EMMYS for Outlander! – A Look Inside the Process

Written by: Anne Gavin


It's Emmy time and Starz and Outlander  fans have been tweeting up a storm hoping this year our favorite Time Travel/Historical Drama will garner much deserved nominations and awards for some of its actors and technical/production crew.  But, what of this mysterious Emmy process?  How does it work and what are the secrets to getting lesser known but critically acclaimed shows the recognition they deserve?  Let’s take a look inside the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences nomination and award process and see if we can learn a thing or two about how it all works, or doesn’t work…

More after the jump…

I wish I could say it’s simple to explain, but the Emmy nominations process is a convoluted, complicated maze of eligibility requirements, arcane rules and multiple rounds of voting and scoring. When researching this blog post, I came across one article titled “The Emmy Nomination Process is Completely Insane.”  Ha!  Well, at times, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and we are often left wondering after nominations are announced how this show or that show was left out.  I’ll do my best to explain it here and then we can talk a little about Outlander and how we think it might fare in this year’s nominations.

First thing we must ALL admit.  There is a heck of a lot of GOOD television on the airwaves now. Emmy categories will inevitably be filled but that will still leave a lot of quality television programming on the sidelines.  The television and entertainment industry has evolved to the point where we often see niche programs that viewers obsess over (like Orphan Black  or even Outlander ) but are only watched by a relatively small number of people if you are to go by the live Nielsen ratings – which is something the television industry still cares A LOT about.  However, the primary reason why we oftentimes find ourselves scratching our heads at the nominations each year is that the TV Industry suffers from what many other industries have – a failure to evolve with the times.  Only recently has the Academy started accepting (and nominating) programs on Netflix for consideration of major awards.  That was a step in the right direction but still the paperwork is daunting and the process overcomplicated.  If you are really into torture, try reading through the over 70 plus pages of Rules and Procedures around submitting for an Emmy nomination.   It’s no wonder that some of the larger networks get their shows nominated again and again and again.  They are the only ones with the money and wherewithal to not only fill out the reams of paperwork required to be considered as part of the nomination process but also have the biggest budget to flag the attention of Emmy voters via marketing and PR.


There are some 15,000 plus members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and these are your Emmy voters.  To become a member you must be a “person who is or who has been actively engaged in activities related to the production or distribution of audio visual works for national exhibition by means of telecommunications.”  And, if you fill that criteria, you must then fill out an application and get two existing members to endorse you.  Or, skip all that, get an Emmy nomination within the last 4 years and you are “in” with no questions asked!  Every member then gets placed into a “peer group.”  For example – writers, directors, actors, etc.  Directors judge the work of other directors and so on.  However, ALL members get to cast a vote when it comes to a series category.

So how does a show or an actor, director, writer get nominated?  This is where it gets crazy. Qualifying your entry is up to you or your network, producer, etc.  You choose the category you want to be nominated in, NOT the Television Academy.  This allows for a little strategy particularly if you feel there might be less competition in one category vs. another.  So, instead of submitting as a drama, maybe you submit as a comedy.   The same goes for whether an actor or actress is submitted as lead, supporting or guest.  With just a few more parameters, that is up to the submitter, as well.  There is A LOT of gray area here, too.  Some actresses in the past have submitted as both supporting and lead – example is Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men.  That’s one way to increase your chances of winning!

But, nominations matter, even if you don’t win.  The Television Academy has a tendency to keep nominating things over and over and tends to have a bias towards the “new.”  Some shows that get nominated a few times then fall out of the nominations (like The Good Wife ) have a hard time breaking back in.  But, this is good news for OutlanderOutlander  received one Emmy nomination last year – and that was for our wonderful Bear McCreary and his Outlander  score.  That said, given this is only Season 2 for Outlander and the critical acclaim of the series has been generous, it has a very good chance of catching some attention from the Emmys this year if past is prologue.  Basically, if the Emmys don’t pay attention to you within one or two seasons, they probably aren’t ever going to.  Always some exceptions to this but generally, that’s been how it has shaken out.  Another confusing thing about the Emmys is that while the awards are given out at the end of the summer, they are actually for performances from the previous season.  Eligibility dates are from June 1st of the year before through May 31st.  In Outlander’s  case, this means only Season 2 episodes that aired BEFORE May 31st of this year could be eligible for consideration.  So, unfortunately, some of the latter Episodes, like “Je Suis Prest”, “Prestonpans” and the Season Finale which we all expect will be a show case for actors and writers alike, CANNOT be considered for this year’s Emmy awards in the series category.


