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Emmys 2020: Why ‘I May Destroy You’ isn’t nominated

Michaela Coel created and stars in the HBO series "I May Destroy You."
Michaela Coel in her HBO series “I May Destroy You.” Look for it at the Emmys next year.
(Laura Radford / HBO)

Sure, the COVID-19 pandemic has warped our sense of time, but as you scroll through the list of Emmy nominees you might find yourself wondering why so many shows from soooo long ago — “Stranger Things,” “Big Little Lies” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” among them — showed up in this year’s race.

Blame the Emmy calendar.

To qualify for this year’s awards, shows must have premiered between June 1, 2019, and May 31, 2020. “The Handmaid’s Tale’s” third season debuted on June 5. “Big Little Lies” dropped its second season on June 9. And perhaps you remember celebrating Independence Day last year with a “Stranger Things” marathon, though, if you’re like us, you probably don’t remember what you did this Fourth of July, much less 12 months ago.

The Emmys’ eligibility calendar also explains why Michaela Coel‘s “I May Destroy You” isn’t among this year’s nominees, though it’s one of the most celebrated new shows of 2020. The HBO series, lauded for the sensitive way it mixes comedy and pain in telling its story of a young woman regaining her memory and her life after a rape, debuted on June 7.

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Another first-year series, HBO’s high-profile noir reboot of “Perry Mason,” starring Emmy winners Matthew Rhys and Tatiana Maslany, also will have to wait until next year, as it premiered on June 21.

The George Floyd protests led to a new round of soul-searching about diversity in Hollywood. Our analysis of recent Emmy nominees shows several problem areas.

You may also be wondering:

Why are there eight nominees in the supporting acting categories for comedy and drama, but just six for lead?

The Television Academy expanded the number of nominated shows in the drama and comedy series categories from seven to eight in June, and also ruled that the number of nominees in other categories would be determined by the number of submissions. As most shows have only one or two stars but a surfeit of supporting players, that’s reflected in the numbers.

The new rules also reduced the number of nominees in the limited series/TV movie lead acting categories from six to five, turning those groups into a perpetual Sea of Snubs until the academy, hopefully, revisits those guidelines in the future.

I haven’t heard of half of the TV movies nominated. Couldn’t they have at least nominated “The Old Guard”? I saw it on Netflix and Charlize Theron kicks [butt]!

Netflix wants Oscars, not Emmys, and made the decision long ago to push for the former and not the latter for its movies. Some film academy members still deride Netflix titles as “TV movies,” and the streamer doesn’t want to do anything to confuse the issue. (And, of course, “The Old Guard” premiered in July, too late to qualify for the Emmys anyway.)

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Other movies like, oh, “Trolls World Tour,” which were released on-demand during these socially distant times, were originally planned for theaters and could compete for the 2021 Oscars, if the show isn’t postponed.

Andrew Scott in the "Black Mirror" episode "Smithereens."
(Netflix)

OK, that makes sense. But why isn’t the new “Black Mirror” nominated for TV movie this year? Voters love that show.

“Black Mirror” episodes (yes, episodes, not movies) have won the TV movie Emmy three years running, leading the Television Academy to stipulate that submissions must have a running time of at least 75 minutes. None of this season’s three new “Black Mirror” offerings ran that long, though the 70-minute “Smithereens” (starring “Fleabag’s” Andrew Scott, who landed a guest actor nomination, as a London ride-share driver) came close.

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In fact, the TV Academy initially flip-flopped, allowing Netflix to submit “Smithereens” as a movie, only to reverse course after rivals called foul. “Black Mirror” ultimately landed in the drama series category. Perhaps if the anthology series returns for a sixth season, creator Charlie Brooker can pad the scripts — just a touch.


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