Before the 21st Century, the Emmy Awards’ Best Comedy Series category was mostly sitcoms, with the closest thing to an outlier in the category being the Larry Sanders Show. The definition of comedy series changed in 1999 when Ally McBeal took home the statue. That show stretched the category by awarding a soap opera with a sense of humor, something that would be the exception until another soap with a sense of humor, Ugly Betty, got nominated in 2007. Then came the 2010s.
By 2010, at least one nominee in the Best Comedy Series race had arguably not been a comedy. Nurse Jackie was nominated in 2010Glee in 2011 and girls the next two years. Orange Is the New Black, Transparent and more have challenged what a comedy is. With so many comedy-dramas or “dramedies” of quality airing this century, it seems to be time to add a new category: Best Comedy-Drama Series.
As much as everyone involved in a production deserves recognition for their work, the general viewing audience doesn’t care about the crew categories. Writing, directing, acting and program are what they’re there for, because outside the business that’s all people are paying attention to. That’s important to note as there are already so many categories and so many arguments about which ones deserve to be on the main broadcast (many awards are given out the night before at a ceremony not aired live). As such, adding more awards for Best Show or Best Actor could be a boon to ratings as well as giving recognition to more shows.
Best Comedy doesn’t have to mean best traditional sitcom, but it should be more of a comedy than a drama. barry’s third season was fantastic, but for the most part it left comedy in the rearview. girls hit the zeitgeist hard, but a laugh riot it was not. That’s not to say a comedy can’t make you sad. Ricky Gervais was nominated twice for The stretchevery episode of which had moments that induced laughter, while others brought on the tears.
Comedy is, of course, subjective. What’s funny to one may not be funny to another, but some shows stretch the definition of comedy to unrecognizable lengths. The existence and continued success of Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls, The Marvelous Mrs. maizel) alone should suggest a new category is warranted. It doesn’t even work to justify the categorization as Shakespearean, because what makes a comedy in Shakespeare is less about jokes and more about having a happy ending, which many of the best dramedies do not provide.
The classic mutli-cam sitcom, filmed in “front of a live studio audience” and pumped up with a laugh track, is going the way of rock ‘n’ roll, while pop’s single cam and hip hop’s serio-comedies take center stage. Still, the Best Comedy Series category continues to nominate shows that are of questionable comedic nature, while sitcom stalwarts like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, the longest running live-action sitcom in the history of television, has never found itself nominated for Best Comedy. The times have changed, and it’s clear the Emmys needs to as well.
The 74th Primetime Emmy Awards Ceremony Airs Sept. 12, 2022 on NBC.