Applying for the Primetime Emmy® Awards: What You Need to Know

Posted on April 8, 2016
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Over the past few months, ITVS has hosted a series of webinars for filmmakers interested in submitting their projects for major awards. Our latest installment featured the Primetime Emmys presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS). We were joined by Dr. John Leverence, Senior Vice President of Awards, and Daniel H. Birman and Shari Cookson, representatives from the Board of Governors for Documentary Programming, who were kind enough to walk us through the process and answer audience questions. Here are some of the key takeaways from the conversation.  

What’s the difference between the Television Academy and the National Academy? 

The Television Academy honors primetime programming. It is comprised of 29 "peer groups" whose work is aired nationally and whose members are eligible to vote for the Emmy Awards. Peer groups are based on areas of expertise, from network executives to hair stylists; from performers to cinematographers.The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences [NATAS] honors national daytime, news and sports programming. The National Academy is member-based and has affiliated chapters in US cities and regions that award Emmys for local programming.When it comes to submitting a documentary, it’s helpful to understand that the Primetime Emmy Awards are more specific to docs that don’t come from news departments. For example – 60 Minutes is a CBS News production and is therefore eligible in the NATAS news and docs Emmys, whereas American Masters is not a news department production and is eligible in the Television Academys documentary/nonfiction competition.

What is the Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking Jury Award?

This award was created in 2005 to honor documentaries that may not be considered “popular” but still meet the Exceptional Merit criteria. This award is selected by a nominating and voting jury and is not part of the overall ballot. The chances of winning are not predicated on a theatrical release, network involvement, awards department, or marketing budget. Instead, the judges look for social impact, innovation, and mastery of the craft. 

If a film is broadcast on a series, can the producers submit it to the Emmys independent of that series?

You can’t “double dip” – only a single Emmy for a single achievement. You can enter it either as a series or as a single episode, (which then makes the series not eligible). However, you can enter into the Exceptional Merit category, which is the one exception!

Will a theatrical run make a film ineligible for the Outstanding Nonfiction award?

Theatrical has to be a complement to a project that was designed for broadcast. If your project was designed as a theatrical release and then brought to TV, it does not qualify. That being said, the Academy allows for film festival runs and theatrical exhibitions intended solely for the purposes of Oscar qualification. 

For additional tips on how to make your Emmy® Award submission the best it can be, watch the webinar recording, below. And if you’re interested in more filmmaker-focused webinars, follow us on Facebook or Twitter for more info!  

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