LOS ANGELES — If it walks like a drama and talks like a drama and yet calls itself a comedy, that’s just fine with the Emmy Awards.
But the audience for Monday’s ceremony (8 p.m. on NBC) may suffer momentary confusion when, say, the Netflix women’s prison saga Orange Is the New Black pops up as a nominee for best comedy series.
While the Emmys have included category-busters before, the 66th prime-time contest is an especially freewheeling one.
“The Emmys are being loosey-goosey about category placement,” said Tom O’Neil, author of The Emmys reference book and organizer of the Gold Derby awards Web site.
Such flexibility isn’t unusual when it comes to TV awards in Britain, where category definitions are less stringent and series formats are more fluid than in the United States, said Gareth Neame, the U.K. executive producer of PBS’ Emmy-winning Downton Abbey, a nominee once more.
“My view is all these producers, studios and [networks] are just giving their best shot to try to get their shows nominated, and what producer wouldn’t do that?” Neame said.
The tactic isn’t frivolous. Shows are angling to better their odds of winning TV’s top honor, which can bring not only prestige but also possibly more viewers — and attention that may usher in more viewers is what niche shows such as Orange Is the New Black crave.
Emmy bragging rights are another matter. With the explosion of acclaimed cable and online content, traditional broadcast networks are finding themselves shut out or lightly represented in the major categories including best drama and comedy series. Network stars are being elbowed aside too.
NBC late-night host and ceremony host Seth Meyers is ready to take advantage of broadcasting’s plight.
“That’s a thing that I think everyone in the audience will be aware of, and being someone who’s on a broadcast network makes it a lot more fun to make jokes about than if I were someone on the cable side lording it over everyone,” he said, chuckling.
The decision by Orange to compete as a comedy despite its bleak setting puts pressure on four-time best-comedy winner Modern Family. The ABC series — vying for a record-tying fifth win (with Frasier) against a buzzy Internet newcomer — may look a lot less modern to Emmy voters.
The Netflix series already flexed its muscle at the creative arts Emmys held a week ago, when Uzo Aduba was honored as best guest actress in a comedy for her role as prisoner Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren. She is the first online performer to win an Emmy.
Another apparent fish-out-of-water: Showtime’s dysfunctional family series Shameless. After coming up empty as a drama contender, it gained the TV academy’s OK to jump into the comedy pool and snared a lead comedy actor bid for William H. Macy.
The other comedy series contenders are The Big Bang Theory, Louie, Silicon Valley, and Veep.
Shifting categories isn’t unprecedented.
In the 1950s, Father Knows Best moved between comedy and drama and captured trophies in each, and Moonlighting did the same in the 1980s, O’Neil said.
The academy tightened the rules in 2009, but obviously didn’t make them ironclad.
Offbeat interpretations of what a comedy may encompass presents a challenge for more than Emmy viewers.
“When you’re putting clip packages together for comedy series, in some instances it’s harder to find something to put into a clip package where someone would say, ‘Yeah, that looks like a comedy to me,‘” said Don Mischer, the ceremony’s executive producer.
HBO’s True Detective is unmistakably a drama, but one with miniseries trappings: a close-ended story and two movie-star leads (Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson) who have said they committed to just one season.
Because of a TV academy rule involving the show’s Writers Guild of America credit, however, it was eligible to compete as a series.
If True Detective nabs the top drama trophy, it would deny Breaking Bad a farewell hug for its final season. A McConaughey victory as best drama actor also would keep Bryan Cranston from tying Dennis Franz’s record of four wins in the category.
Other series competing for the best drama trophy are Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, House of Cards, and Mad Men.