The Emmy Nominations Ballots Are Out: Let's Take a Look a Them!

Though summer programming may be a bit lightweight in spots, there's at least one big television-related event to keep us preoccupied: the prologue to the Primetime Emmy Awards. Nominations will be announced on July 19, but there's plenty to discuss now, as we approach that morning where everyone who cares will get up early to find out that Modern Family and Mad Men were nominated for everything yet again.

The nominations process officially began this week, as ballots were sent out to voters and posted online on Monday. But if you're unfamiliar with the Emmy voting process, don’t feel alone; the whole thing is a bit of an ordeal. To be eligible for this year's nominations, the work in question had to have first aired in the United States between June 1, 2011 and May 31, 2012. And to actually be considered for nomination, eligible parties were required to submit the proper materials (almost all online, according to this regulations PDF) by May 4, 2012. If your episode was scheduled to air after May 4, but before the May 31 deadline, it still had to be submitted by May 4.

As far as I know, any eligible party can take the initiative and submit themselves for the proper categories (recall the minor scuffles that occurred when Parks and Recreation’s Rob Lowe and Gossip Girl’s Chace Crawford submitted themselves for their respective leading actor categories). That doesn’t necessary mean that all actors do this. In 2009, Lost’s Terry O’Quinn flat-out forgot to submit himself, just one year after winning for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. Sometimes, executive producers, studio folk, and agents have a big say in who places themselves in what category.

No matter who actually makes the effort to fill out the online entry form, the nominating ballots go up around two-and-a-half weeks before nominations are actually due. This year's ballots went up on Monday, June 11, and they're due from Emmy voters on June 28 at 5pm. The ballots you can find on the official Emmy website are the same ones the Television Academy members see, and the directions on voting procedures are visible to us non-members. Emmy voters are given specific directions for each category, but generally, those directions involve clicking through pages and pages of a PDF and choosing five to ten nominees in a specific category (more on that momentarily).

To TV fans and outsiders, it seems like every year there are a handful of shocking nominees. However, some of that surprise is easy to predict if you’ve glanced at the ballots, which themselves are often wonky in their own way. To help you better understand the Emmy process and be more prepared for the occasional randomness that is the Emmys, I've gone through the nominations ballots to point out some of this year's weirder, funnier, and curious inclusions.

Scantrons? Really, Emmys?

Okay, so this isn’t a gripe about an actual nomination, but the process itself. If you take a look at the ballots, individual nominees in each category have a corresponding three-digit number. That number is what Emmy voters are supposed to use when they enter their choices into a Scantron sheet. I understand that the Emmys aren’t fundamental to our world’s economy or fundamental to really anything at all, but I would think that in 2012, the Academy had a better procedure in place than the one that inadvertently tanked my chemistry grade in high school. It’s already too easy to poke fun at the Emmy voters being old and out of touch, but then I remember the particulars of the process. No wonder so many veteran critics often joke that nominees close together (and on the earlier pages) get the benefit; it’s pretty easy to just pick 009 after you’ve already made your mark heavy and dark for 008.

Two and a Half Men’s Jon Cryer submitted as a lead Actor instead of a Supporting Actor.

Jon Cryer has been nominated in the Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series category for six straight years and he took home the award in 2009. With Charlie Sheen out of the Men picture, Cryer apparently decided it was time to move up to the Lead Actor race. Unfortunately for haters of the show, this makes sense. Cryer had more to do in this most recent season and the Lead Actor race is much easier to handle compared to the insane gambit that is that Supporting Actor category. As long as voters know he switched categories, I’d bet Cryer gets nominated either way.

There are a ton of shows with multiple submissions in the Lead Actor and Lead Actress categories.

It’s difficult to know who decided what, but the prevailing wisdom is that shows, performers, and creatives don’t want to lower their chances of being nominated by muddying the waters and competing against their co-workers (there are certainly exceptions, like the Modern Family cast all deciding to enter in the Supporting fields).

This year, however, there are a slew of shows with double nominees in the leading performer races, including White Collar (Matthew Bomer and Tim DeKay), Suits (Gabriel Macht and Patrick J. Adams), Franklin & Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Breckin Meyer), Person of Interest (Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson), Two and a Half Men (Cryer and Ashton Kutcher), Entourage (Kevin Connolly and Adrian Grenier), Parks and Recreation (Rob Lowe and Adam Scott), Raising Hope (Garret Dillahunt and Lucas Neff), The Big Bang Theory (Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons), Mad Men (Elisabeth Moss and Jessica Paré), Revenge (Emily VanCamp and Madeleine Stowe), and Once Upon a Time (Ginnifer Goodwin and Jennifer Morrison).

