Despite all the time, effort, cash, and tweets put into them, almost all award shows are lost to history just a couple of days after they occur. This is going to happen to the 2016 Emmys telecast, a mostly solid and deftly hosted affair that deserves a Peabody or maybe a special Nobel Peace Prize for ending before 11 p.m. EST. But while you’re not going to remember all the barbs thrown at Donald Trump or that surreal run of speeches with winners riffing on whose spouse owned the most, some of the night’s results should make an impact into the next voting cycle and beyond. Here are the biggest takeaways from the 2016 Emmys, and what they mean for the future.
First-Time Winners Rule, For Once
The Emmys have almost always been defined by complacency. That was not the case this year. Whether it’s the sheer numerical increase in programs (and thus great performance) or the altered voting rules (since last year, any Academy member can vote in any category), the 2016 Emmys just loved giving people their first trophies. Eight of the 12 main acting categories were taken by first-time winners: Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Rami Malek (Mr. Robot), Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline), Louie Anderson (Baskets), Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live), Sterling K. Brown, Courtney B. Vance, and Sarah Paulson (all The People v. O.J. Simpson). That new winner halo also extended to key non-acting awards, with Master of None’s Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s victory in comedy writing leading four first-time winners across writing and directing.
Some of these first timers were easy to guess (like, everyone affiliated with O.J.), while others were legitimately shocking in their randomness (Mendelsohn was great last year on Bloodline, but barely around this year). What this influx of new winners suggests, however, is that the Emmys are—very slowly—getting less predictable when it comes to just awarding big names and previous winners. We all may have rightfully assumed Vance would win in Lead Actor in a Limited Series, but that multi-time winner Bryan Cranston didn’t snake it away from him is a step in the right direction.
HBO Rules, As Always
Early in the show when all these new people were winning, there were some ~deep~ tweets about the lack of victories for HBO, the Academy’s favorite content producer. By the end of the evening though, that wasn’t a problem. Powered by Game of Thrones’ sweep in directing, writing, and series, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Veep continuing their respective streaks, and Last Week Tonight sliding right into the void left by The Daily Show, HBO won six of the night’s most important trophies. That equaled FX’s haul (of course buoyed by O.J.’s five big Ws) and dwarfed the two wins by Netflix.
Perhaps this is the new reality of Emmy night: a lot of interesting and weird stuff happens in many of the categories, and then HBO takes over when the (perceived) most significant awards are being handed out. We haven’t reached Modern Family or Mad Men levels of tedium with Veep and Thrones just yet since they’re both only riding back-to-back streaks, and Thrones won’t even be eligible next year due to its new production schedule, but the king will stay the king.
The Limited/Mini/Whatever Series Glut Spares No Prisoners
In 2014, there was a lot of chatter about HBO’s decision to enter True Detective into a loaded drama series race that featured both Mad Men and Breaking Bad in its final season instead of in the limited series against Fargo. At that time, HBO’s decision didn’t make much sense; while it enabled True D to compete in a more prestigious category, it also surely led to fewer wins. Even armed with the year’s most talked about performance, Matthew McConaughey couldn’t stop Cranston and Breaking Bad.
Just two years later, the limited series category has become the competitive hellscape that drama and comedy have in theory always been. FX chose to designate both O.J. and Fargo as limited series, a label that is technically accurate but one that also could be bent to fit whatever strategic pathway networks want. As a result, Fargo—one the year’s most beloved projects—sat idly by while its fellow FX frenemy dominated almost every notable limited series category. While FX brass are surely happy with the end result, you have to wonder how Noah Hawley and the Fargo team feel.
Fargo was just one of many tremendous projects stuck behind O.J. this year. The Academy tried to throw American Crime and The Night Manager a bone with Regina King and Susanne Bier’s respective victories, but Roots was shut out, and other shows couldn't even get nominated. Although something as acclaimed and talked about as O.J. won’t come along each year, the thirst for limited series is only going to grow. Really, really good shows are going to continue to lose in a category once considered a bit of an afterthought. Maybe it’s time for another show to try to hack it as a drama?
TV Is So Woke Right Now
Look, you know that “diversity” was going to be a talking point—it has been for a couple of years now. As with all things in Hollywood, it’s tough to separate legitimate progress from the contradicting, self-satisfied nature of how stars tend to express that progress.
On one hand, women won two of the three major directing categories (Susanne Bier in limited series/TV movie for The Night Manager and Jill Soloway in comedy for Transparent) and both Soloway and her star Jeffrey Tambor gave rousing speeches about the need for the inclusion of transgender people in all facets of production. On the other hand, there’s still a disconnect with Last Week Tonight winning in a category full of shows hosted by white dudes while Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal wasn’t even nominated, or with someone like Tambor—who admittedly gives a great performance—talking about how he’d love nothing more than to be the last cisgender man to play a trans woman.
Pick a buzzword: diverse, inclusive, ally, whatever—TV is definitely better at being that than film. But there’s always a danger that the celebrating of being those things—and the mostly white men leading the way—gets in the way of actual action and thus real progress.
James Corden Didn’t Win a Trophy, But He’s Won
Even though the telecast aired on ABC and was hosted by that network’s late night host in Jimmy Kimmel, few non-winners got as much screentime as James Corden. The Late Late Show host appeared in the opening pre-taped segment, predictably riffing on Carpool Karaoke with a game Kimmel, appeared on-stage as a presenter, and then was prominently featured in one part of Kimmel’s PB&J and juice delivery to the audience.
Oh, and how could we forget Corden’s new Apple Music spot! For reference, Apple Music did a big commercial last year too—one that featured Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henson, and Mary J. Blige. It’s safe to declare the 2016 edition a step down.
Corden’s Late Late Show didn’t win in variety talk show, but that hardly matters. When someone appears this often during an awards show, you know that Hollywood considers them to be important. When a network allows a competing late night host to join its own host in the opening segment of an award show, it’s even more apparent. I hope you enjoyed James Corden’s supporting performance tonight; you’re going to see a lot more of him in the 2016-2017 season—for better or worse.
As evidenced by these big takeaways, there wasn’t much to complain about with these Emmys. Whether or not we’ll remember much of this specific telecast, at least it’s good to know the whole enterprise of the Emmys is on an upward trajectory.