Has the ‘Emmy Snub’ Lost All Its Meaning?

Rachel Bloom was snubbed! Photo: Scott Everett White/CW

After the Emmy Award nominations were announced yesterday morning, I engaged in what has become a tradition among journalists and media outlets who cover industry awards: I wrote a rundown of all the snubs.

With a deadline to meet, I quickly made a list of several shows and actors that had seemed like worthy potential nominees but, for whatever reason, had been passed over by Emmy voters in various categories: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Leftovers, Orange Is the New Black, Christian Slater, Samantha Bee. The piece, which also delved into the day’s surprises, got published. And within maybe 30 seconds of it going out in the world, I thought of and/or was reminded of a bunch of other snubbed series that had now been doubly snubbed by not having their snubbing properly acknowledged.

“Shoot, did I include the fact that UnREAL hadn’t made it into the Outstanding Drama category?” Nope.

“Oh damn: what about Broad City?” I had forgotten that Abbi and Ilana were forgotten, too.

Then Twitter started in on me:

One of my astute colleagues, Maria Elena Fernandez, and I exchanged emails and Slack messages on the subject. She wondered if David Alan Grier, Loretta Devine, and The Carmichael Show being ignored qualified as a snub. (Probably.) She also pointed out that Fresh Off the Boat (and Constance Wu) were overlooked. More snubs.

At that point, I realized I could easily have made a list of 20 more very good shows, actors, writers, and directors, at least, whose work deserved to be celebrated but still didn’t make it on some of the key Emmy short lists yesterday. At that point it occurred to me: Maybe there are so many "Emmy snubs" that the whole idea of a definitive Emmy snub no longer exists anymore.

For years, it’s been standard post–award-nomination-announcement practice to break down the field by talking about what didn’t get a nod as well as what did. The non-nominees have been characterized as having been “snubbed,” partly because it sounds more dramatic and partly because putting the word snub in a web or social-media headline takes up fewer characters than “egregiously overlooked.” The definition of a snub, according to Merriam-Webster, is “to ignore someone in a deliberate and insulting way.” It’s the equivalent of looking another person in the face at a party and purposefully refusing to say hello, or, to extend that metaphor, to invite all your best friends to a party while leaving out just one or two. If the Emmys are TV’s biggest party, then not being invited or being glanced at without so much as a “hi,” feels like the equivalent of a snub.

That same word has often been used to characterize films and artists that don’t get nominated for Academy Awards. And while snub may be a pretty charged term in any circumstance, especially when you’re talking about something as subjective as what’s considered thoroughly transcendent art, it feels a little more apt when applied to the Oscars. By the time movie awards season has rolled into Oscar-nomination day, it’s usually pretty clear which films and performances are the worthiest and/or have the best chance at a nomination. When a director like, say, Ava DuVernay, does not get nominated for her filmmaking work after many Oscar forecasters predicted she would, and her film, Selma, lands a nomination for Best Picture, it doesn’t feel out of bounds to call that a snub, even though it’s entirely possible she just missed getting the fifth slot in the Best Director category by that much.

Television, by comparison, has become much more complicated. There are far more shows legitimately contending for Emmy consideration than there are films vying for Oscar recognition. Last year, the Outstanding Drama and Comedy categories officially expanded their fields to seven nominees, and it still doesn’t feel like an adequate way to do justice to all the quality that’s out there. (Honestly, I would not be surprised in the least if those categories widen again in the not-so-distant future to include ten nominees.)

As fans of television, we look at the nominees in each of the many categories, scanning to see if our favorites were included. When we don’t see them, we cry “Snub!” But the thing is that yelling “Snub!” about every overlooked show we love has the same effect as a boy crying wolf: It starts to not mean anything, even when you have a serious case for being hurt.

As my snubs piece made clear, I was pretty incensed about The Leftovers not getting a single nomination yesterday. The HBO series does not have a huge audience, but it had received such widespread critical acclaim for its second season that it rose to the level of huge snub in my book. But here’s the thing: We all watch TV on our own timetables, with our own biases, to such an extreme degree that it is possible to make a case that 30 or 35 other things were snubbed, too. The Big Bang Theory was left out of the Outstanding Comedy Series, for example, and it continues to be the most-watched TV comedy in America. If someone wanted to call that a snub, just based on viewership numbers, they could make a strong case for it as an example of Emmy voters being out of touch with viewers. Yet I didn’t see anyone waving that flag on social media to any widespread extent; at no point, to my knowledge, was the hashtag #NoBazingaNoJustice trending yesterday. But if I looked harder, I am sure I could find someone out there who was genuinely pissed about the oversight.

James Poniewozik, the TV critic for the New York Times, sagely offered the following bit of Twitter advice about Emmy snubs:

He and others then proceeded to suggest how they would have rejiggered certain categories to make them more fair, which might be less cathartic than shouting, “Jessica Jones was robbed!” but is a far more instructive process. (For starters, I would have removed House of Cards and replaced it with The Leftovers in the Outstanding Drama category and booted Modern Family in favor of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend over on the comedy side.)

My instinct is that a lot of these omissions were not necessarily snubs because, to go back to that dictionary definition, they were not deliberate. Which doesn’t let Emmy voters off the hook at all. It is an Emmy voter’s job to consider as many contenders as possible and also not to go on autopilot and keep nominating the same shows over and over again. If there’s a reason why some deserving series are ignored, I have a feeling it’s more because of a combination of laziness and being overwhelmed by the hefty number of for-your-consideration screeners that pile up than a decision that, say, The Leftovers or Catastrophe or Togetherness outright pale in comparison to Downton Abbey or Modern Family.

The Emmy voters got a lot of things right this year (slow clap for finally acknowledging The Americans in a big way.) But they also made some pretty notable errors of omission. There is so much quality television being made right now that such errors are going to be inevitable every time Emmy nominations are determined, from now until the end of time, or until TV plunges into the creative equivalent of a stock-market crash. (Let’s hope that never happens.) I am not sure there’s a way around that.

But in terms of offering a solution, I think it would definitely help to see Emmy voters demonstrating more of a willingness to mix things up each year, especially in the major categories like best drama and comedy. That way, at least when we all start shouting “Snub!” — which we definitely will continue to do, because snub is a super-fun thing to say — there will be fewer and fewer instances where it is actually justified. As for us viewers, perhaps we can show a bit more restraint when it comes to using the S-word. Even if the Emmy voters don’t acknowledge a particular series we love, that doesn’t make the series any less great than it is. We all know this, but maybe it’s worth repeating: Being “snubbed” doesn’t make a show less than. It just makes it an underappreciated gem.