So, assuming all paperwork was submitted correctly, now what?  All submitted names, shows, etc. get placed on a lengthy ballot with everybody else who correctly filled out paperwork.  At this point, if you don’t have a ton of name recognition, then things could get dicey.  The exception here is when a potential nominee is on a network (or production company) that has lots of CASH to burn mounting a giant PR campaign.  Or, maybe a potential nominee is on a network that has a large percentage of voting members within the Academy. Note: HBO has by far the most people in the Academy and also consistently gets the most Emmy nominations.  Not a coincidence.  Pretty much anything HBO puts on the air will get serious Emmy consideration.  Size does matter when it comes to your audience and also genre.  This is where the going could get tough for Outlander  and some of its biggest contenders for nominations.  Outlander  is still considered in the “Sci-Fi” genre and while audience numbers for Season 2 have consistently been near a million or slightly over per episode, Starz is still a bairn as far as the cable networks are concerned.  Even with Caitriona Balfe’s Golden Globe nomination, it’s still tough to get noticed by the Emmy voting members given the show’s genre, network and relatively mediocre audience numbers.  You also have a better chance of getting noticed if you are a critically acclaimed FILM actor.  Think Paul Giamatti, Kevin Spacey and Liev Schreiber.  Success in film is a distinct advantage given the Emmy’s inferiority complex with its grown up big brother – the Oscars.  Well known film actors almost always get a second look by Emmy voters.  For the most part, principal actors in Outlander  are relative unknowns in the Big Screen world.

So, remember – getting on the ballot doesn’t mean you will be nominated.  6 nominees are given the nod in each major category with 7 nominees allowed for Best Drama and Best Comedy.   However, if you come in 7th for any of the major categories, you might still be nominated as long as your vote total is within 2 percent of the actual nominees.  Say what?  If votes were 1.2 percent out of 6th place, you get to be nominated.  See what I mean – insane.  So, if nominated, then each network picks the one episode that best represents an actor, writer or producers’ work and it gets submitted to a blue-ribbon panel that will judge against other nominees in that category.  A series can submit two episodes.  Who are these "judges" then?  Sounds a bit shady but supposedly the Academy selects the judges in a secret process.  Judges are only allowed to serve two consecutive years as judges in a category.  Each acting category has between 50 to 75 judges and the series categories have between 750 and 900 judges.  Judges rank their ballots from 1 to 6.  The winner will have the lowest score – the most 1’s.  The Academy tends to like hammier work vs. more subtle acting.  One reason given why Mad Men  for so many years lacked any acting wins.  Therefore, the more dramatic and affected work, the better.  Any wonder why Bryan Cranston became such an Emmy magnet?


So, what of Outlander ?  It was learned through a variety of sources that were sent Starz’s Emmy PR package that Starz submitted Episodes 2.01 “Through a Glass, Darkly”; 2.02 “Not in Scotland Anymore”; 2.06 “Best Laid Schemes” and 2.07 “Faith” for Emmy consideration.  Given the eligibility requirements, I can understand why Starz landed on these episodes.  Certainly Episode 2.01 showcases both Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies acting chops quite well.  And, Episode 2.02 was written by Ron Moore’s consigliere and BFF, Ira Steven Behr.  2.02 also highlights some of costume designer Terry Dresbach’s amazing Parisian creations including the infamous “Red Dress.” 2.06 and 2.07 provide great canvas for our leading actors, Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe, as well as some of the supporting characters/actors including Dominique Pinion’s Master Raymond, and Frances de la Tour’s Mother Hildegard.  I'm betting on a Guest Actor nomination for Frances de la Tour.   In fact, I have to hand it to Starz, as they managed to complete and submit paperwork for 14 of Outlander's  performers to make it on to the Emmy ballots.  You can see who at this link.  Several like Dominique Pinion, Frances de la Tour and Simon Callow (for his role as the Duke of Sandringham) were submitted under the "Guest Actor" category.

As I mentioned previously, it’s unfortunate that primarily only the “Paris-based” episodes were eligible for submission for series consideration.  The only “Scotland” episode that aired prior to the deadline was Episode 2.08 “The Fox’s Lair” and I can definitely see why that episode was not included.  However, if Sam Heughan gets a nomination, I am thinking the episode that will be submitted for him would likely be Episode 2.06.  Unfortunately, some of Sam’s best Season 2 work fell after the eligibility deadline.  Likely, the best of Sam is still to come.  However, perhaps Starz will look to focus some of its PR efforts on Sam for next year’s Emmy nods.

