Is this the year Game of Thrones finally breaks through the Emmy geek ceiling? Shows with sci-fi, fantasy or horror themes are rarely major awards contenders, despite earning great reviews and top ratings. In fact, in Emmy history, only one genre show has won Outstanding Drama Series — Lost, in 2005. More often, these shows get rewarded in the craft categories, like special effects and makeup, if they win anything at all.
"Maybe all the Emmy voters aren't going to Comic-Con yet," says The Walking Dead executive producer Robert Kirkman. "There's obviously a certain segment of our population that has trouble taking unusual or unrealistic things seriously."
Julie Plec, executive producer of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, thinks voters from the television academy don't take genre shows seriously because they're seen as "popcorn," lowbrow entertainment. The X-Files landed two major wins during its run — lead actress for Gillian Anderson and drama writing — while the critically acclaimed Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica struggled to get any recognition. "I remember Buffy was so exceptionally written and so brilliant, but it took years for Joss Whedon to get his nomination," Plec says of Buffy's creator, who was nominated for drama writing in 2000.
"Voters don't look at these shows as what they really are: deep character pieces," Plec says. "We're telling the same stories [as Breaking Bad and The Good Wife]; we're just dressing them up in different packages. Game of Thrones is a spectacularly executed series that holds up against any episode of television."
It may help that series like The Walking Dead are now part of the mainstream. The zombie drama was the most watched program last season by viewers ages 18-49, and American Horror Story and Game of Thrones also command large, broad audiences. While both of those shows have scored nominations — last year, American Horror Story: Asylum earned 17, more than any other program — neither has picked up a top prize, winning only in the supporting-actor and -actress categories.
"Game of Thrones and American Horror Story have been able to catch the eye of voters because they are so provocative and fresh," Plec says. "But there's a sense that just getting nominated if you're a genre show should be good enough — that's the win."
The sands may be shifting. Coming off its most popular season yet, Game of Thrones could finally land the drama prize in August. And with more sci-fi, horror, superhero and fantasy shows on the way, it's a promising time for genre television. "It's changing more and more every day for the better," Kirkman says. "Luckily, there are a lot of people who can look past the unrealistic, more fantastical elements of a show and see it for what it is — a heart-pounding, emotional drama."