Lots of shows are more ensemble-heavy these days, but it’s still interesting to see so many pairs of performers competing for the same award. Deciding who joins what category has to be a difficult balance for actors, producers, studios, networks, and agents, but imagine how difficult it must be for Emmy voters. DO I WANT TO NOMINATE FRANKLIN OR BASH?

The “miniseries” and “series” designations are totally screwy.

I know, this is not an issue endemic to 2012, but it seems especially annoying this year. So let me get this straight: Luther, Sherlock, and The Hour, all UK productions that came stateside through BBC America and PBS, are able to enter the miniseries/TV movie categories, despite having multiple seasons? Meanwhile American Horror Story submitted for a chance to play in the miniseries/TV movie sandbox because it’s an anthology, as did Missing and The River (apparently) because they were canceled.

And yet, Awake—a show that met the same demise as Missing and The River—will almost certainly be left out of the nominations because it’s fighting off dozens of big players in the drama series races.

That...makes as much sense as The River's especially thorough camera placement.

According to the Emmy rulebook, a “series” constitutes a program “in which the ongoing theme, storyline, and main characters are presented under the same title and have continuity of production supervision,” while a “miniseries” is “based on a single theme or storyline, which is resolved within the piece.” That logic convinces me of why American Horror Story is where it is, but doesn’t help me distinguish one bit between Missing, The River and Awake.

Hey, at least Connie Britton might actually win an Emmy now. Oh wait, Jessica Lange’s in her category? Well.

The CW's Emmy strategy* is all about the ladies.

We already know that The CW wants to attract young female viewers with its programming, but somehow, that’s transferred over to the network’s Emmy strategy* as well. Few CW men even bothered submitting themselves for awards (neither of Supernatural's Winchester bros threw their hats in the ring, and the same goes for Paul Wesley and the men of Gossip Girl, The Secret Circle, and 90210), and those who did stayed tucked deep within the Supporting Actor categories (Ian Somerhalder, Shane West and Ioan Gruffudd on the drama side and Tim Matheson on the comedy side).

Meanwhile, Nina Dobrev, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sophia Bush and Rachel Bilson are all present in the race for a Lead Actress nomination. I understand that The CW is probably never going to have an Emmy nominee, and clearly, most of the performers on the network know that too. But it’s odd to see most of them, especially the men, not even try. Note to The CW: ABC Family, which has lots of potential nominees, is following your business plan better than you.

*This is assuming The CW has an Emmy strategy, or a strategy for anything whatsoever.

Glee’s Matthew Morrison submitted for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.

Yikes. Which episode do guys think has the best "Will writing a word on the whiteboard" scene? Because that’s definitely the one Matthew Morrison should enter. Didn't he just write SPANISH on the board in “The Spanish Teacher?”

Several big-time, mostly serialized dramas didn't submit their finales for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series.

As I was parceling through the massive ballot for writing, I noticed that Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Homeland and Sons of Anarchy chose not to put their respective finales in contention. Again, it’s difficult to discern the logic behind any of these choices, but it's curious to me that finales where viewers would need a substantial level of prior knowledge to understand what was going on weren't entered into the race.

I looked over the last few years' worth of winners in this category to see if the voters perhaps favored more standalone efforts, but recent victors like Jason Katims and David Chase for Friday Night Lights and The Sopranos’ respective finales and Matthew Weiner for Mad Men’s plot-heavy Season 3 finale suggest otherwise. I guess that'll teach me for trying to make the Emmys make little sense.

Side note: The Academy doesn’t require possible nominees in the writing category to send a script to voters until after they are actually nominated. The voters obviously see episodes when looking at shows for series nominations, but that’s still amusing to me.

Smash’s Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty submitted for Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, but Debra Messing submitted for Lead Actress.

We can chalk this one up to typical Hollywood posturing in line with what Rob Lowe continues to do on Parks and Recreation. Debra Messing is the bigger, more recognizable star, so she gets to enter into the Lead Actress in a Drama Series race, while the two performers who the story is really built around and who both have a couple of episodes that would work better as a submission tape get shoved to Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. Maybe Messing has a better chance where she is, maybe not. But this kind of logic is frustrating to those who actually watch the shows and know which performers do what.

And, oh: Why is Smash entered in all the drama categories? It was one of my favorite comedies of the 2011-2012 season.

Kathryn Joosten will be nominated (again) for her work on Desperate Housewives.

This is more of a prediction than an observation, but as soon as I saw that the recently deceased Joosten had joined the Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series race and realized that her face was all over the Emmys website homepage, I knew one of the nominees was already in place. Joosten (who won Emmys for her Desperate Housewives role in 2005 and 2008) probably won’t win posthumously, but someone that beloved is bound to be nominated one last time. I’m fine with that.

Have you looked at the nomination ballots? What jumps out at you?

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