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The Emmys Redefine What's Considered a Comedy, Expands Categories

Find out what's considered a miniseries now!

Kaitlin Thomas

Big changes are coming to the Emmy Awards this year!

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which governs the annual awards show, changes nomination and voting rules quite often--a necessity as the medium evolves and the number of quality series continues to increase. On Friday, the Academy announced a few major rule changes that will affect the 2015 ceremony, which is scheduled to air Sunday, Sept. 20 on Fox.

The new regulations won't necessarily prevent Modern Family from hoarding titles it no longer deserves (you know it, and I know it), but they may help even the playing field. For example, the Best Comedy Series and Best Drama Series categories were previously capped at six nominees each, but that number will be increased to seven for 2015.

And in an even bigger shake-up, the Academy is sharpening the line between what constitutes a comedy versus a drama: Going forward, series with episodes of 30 minutes or less will be defined as a comedy, while series with longer episodes will be labeled as dramas by default.

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This change won't matter to most eligible series, but programs like Showtime's Shameless--which the network submitted as a drama for three years before switching it to the less-crowded comedy race in 2014--will likely be forced to stick to the drama categories. Netflix's Orange Is the New Black and The CW's Jane the Virgin, two hour-long programs that are dramatic, but feature plenty of comedic elements, will also be affected.

Meanwhile, half-hour series like HBO's Girls and Looking and Showtime's Nurse Jackie, which all tend to be more dramatic than comedic, now have reason to continue competing as comedies.

However, there is a loophole: Producers will be allowed to petition a newly created industry panel to consider their series' eligibility in an alternative category. So if Jane wants to submit as a comedy instead of a drama, it can certainly plead its case.

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The Academy also made some tweaks to its definitions of "series" and "miniseries," and to the eligibility rules for Best Guest Actor and Best Guest Actress categories. Check out the full details below:

Expansion of Final Round Voting: In an effort to expand member participation in the voting process, and to take advantage of the Academy's extension of online voting to both rounds, all voters eligible to vote in a category's nominating round are now eligible to vote in that category's final round, so long as they meet two additional requirements: much like the former Blue Ribbon panel process, voters must watch the required submitted material online and attest to no specific conflicts of interest with the nominees.

Expansion of Nominees for "Comedy" and "Drama" Series Categories: Due to the dramatic increase in series production, the number of nominees for "Comedy" and "Drama" series has been increased from six to seven.

Definition of a "Comedy" and "Drama" Series:To clarify the difference between the "Comedy" and "Drama" series categories, series with episodes of 30 minutes or less are defined as a "Comedy"; those with episodes of more than 30 minutes are presumed to be a "Drama."

Producers may formally petition a new Academy industry panel to consider their series' eligibility in the alternative category. This nine-member panel will include five industry leaders appointed by the Television Academy Chairman and four appointees from the Board of Governors. A two-thirds vote of this Industry Panel is required for petition approval.

All programs entering the competition this year will be grouped according to these new definitions.

Definition of "Series" and "Limited Series": "Mini-Series" will be changed to "Limited Series" and defined as programs of two or more episodes with a total running time of at least 150 program minutes that tell a complete, non-recurring story, and do not have an ongoing storyline and/or main characters in subsequent seasons. "Comedy" and "Drama" Series will continue to be defined as programs with a minimum of six episodes which have an ongoing storyline, theme and main characters presented under the same title and with continuity of production supervision.

Producers may formally petition for review by the aforementioned industry panel to change category eligibility.

Definition of "Guest Actor": Only performers appearing in less than 50% of a program's episodes are now eligible to submit in the "Guest Actor" category.

Split of Variety Series category: The Variety Series category is now split - Outstanding Variety Talk, to be awarded during the Primetime Emmy telecast, and Outstanding Variety Sketch, to be included in the Creative Arts Emmy program.

What do you think of the Emmys' new rules?

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