In the five seasons the AMC mega-hit The Walking Dead has been on the air it’s barely scraped up a handful of Emmy nominations and one measly win. Visual Effects, Sound Editing and Prosthetic Makeup are the only categories the show has received mentions in with its single win coming in 2012 for its makeup. So why is it that the highest rated scripted show on television (season 5 averaged 14.4 million total viewers, with 9.4 million viewers in the key 18-49 demo) continually left out of the major categories? Is it really just that it’s too much of a genre show? Let’s look at how a few other genre shows have fared with the Emmys in the past and see how and where The Walking Dead stacks up.
In the realm of genre programming and the Emmys there probably wasn’t a bigger chasm than Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) from Joss Whedon. A show about a high school girl by day and vampire killer by night was obviously never going to be the Emmys’ cup of tea but it was a hugely popular cult show in the pre-social media era. It managed a few of the same below-the-line Emmy nominations that The Walking Dead has (Sound Editing, Makeup – where it won) and did eventually crack the top categories in 2000 by getting a Writing nomination for the episode “Hush” which, ironically, only has dialogue for about half of the 42-minute episode. It would be the one and only time the show achieved this level of Emmy success. Continuing on the vampire trend, HBO’s True Blood (2008-2014) found a bit of Emmy success in its first season, winning for Casting for a Drama Series as well as a pair of nominations for its Art Direction and Main Title Design. But the very next year it shocked everyone by getting a Best Drama Series nomination in 2010. Now, something to keep in mind this year was that it was a very pivotal year for the Emmys. HBO’s main horse The Sopranos was done and the era of AMC was just beginning with Breaking Bad and Mad Men, which would go on a four-year winning streak in this category. HBO had nothing to push so they put everything they had in True Blood and it got in. The same thing happened the year before when the network’s Big Love got a Best Drama Series nomination. This was a much more glaring nomination as it was the only one it got. A truer test of campaigning, to be honest.
FOX‘s The X-Files (1993-2002) was very much a cult show in its first year and then blew up to be a certified hit both with audiences and with The Emmys. After a quiet first season with just two nominations (for Main Title Music and Title Design) the show ended its second season with nominations for its Writing, Guest Actress (CCH Pounder) and for Best Drama Series. Its third season saw the rating and nominations increase with Gillian Anderson getting a Best Actress nod and the show winning five Emmys, including Guest Actor (Peter Boyle) and Writing. But it was its fourth season that it broke the Emmy glass ceiling and Anderson won. The show would continue to reap dozens of nominations before falling off the radar by its last season. We’ll have to see where the new limited series event falls in the canon of The X-Files and the Emmys.
So, where does that leave The Walking Dead? Is the zombie thing just too much for Television Academy members? Or is it that they think the show’s success is acknowledgement enough? I’m guessing it’s not that so much as The Big Bang Theory and CSI both have reaped series nominations and are and were wildly successful ratings hits. But then, both of them are and were very mainstream shows that didn’t feature a whole lot of people eating. It would seem that it’s more of a stigma of the genre show. HBO‘s Game of Thrones seems to fall into that category as well. Hugely successful in the ratings but sits just outside of the Emmys’ comfort zone for a win, despite being a huge Emmy winner in many other categories. I would have thought that The Walking Dead would have been able to at least have secured a Directing nomination (and possibly Writing) for its season premiere; the Emmys love dolling out nominations for freshman shows pilot episodes. The show probably got the closest to a big nom in its fourth season with a push for Melissa McBride in Supporting Actress. Her arc and episode in which she had to kill a child in order to keep her group safe was devastating in its presentation and performance and widely praised by critics and fans of the show. But alas, it couldn’t quite pull it off. Stuck in the middle of AMC’s pushes for Mad Men and Breaking Bad (who had plenty of supporting actress contenders between them) probably did it in.
I wonder then, with Mad Men now over, what will be AMC’s flagship Emmy show? Does it have one? It’s doubtful that Halt and Catch Fire will catch fire with Emmy voters but what about Better Call Saul? It feels like that show will play well with Emmy voters and it’s essentially a spin-off of the most recent greatest Emmy success story, Breaking Bad. It could be the Frasier to BB‘s Cheers. Still, while season 5 of The Walking Dead may not be the year it might stand a decent chance next year if Better Call Saul isn’t an awards juggernaut. It’s worth considering when you think that between Mad Men and Breaking Bad that AMC won the Best Drama Series Emmy for six out of seven years; Showtime‘s Homeland kept Mad Men from achieving a record-setting 5th win in a row.