It could be a do or die year for Outlander  and the Emmys.  If no nominations this year, despite the efforts Starz has made to hype the show, I fear Outlander  will get lost in Emmy obscurity. Nomination voting began June 13th and will end June 27th.  Starz has asked fans to Tweet #EmmysforOutlander during this voting period.

Nominations are announced on July 14th and throughout the month of August multiple rounds of final viewing and voting takes place.  We all know the power of the Outlander fandom.  However, in this case, it’s not the Outlander  fans who will be casting votes – it is members of the Television Academy.  Hoping our crew gets their just rewards when the nominations are announced.  For fledgling network Starz and for upstart Outlander , just being nominated would be a triumph.  And, most importantly, will keep Outlander  in the Academy members’ collective minds so as we proceed with Seasons 3 and 4, hopefully, Outlander  will start taking home the top prizes.

So, remember to tweet early and often for Outlander  – between now and June 27th. #EmmysforOutlander.  Can't hurt!


The 68th Annual Emmy Awards will be telecast on September 18th on the ABC television network.

Of the submitted Episodes, which is your favorite? Which do you think is Sam Heughan’s best episode to date in Season 2?  And Caitriona Balfe's best?

14 comments

  1. If the end of this season can't be submitted for this year, can't Sam's and Tobias' (and Cait's) work in last year's finale ep's be submitted? And likewise the back half of this year submitted for consideration next year? Our 3 leads all did incredible work in last year's finale. And I think that falls in the correct time frame.. Correct?

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    1. The season 1 finale aired in May of last year, so it's ineligible.

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    2. Angela Hickey -- Kendra is correct regarding last year's episodes not being qualified for submission this year. However, some of the back half of Season 2's episodes would be eligible for submission for next year's Emmy's. Anything in S. 2 that aired AFTER June 1, 2016 could be eligible. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  2. Caitriona and Tobias are right in the pocket. Episode 201 is Tobias' best work and, probably the best script for a character - during the eligible time period - until Faith.

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    1. Diane -- Agree on Tobias and Episode 2.01. He was also excellent in "Untimely Resurrection." Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  3. There is a hanging episodes rule that allows episodes that air after May 31 into eligibility. There just has to be enough episodes that air before May 31 to qualify them. Therefore, I think all episodes of the season can be entered for consideration. For example, Simon Callow's consideration episode for guest actor is 211.

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    1. Hanging eps, yes, as long as the season finale airs before June 27.

      I would love an explanation from STARZ as to why it didn't air the last two eps together, back to back, like other shows have done with their finales, to ensure the whole season was up for Emmy 2016 consideration.

      I think it weakens the Emmy chances by having half of a season up for contention.

      But perhaps there is a strategy about it.... I'm guessing that since they're already later than last year for production, they may not air much before the 2017 Emmy's and will need the Scotland eps to display Sam's acting chops and keep Outlander on the Emmy/networking radar overall.

      I think Anne knows why guest actors can submit on a hanging ep. but others can't? !

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    2. Sarah -- I believe Holly is correct. The finale has to air BEFORE the first round of voting ends -- which is July 27th. As for how it is that Starz submitted "late" episodes outside the eligibility period for "Guest Actors" and why wouldn't same apply to major awards like "Best Actor Drama" -- I don't know. I have been scouring the Emmy Rules and Procedures booklet trying to get a good answer, but don't have one. I'll keep looking! Thanks for your interest and for reading and commenting!

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  4. Caitriona and Tobias are right in the pocket. Episode 201 is Tobias' best work and, probably the best script for a character - during the eligible time period - until Faith.

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  5. Kendra .. ok I thought maybe it crossed the line... but the back half of this season could be put in next year if they wanted.. correct? The episodes that don't make the cut this year I mean.

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    1. I believe that's correct, Angela :)

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    2. Yes, Kendra -- that is correct as far as my understanding of the Rules.

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  6. Holly, I think you're right on the money! Per usual. I imagine that they're ensuring they have submission material next year if we don't get a S3 premiere until May and not enough episodes have aired by the deadline. The Sopranos used to have lengthy gaps and would be judged based on episodes of a season that seemed forever ago. Thanks, Anne, for breaking this down for everyone!

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  7. Ashley -- while I think Sam will have some powerful episodes to show case for first half of Season 3, perhaps back half of Season 2 that will be eligible for 2017 Emmys is just a little insurance policy. :) Thanks for reading and commenting!

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