

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