‘Squid Game’ Is Eligible for a Primetime Emmy, and Netflix Could Make TV History

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Could “Squid Game” beat the most challenging TV contest of them all? The Korean-language survival drama, which has quickly become one of the most-watched Netflix series of all time, is indeed eligible for Primetime Emmy consideration, the Television Academy confirmed to Variety.

According to an Academy spokesperson, because “Squid Game” was produced under guidance from Netflix, which is an American company, and it was always intended to be distributed in the U.S., it can be entered in the Primetime Emmy race.

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But since “Squid Game” was produced internationally, it is also eligible to enter the International Emmys. But it has to choose and can’t enter both, as both the Los Angeles-based TV Academy and the New York-based International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences have rules preventing Emmy double-dipping.

Here is the specific rule from the TV Academy: “Foreign television production is ineligible unless it is the result of a co-production (both financially and creatively) between U.S. and foreign partners, which precedes the start of production, and with a purpose to be shown on U.S. television. The producer of any production produced in the U.S. or outside the U.S. as a co-production between U.S. and foreign partners, in a language that is substantially (i.e. 50% or more) in a language other than English, shall have the discretion to enter the production and its individual achievements in any category where they are eligible in the Primetime Emmy Awards competition or in the awards competition of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, but not both.”

Fans are already buzzing that perhaps “Squid Game” could be TV’s version of “Parasite” — another unexpected smash from Korea that utilized violence to tell a tale about class divisions — which broke new ground at the Oscars. In 2020, “Parasite” became the first non-English film to receive the best picture Academy Award.

Of course, the Emmy Awards are much more competitive, given the sheer volume of eligible entrants. There’s also the issue of content — “Squid Game” is ultraviolent, and although TV Academy voters have become more open to genre (“Game of Thrones,” “Lovecraft Country,” “Watchmen”), it’s still rare.

Nonetheless, Netflix has a bonafide phenomenon on its hands with “Squid Game,” and the exciting prospect of a Korean-language hit hitting the FYC rounds could immediately elevate it to the top of the awards conversation. Netflix might test the Emmy waters by first entering “Squid Game” into the winter awards season races where it is eligible. That includes the SAG Awards, Critics Choice Awards, Independent Spirit Awards and other guild awards, depending on eligibility.

TV is quickly turning global, and the expansion of U.S.-owned streamers around the world and into local non-English production — such as “Squid Game” — is about to make things much more complicated for the Television Academy.

In the past, U.S. producers and networks focused on the U.S. market, and if their international subsidiaries produced for networks outside of the country, it was for those local markets — and not targeted to American audiences. That made the split between the Primetime Emmys and International Emmys pretty clear.

But as Netflix, Amazon, HBO Max and other streamers ramp up local productions around the globe, those shows are also immediately available to U.S. viewers. So even though “Squid Game” was not really made with U.S. viewers in mind (the idea that it might hit it big here was truly an afterthought), it technically was — since Netflix was making the show for subscribers everywhere.

That worldwide reach can now allow for the streamers to submit any program they make, anywhere, to the Primetime Emmys — as long as the program was developed in-house, and not acquired from an outside party.

But even that’s sometimes hard to prove: A network can say it retroactively got involved in shaping a show, unless it’s obvious that the project was acquired after it already aired on a partner in another country.

That’s why so many well-known Canadian and even U.K. series are still not eligible for Emmys, “Schitt’s Creek” being a rare exception. As deserving as “Kim’s Convenience” might be for a Primetime Emmy, it’s very well documented that the comedy was first developed at the CBC, and only available later on Netflix.

The definition of “foreign television production” has become tricky in the age of international co-productions. Perhaps the most prevalent over the decades has been WGBH’s and PBS’ “Masterpiece,” which co-produces British dramas such as the Emmy magnet “Downton Abbey” with U.K. partners.

International co-productions have also become an HBO staple, also mostly via the U.K., with recent entries such as “Chernobyl” and “I May Destroy You.”

Netflix has generally steered its non-English programs to the International Emmys. “Unorthodox,” a German-U.S. co-production for the streamer, was shot in both English and Yiddish, and was submitted in the Primetime Emmy race, where landed eight nominations in 2020.

Fully non-English fare has had a tougher time breaking into the Primetime Emmys. U.S.-based Spanish-language programming from networks such as Univision and Telemundo have long been eligible for Primetime Emmys — but because there are no Spanish-language categories, the two networks generally opt to compete at the International Emmys.

In 2011, Telemundo decided to try to break in, via its hit telenovela “La Reina del Sur,” starring Kate del Castillo. It was rare — and still is — for Spanish-language series to campaign in the Primetime Emmy race, and there has never been a major winner coming out of a show that is not in English. Telemundo felt it had the goods — at the time, “La Reina del Sur” was its highest-rated series ever — but it didn’t score a nom. Later, the series’ second season was submitted in the International Emmys, where it won for non-English language U.S. primetime program.

This past Emmy eligibility season, it appears that just one series in a language other than English was submitted for Emmy consideration: Netflix’s Argentine comedy telenovela “Millennials,” which entered the comedy race. (It’s believed that the show’s producers submitted the show, not Netflix.)

The Primetime Emmy Awards currently have no categories for non-English programs, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t add them at some point. The streamer revolution might very well lead to conversations inside the TV Academy about creating some, if the interest in and accessibility to non-English global fare continues to rise.

“If such categories are to be created, the Television Academy will give the International Academy at least eighteen months’ notice prior to such effect,” the org says in its rulebook. “Creation of new non-English categories will not affect the International Academy categories and the producer shall have the option of entering the existing Primetime Emmy Awards category or the new Primetime Emmy Awards non-English category or the International Academy category for which eligible, but may enter only one such category.”

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