Over the weekend, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences handed out more than 70 awards as part of the annual Creative Arts Emmys ceremony, which serves as a precursor to the more prestigious Primetime Emmys broadcast. This year, an ongoing storyline has concerned the Television Academy’s adoption of short-form categories, in which several digital-native programs earned nominations. At the Creative Arts ceremony, those categories were resolved, with AOL’s stylish talk show Park Bench among the winners.
In total, six short-form Emmys were handed out: Robot Chicken for Short Form Animated Program; Children’s Hospital for Short Form Comedy or Drama Series; Inside Look: The People v. OJ Simpson for Outstanding Short Form Nonfiction or Reality Series; Rob Corddry’s Children’s Hospital performance for Outstanding Actor in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series; Park Bench for Short Form Variety Series; and Acting Dead lead Patrika Darbo for Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series. It is as interesting, from our point of view, to example the shows that did not emerge triumphant. The list of short-form also-rans includes top web series like Epic Rap Battles of History, Honest Trailers, and indie darling Her Story.
Most of these victories are well deserved. Park Bench, in which Steve Buscemi hosts interviews from a New York park bench and at other casual locations around the city, is AOL’s best original series. Children’s Hospital was a web series innovator before it ever arrived on TV, so it is fitting for the Adult Swim comedy to be honored for its short-form accomplishments. Darbo’s turn as a wild-eyed agent was a fun performance by an actress with more than three decades of acting experience.
I would be remiss, however, if I did not complain about the Television Academy’s apparently love affair with digital companions for existing TV shows. Web companions, in general, are by definition not outstanding. While some networks, such as AMC and Bravo, do a good job of supporting their shows with excellent digital content, but the majority of companions are quickly-produced add-ons that provide an extra treat for fans of their associated TV shows and not much else. Here, for example, is an episode of the People v. OJ Simpson companion the Television Academy deemed more outstanding than any other short form non-fiction or reality series. What about this dry piece of behind-the-scenes programming makes it at all award-worthy?
When it first announced its short-form categories, the Television Academy specifically called out top-tier digital media companies like Maker Studios, Fullscreen, and YouTube Red, with the organization’s CEO describing those producers as innovators. Apparently, those words were mere lip service. When the time came to actually pick nominees, very few digitally-native programs earned any recognition, and companion programs were over-represented. The balance of the winners — only Park Bench and Acting Dead are not linked to cable TV networks — is further evidence that the short-form Emmys, at least during their first year, were not particularly interested in celebrating new formats after all.
Here’s hoping that the 2017 short-form Emmys provide a more just representation of digital-first players. In the meantime, our congratulations to the winners. In the end, the Academy had eyes for them.