In spite of host Michael Che’s quips about linear television being on life support and the pervasiveness of password sharing, last night’s 70th Emmy Awards celebrated the best television has to offer. Less disputed than the challenges facing the industry is the fact that there is still great storytelling happening.
Meanwhile, at Magid, we were curious if we could find consistent patterns in programming most likely to receive Emmy nominations. To investigate, we looked at nominated programs over the past four years using our EmotionalDNA® research framework—a map of the emotional landscape for television.
We began with an analysis of the comedies and found consistent emotional patterns over the past four years. We found that comedies nominated for an Emmy had higher Originality, Edge, and Relatability compared to the rest of the comedy landscape. This year’s comedy and variety talk nominees illustrate the pattern.
While Relatability has been a factor in nominations over the past four years, it’s clear that Originality and Edge align closely with this year’s winners: HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (best variety talk), HBO’s Barry (best actor and supporting actor) and juggernaut The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel from Amazon Prime, receiving best comedy, best actress, supporting actress, directing, and writing awards, all of which score 99th percentile on Edge or Originality.
In contrast to comedies, we found a different set of emotions and show characteristics among nominated dramas. For example, dramas rated lower in Heart and Adrenaline were more likely to be nominated, suggesting that nominees don’t tend to have feel-good inspirational tones and tend to have a slower pacing compared to the rest of the landscape. This finding can be illustrated by several prior-year nominees including Mad Men (Heart in 34th percentile and Adrenaline 27th percentile), Fargo (Heart in the 30th percentile, Adrenaline in 55th percentile), True Detective (Heart 33rd percentile), House of Cards (Heart 25th percentile), and Mr. Robot (Heart at 35th, and Adrenaline at 59th percentile). These prestige shows include themes that underscore a darker side to humanity (low Heart), take their time in developing plot lines and use more epic storytelling, with rich and evolving character arcs.
Overall, nominees in both the comedy and drama categories represent programs that violate traditional expectations of their respective genres. For example, nominated dramas have low Adrenaline, and are not necessarily high in Gravity (a trait generally associated with dramas). Similarly, nominated comedies don’t necessarily have low Gravity (and aren’t all about laughs). Perhaps networks seeking to achieve Emmy greatness might be served by taking a greater degree of risk in producing content that doesn’t conform to expectations.
However, before show runners do anything drastic in an attempt to produce genre-bending content, it turns out, for comedies and dramas alike, consumer and Television Academy expectations of what broadcast, premium, and SVOD platforms can and should deliver comes into play. This is supported by the fact that nomination-worthy shows tend to be associated with pedigree distributors. Emmy behemoths HBO and Netflix went head to head to win 23 awards each from 108 and 112 respective nominations, and according to the data, this fact is true now as it was four years ago. Simply put, whether a show is perceived as being nomination worthy depends not only on the show but on the expectation for the network the show airs on.
Changing expectations and perceptions of a network requires a concerted and intentional effort to understand consumers’ most desired emotional dimensions and how that aligns (or doesn’t) with their impression of your network or SVOD brand. The good news? EmotionalDNA does both.