The other day, when we put the comedies on the Emmy ballot in order from least to most funny, there were a bunch of comments and tweets that wondered why we didn’t include very funny shows like “The Simpsons,” “Archer,” “South Park” and others.
There’s a good reason for that: None of them are on the ballot for outstanding comedy series. In fact, except for “Family Guy,” not one animated series submitted in that category. Instead, they’re all in the outstanding animated series category.
Why? Well, there’s a good reason for that, something we touched on in our post from a few weeks ago about shows that never got the right kind of Emmy love, and it’s a pretty simple one: Animated shows rarely get nominated — and they never, ever win — when up against live-action shows.
Until 2009, when “Family Guy” broke through and got an outstanding comedy series nomination, almost 50 years had passed since the last time an animated series accomplished that feat; “The Flintstones” was nominated in the stodgily named “Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Humor” category in 1961. That’s a heck of a long time between nominations, and it speaks to the fact that most producers of animated series felt it was hopeless to try, so they didn’t even get in the game.
That includes the producers of “The Simpsons,” which is one of the most historically significant (and funniest) shows ever made. On a couple of occasions in the early ’90s, the producers submitted the show for outstanding comedy series, which made sense; it was an adult sitcom, after all, and it was hard to compare it to the shows aimed at kids that were mostly being nominated in the animated series category at the time.
But every time the show was submitted for best comedy series, it got shut out. After that, the producers decided to be content with submitting in the animation categories, where they’ve either won or have been nominated in every year they’ve been in it.
The shutout of “The Simpsons” scared a lot of animated series producers off, as they figured if that show had no hope of breaking through, what chances did they have? Seth MacFarlane, however, was bold enough to make the move, at the risk of shutting his show out completely. His rationale was a solid one, as he told The Hollywood Reporter when the nomination came down: “The process [for ‘Family Guy’] is much more analogous to what shows like “Two and a Half Men” or “The Office” do. The sitcom process is a different medium. The only thing that should be relevant is if you are doing a quality show or not.”
For his trouble, though, MacFarlane and the show got the backhanded compliment that the only reason why the show was nominated was because the academy had expanded the nomination slots that year from five to seven. But even if it got the seventh-most votes, that’s still a lot better than other animated shows have fared when they submitted in the comedy category.
Despite MacFarlane’s breakthrough, and the increasing number of really funny animated series out there, no one else has yet dared to take the risk, including MacFarlane’s co-producers on “The Cleveland Show” and “American Dad.” At some point, another producer is going to make the move and join “Family Guy” in the mix for a comedy series Emmy. But it’s definitely not this year. So if you’re wondering why “Futurama” or “South Park,” or even “The Simpsons” are not nominated for comedy series this year, it’s simply because the producers want an actual chance of winning something. Seems like a reasonable goal to us.