A Twist in the Case of Where ‘Murderville’ Will Compete at the Emmys (EXCLUSIVE)

·5-min read

Netflix’s “Murderville” is angling for major Emmy attention with the streamer submitting the show for consideration in the variety sketch series categories, where it would potentially face-off against the likes of “A Black Lady Sketch Show” and reigning champ, “Saturday Night Live.” However, Variety has learned exclusively that the Television Academy deemed the Krister Johnson-developed show a comedy series, where it will now compete with shows such as “Abbott Elementary,” “Ted Lasso” and its streaming counterparts “Cobra Kai” and “The Chair.”

Along with vying for attention for outstanding comedy series, star Will Arnett, who plays the clumsy and hilarious detective Terry Seattle, will submit for lead actor (comedy). Three of the guest detectives have been submitted for guest actor (comedy): Conan O’Brien, Marshawn Lynch and Kumail Nanjiani. While other guest actors Annie Murphy, Sharon Stone and Ken Jeong have not been submitted by Netflix, each has other chances at nominations for their own television works. Murphy with the AMC drama “Kevin Can F**k Himself,” Stone as a guest actress (comedy) for HBO’s “The Flight Attendant,” and Jeong in supporting actor (comedy) for Netflix’s “The Pentaverate” and for hosting Fox’s “I Can See Your Voice.” Recurring cast members Haneefah Wood, Lilan Bowden and Philip Smithey have not been submitted for acting categories.

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Dropping on the platform in February, the show received solid reviews praising its improvisational premise. The reason for the rejection in the variety series categories was that each episode involved the same premise of someone solving a murder case with Arnett’s recurring character Terry Seattle. The series, which is based on the BBC Three series “Murder in Successville,” brings in a rookie detective (played by six different actors across the six episodes) who is not given a script and must improvise their way through the episode.

While it can be argued that the murder-mystery show doesn’t quite fit the bill of a variety sketch format, the issue lies in what the TV Academy has allowed into the category in the past. The 2022 official ballots have yet to be released and will be revealed on Thursday, June 16, when the nomination voting period opens. However, Variety has been keeping track of the various submissions. With the ousting of “Murderville” in this race, a minimum of 11 series are expected to be long-listed, which include: “The Amber Ruffin Show” (Peacock), “A Black Lady Sketch Show” (HBO), “How to With John Wilson” (HBO), “Painting With John” (HBO), “Pause With Sam Jay” (HBO), “Saturday Night Live” (NBC), “Studio C” (BYU), “That Damn Michael Che” (HBO), “True Story with Ed & Randall” (Peacock) “Whose Line Is It Anyway” (The CW) and “Ziwe” (Showtime).

Murderville. (L to R) Annie Murphy, Will Arnett as Terry Seattle in of Murderville. Cr. Darren Michaels/Netflix © 2022 - Credit: DARREN MICHAELS/NETFLIX
Murderville. (L to R) Annie Murphy, Will Arnett as Terry Seattle in of Murderville. Cr. Darren Michaels/Netflix © 2022 - Credit: DARREN MICHAELS/NETFLIX

DARREN MICHAELS/NETFLIX

If the number remains, this will yield only two nominees for variety sketches for the second year in a row. When outstanding variety series was separated into two categories — outstanding variety talk series and variety sketch — a plethora was submitted for the latter, including the first two winners, “Inside Amy Schumer” and “Key & Peele.” Now, with shows like “Drunk History” and “Portlandia” off the air, last year saw only nine shows submitted.

Ruffin and Ziwe’s comical programs seem better suited for variety talk series, where other late-night hosts such as John Oliver, Jimmy Kimmel and Samantha Bee compete. Nonetheless, they will vie for attention in variety sketch, with Ruffin and Ziwe also seeking attention for lead actress (comedy).

Netflix’s “I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson,” the hilarious six-episode show from the “Saturday Night Live” alum, will compete in the short form comedy, drama or variety series races. The show was accepted as a variety sketch series for its first season in 2020 (but failed to nab a nom) but was removed this year due to its episode runtime. On the TV precursor circuit, the show has beaten “SNL” twice at the Writers Guild of America Awards, besting it in the comedy/variety sketch series categories in 2020 and earlier this year. By this rule of measure, if “Murderville” had under six episodes, it would essentially have been a sort of series orphan with no avenue to compete at the Emmys. We’ll be revisiting this problem next year with the two episodes of “Stranger Things” that drop on July 1.

Per Emmy rules, categories with fewer than 20 submissions have thresholds for allotted nominees:

  • Between 0-7 submissions = submissions will be screened by the appropriate peer group for nomination; any entry that received nine-tenths approval will receive a nomination.

  • 8 – 11 = 2 nominees

  • 12 – 15 = 3 nominees

  • 16 – 19 = 4 nominees

While the Emmys have been working feverishly to close loopholes so networks can’t take advantage of them, the organization has yet to either make clear definitions for its designated races or create rules that better reflect an ever-changing TV landscape where art doesn’t exist solely in one box.

All of the issues regarding inconsistencies within the TV Academy don’t exist solely within the variety categories but also bleed into the series acting categories, creating a cross-pollination of recognition for programs. For example, “SNL” competes for variety sketch, but the actors have been nominated and won in comedy series.

“Live in Front of a Studio Audience: ‘The Facts of Life’ and ‘Diff’rent Strokes'” almost faced disqualification from submitting an outstanding variety special (live) due to the 75-minute runtime, which they met with commercial breaks included. The actors of the special, including Ann Dowd, will compete against the actors from limited series or TV movies because comedy series categories are reserved for episodic television.

One suggestion would be to create variety acting categories (notably, there are already 20 acting categories at the Emmys) or allow recurring series to compete in the same designations as its actors. As the Television Academy continues to search for the “right” answers, some great television shows will continue to slip through the cracks.

Check out the Emmy predictions for outstanding variety sketch series on Variety’s Awards Circuit pages.

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