On a recent Tuesday in September, more than 9.4 million people watched an episode of America's Got Talent on NBC. Which is maybe all the context needed to explain how poorly Sunday's 71st annual Primetime Emmy Awards performed with viewers. According to data released by Nielsen, the 2019 Emmys drew 6.9 million viewers to Fox, making it the least-watched ceremony in the history of "television's biggest night."
Even worse data: This year's Emmys, which eschewed having a host and seemingly abandoned the drive to create a compelling broadcast in the process, dropped 32 percent from the 2018 Emmys, which aired on a Monday night and stood as the worst-rated broadcast in Emmys history until now. The 71st annual Primetime Emmy Awards also dipped 39 percent from the 2017 Emmys, which broadcast on a Sunday.
The Emmys ceremony was such a lost cause that not even celebrating the final season of Game of Thrones was able to help the show retain some level of respectability. Perhaps that has something to do with the Emmys itself: Game of Thrones won best drama, best supporting actor (for Peter Dinklage), and 10 other awards — putting the final season of Thrones just one award away from breaking the HBO show's own record for most Emmy wins by a series in a single season. Yet because 10 of Game of Thrones' 12 Emmys came during the separate Creative Arts Emmys ceremony two weeks ago, the popular franchise felt absent from the ceremony for long stretches — and not even an awkward cast reunion was able to make up for that fact. By contrast, it felt like Amazon's critically acclaimed Fleabag won everything — all told, the show won four awards during the broadcast, double the amount given to Thrones. Which was a great result for the Phoebe Waller-Bridge hive that dominated the online discussion around the Emmys (we — and I can't stress this enough — stan), but maybe less so for viewers of Fox, where the dominant shows are The Masked Singer and Family Guy.
Or is there something more corrosive happening with the faltering Emmys ratings? Almost every major awards show has weathered a crisis of ratings over the last five years — with numbers a fraction of what they were in the halcyon days of the past. But the Emmys feel particularly irrelevant because of the confusion at its core: too many categories (so many, in fact, that there are two Emmys ceremonies before the big show), too many nominees (some categories had up to eight contenders, and many had more than the traditional five), and a restrictive calendar that forces shows to fit into an eligibility window that doesn't line up with the full year (this edition's eligibility window went from June 1, 2018, through May 31, 2019). That third complaint is perhaps the most pressing issue: On Sunday night, GLOWstar Betty Gilpin — who lost in the supporting actress category to Alex Borstein from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel -- was nominated for Season 2 and not her indelible, almost revolutionary work in Season 3. Similarly, Succession, which is in the middle of its lauded second season, was nominated for its first season — which left its cast, all of whom have arguably leveled up this year, without a single nod.
Not that there's an easy fix for this — short of blowing it up and starting from scratch. But maybe the Television Academy will get the chance. If the Emmys ratings continue to fall at this pace, the 2022 ceremony will have roughly zero viewers.