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Everything You’d Ever Need to Know About the Emmy Awards

Everything You’d Ever Need to Know About the Emmy Awards
Photo Source: Caitlin Watkins

For fans of the small screen, the Emmys are it—the highest honor for working in television. The Television Academy’s various award ceremonies cover shows and programs on all the major networks, cable channels (starting in 1988), and, since 2013, all streaming services. The accolades, particularly the Primetime Emmys, are highly sought after, often considered the small screen’s corollary to the Oscars and the Tonys. They cover the entire industry, from make-up artists and technicians to executive producers and leading actors. 

Lorne Michaels, the famous producer, holds a record 78 nominations, more than any individual. It’s easy to see why; he’s the man behind NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” which has been nominated (221 times) and won (54 statues) more often than any other show. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” has shot up quickly to grab a record 38 wins for a drama series in only a handful of seasons, including a record-busting 12 wins in a single year. But perhaps the most impressive record was set by Julia Louis-Dreyfus just last year: six consecutive wins (out of a career eight, also a record) for a single character, her leading role as Selina Meyer on HBO’s “Veep.”

The Emmy statue has become as iconic as the Oscar. The winged woman upholding an atom captures the awards’ dedication to both the arts and sciences. The process to find the right statue was long. Its current form was the 48th design submitted, after the rest were all rejected. The name Emmy is a feminized version (to match the statue) of Immy, a nickname for a tube used in early TV cameras. Dorothy McManus was the model for the statue, created by her spouse, TV engineer Louis McManus.

Want to know more? The guide below covers many of the ins and outs of the Emmys, including who votes, who is eligible, and best of all, how to win one yourself.

When did the first Emmys take place?

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS) held their first awards ceremony on January 25, 1949 at the Hollywood Athletic Club. Tickets were $5. Only six awards were given out, all for local Los Angeles television programming. The first winner? Ventriloquist Shirley Dinsdale for Outstanding Personality for the children’s show “Judy Splinters.”

Who votes on the Emmys?

There are actually several Emmy ceremonies recognizing different segments of the TV industry. These events are staggered throughout the year and awarded by different organizations that share the Emmy name and statue. Each organization maintains its own membership of television professionals that vote.

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS) was started first, and votes on the Primetime Emmys and their corresponding Creative Arts and Engineering categories. The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) began in 1955 and votes on Daytime (including daytime TV’s Creative Arts and Engineering), Sports, and News and Documentary awards. The International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (IATAS) votes on the International awards.

How does voting take place?

Members can vote online to both elect nominees and select winners. For the ATAS and the Primetime Emmys, different peer groups decide different awards. When a potential member applies to the ATAS, they qualify for a peer group based on their role in the industry. For the Primetime Emmys, all members can vote for awards for the main program categories. Non-program entries are decided by their respective peer group (for example, performing categories such as actor or actress in a drama series).

The Emmys website has also provided this visual guide on the process.

How can I vote?

To apply for membership in one of the academies, you have to be active or have been active in the world of TV and meet the minimum requirement of your peer group (listed here). Once approved (generally in four to six weeks), you can vote online. Just remember to pay your membership dues!

Who and what do the Emmys honor?

The Primetime Emmy categories have undergone plenty of changes over the Academy’s 70 years; the list below reflects where the awards stand in 2018 (this year’s nominations were announced July 12).

The main program categories are:

  • Outstanding Comedy Series
  • Outstanding Drama Series
  • Outstanding Limited Series
  • Outstanding Reality-Competition Program
  • Outstanding Television Movie
  • Outstanding Variety Sketch Series
  • Outstanding Variety Talk Series

Other awards by peer group are:

Performance

  • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
  • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
  • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
  • Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
  • Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
  • Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

Directing

  • Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series
  • Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series
  • Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special
  • Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series

Writing

  • Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series
  • Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series
  • Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special
  • Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series

Additional awards for the other peer groups are announced at the Creative Arts Emmys, which hold a separate ceremony prior to the Primetime Emmys.

When and where are the Emmys happening this year?

The Primetime Emmys are taking place Sept. 17, 2018 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Michael Che and Colin Jost will host.

The Creative Arts Emmys for Primetime, also held at the Microsoft Theater, take place Sept. 8 and 9. The 2018 Daytime Emmys already occurred, held April 29.

(Want to score a seat? Visit here to become a seat-filler.)

How can I win an Emmy?

Winning an Emmy is totally possible, although not easy. Angela Lansbury has been nominated 18 times, including 12 for her starring role on “Murder She Wrote,” and never won. Barring the cruelties of fate—or, alternatively, accounting for good luck—here are some suggestions.

Here’s the easy part: before you can win an Emmy, someone has to submit your name for consideration. Luckily, you can submit your own name!

Ready to win your own Emmy? Check out Backstage’s television audition listings!

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