Why Sci-Fi and Genre Shows Always Get the Emmy Cold-Shoulder

Ahh yes: the Emmy Awards. All at once a television lover’s best friend and worst enemy. The latter particularly so if said fan is a science fiction and/or genre enthusiast. Because guess what! Your favorite show is probably not getting nominated, let alone a win. But why is this such a thing? And why does it keep happening, even as the quality and quantity of the stuff is on the rise? We’re apt to think it stems from a place of fear and the last straining vestiges of shunning nerdery in the mainstream.

Do sci-fi shows win Emmy Awards? Yeah sometimes, but not often. Heck, Lost‘s 2005 Best Drama trophy was the first time ever (ever!) in the history of the awards that a science fiction-laced series won top honors — and not a one has done it since. Not even a beloved juggernaut like HBO’s fantasy epic Game of Thrones has managed to nab a win in the Best Actor, Actress, or Drama categories — though they regularly sweep various technical categories. When these shows do win, it’s in those categories rather than for acting, directing, writing, or best overall… probably because the nerds that understand the true amount of work that goes into them are in those fields and vote accordingly. Peter Dinklage’s 2011 win for supporting actor is the only major category the series has won, even with a cast as impressive and large as theirs.

Overall, science fiction and genre series themselves cannot seem to grab hold in the more mainstream categories, and the snubs get more offensively short-sighted as the years wane on. Like Orphan Black, a show very notably — and outrage-inducingly — snubbed these past two years, particularly in the drama acting category thanks to the mind-bendingly good star, Tatiana Maslany. With all the buzz and press and accolades and general obsession the series warrants thanks to the many varied (and utterly splendid) clones she plays, it was shocking last year — and an egregious error this year — that the actress was not one of the nominees. How can the Critics Choice Awards tout her as the best drama actress two years running and the Television Academy not even give the series a single nomination?

A lot of it has to do with politics — let’s be real. Big-name, big-budget, big-network series will likely always get the lions’ share of the ceremony praise. People vote for who and what they know; the series or actors that are reliably good or popular. Or conversely, they’ll keep giving awards to The Big Bang Theory while the rest of us remove all the hairs on our heads.

To say there’s a lot of television out there — particularly in the burgeoning age of Amazon, Netflix, Yahoo, PlayStation, and more getting in on the original content game — would be a laughable understatement. The sample is vast and it’s easy to miss the myriad options and varied types of televised storytelling out there. But time and time again, the most shafted of all ends up being science fiction and its fellow genre ilk. For every The X-Files there’s a bevy of Battlestar Galacticas and Fringes.

Unlike the majority of television that’s come before it, science fiction shows put a lot of demands on their audience. And honestly, that’s just not what a lot of people want their TV to do. With sci-fi and other genre fare, one must pay attention; maybe have a certain understanding of things; appreciate all the bells and whistles while simultaneously looking past them. Almost always, the viewer must understand that the series is very likely an allegory for something else — and that, my friends, is primo controversy territory. The chance to offend the senses or highlight a bigger injustice within society looms large and sometimes people just don’t want all that. (It’s actually pretty similar to the argument against most broad-based comedies that win, too.)

Using Orphan Black as the example again: on the surface it is merely a show about some clones, but bubbling up within all that are conversations and dissections on bodily autonomy, reproductive rights, equality, sexuality, and gender roles. Nature versus nurture, government versus religion. Not so easy a pill to swallow for most people just looking to be entertained.

Could it be money? Admittedly, the Emmy Awards, like all award shows, often rely on one thing: the ability to pay to become a member of the Television Academy and/or the funding from the network to get the For Your Consideration game on. (Yard signs appear in Los Angeles around this time like it’s election season. No, really.) For all the critical and fan praise heaped on science fiction series, they’re often not the biggest money-getters for the network. And, well, a network is going to put money behind the shows it knows will have a return on investment. Smaller shows = smaller audiences = smaller chance that people are actually paying attention, or will pay attention should it actually win. Niche audiences are nice but they don’t bring home the bacon.

But it’s also the simple fact that to make good sci-fi often requires more money. Bigger special effects, more complicated shooting set-ups (hello, multiple clone scenes!), all of this requires a lot of extra time, cashflow, and effort — likely why these series get credit in the more technical categories above all else. And even for all that is put into them, still sometimes that effort does not pay off. Technology has its limits and audiences don’t always like to forgive when something is anything less than unrealistically perfect. (Because Hollywood!)

So, yeah: maybe our beloved science fiction series don’t hold up to whatever arbitrary standards the Emmy voters have — but who cares, right? We like them and that’s all that matters. As long as we keep watching — and as our obsessive nerdlove for these things keeps infiltrating the wider masses — they’ll keep making them. And they’ll only get better and better until, who knows? Maybe one year we’ll have a bevy of science fiction nominees and winners.

We’ll still call bullshit on that Maslany snub, though. Always and forever.

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