Reality show Emmy category split, solving a problem via awkward names

The Outstanding Reality Program Emmy has split in two, becoming Outstanding Structured Reality Program and Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program. The Academy Of Television Arts and Sciences is basically acknowledging the genre’s diversification while giving the awards really awkward names.

The Academy cites Pawn Stars and Duck Dynasty, two insanely scripted series, as examples of shows that will fit into the “unstructured” category, while it cites MythBusters and Antiques Roadshow as those that are “structured.”

These examples, at least, aren’t the best examples, not that that’s a surprise Pawn Stars may focus more on personalities, but it’s very much like Antiques Roadshow. And if I had to think of “structured” shows, MythBusters might make the list, but shows from Shark Tank to The Pitch would come to mind first, since MythBusters can be more freewheeling with its format.

Since competition series already have their own category, it seems like the Academy is going for a split between narrative shows and formatted series that networks loveShark Tank and The Bachelor are both formatted but not exactly competition series.

The announcement about the change cites “a general industry uptrend in two different types of narrative reality programming” and says that this new “split accommodates that trend.”

Don’t forget the viewer trend of curling up on the couch and announcing that they’d like to watch an unstructured reality show. It’s kind of a terrible word, since it implies there’s no structure to shows that actually do require a lot of production and craft, even if they’re shot as pure documentaries. (All shows are produced; some are less real.)

Of course, there was absolutely a problem with the generic “outstanding” category; last year’s nominees were Antiques Roadshow, Deadliest Catch, Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives, MythBusters, Shark Tank, and Undercover Boss–a really diverse group of shows that make comparison difficult.

I’d prefer calling the categories something like “documentary” and “formatted”/”structured”/something more user friendly, even though those are imperfect, and even if we have to cram Duck Dynasty into the former category with less-fake series. I’d also love to see A&E submit its crown jewel into the Outstanding Comedy Series category, to be both honest and see what would happen.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.