Latent Racism? NSA-Level Secrecy? Alec Baldwin? 2013 Emmy Burning Questions Answered!

Leslie Gornstein
Yahoo! TV Emmys Blog

Got a Burning Q about today's Emmy nominations? You're not alone. We're listening to you! And we've got your answers in this special BQLR — Burning Qs Lightning Round!

Why has an African-American woman never won Lead Actress in a Drama Series and does Kerry Washington have a legit shot? — EnnisK4, Los Angeles

To answer your first question: It could have something to do with the painful fact that, historically, Emmy largely has ignored black actresses in this key category. Need proof? Sure. The first Emmys debuted in 1949. The first African-American woman to get nominated for a leading role in a drama? Debbie Allen. For "Fame." In 1982.

Overall, only five black actresses have ever made it into this category at all, Washington among them. Does that make her odds better or worse? Well, she's up against serious competition, including Robin Wright for "House of Cards" and "Homeland" star Claire Danes.

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How can there be a tie in Emmy voting when there are a large number of nominees, such as the seven women up for Best Actress in a Drama?

— P. Butter, Atlanta

Easily, when you consider what an Emmy ballot actually looks like. We're not talking about a standard election ballot, here. Instead, Academy members vote either on a "yes-no" ballot or a preferential-style ballot, depending on the category. "Yes-no" ballots display a list of nominees and ask voters to say whether each candidate deserves an Emmy; multiple affirmatives are just fine. Enough yeses, and suddenly you're looking at a tie.

For the other form of ballot, voters are asked to rank nominees by preference, assigning their top pick the number 1. A complex mathematical formula then determines who wins, but the method does allow enough wiggle room for ties. This year it seems up to three actresses had close enough scores to warrant inclusion for seven ladies, instead of the usual five, to compete for Lead Actress, Drama.

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Why is "American Horror Story" in the miniseries category? Isn't it just a plain old TV drama? — RobotoJinyata, Los Angeles

Per Deadline Hollywood, show creator Ryan Murphy nagged the TV Academy until they agreed to put the show in the miniseries category. Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Chairman and CEO Bruce Rosenblum recently told members of the Television Critics Association that his group evaluates such categories on a year-by-year basis.

However, it's important to note that "American Horror Story" (which led today's noms with 17) does meet a key criterion of a miniseries definition: a limited-run project that tells a single story with a beginning, middle and end that is resolved within the season.

Don't see "American Horror Story" as "limited-run?" You may have a point. Then again, no show ever has a guarantee of returning for another season until a renewal order comes in, right?

Will Alec Baldwin's recent Twitter rant hurt his chances of winning his third trophy? — lSkyler, Nebraska

You'd think it would. Then again, Roman Polanski has an Oscar.

"His temper is almost seen as a part of his fun personality," explains Kathy Armistead Olen of Atticus Brand Partners. In other words, his peers wouldn't dock him for it. (Of course, he's been shut out of an Emmy for the past three years and most critics weren't wowed by "30 Rock's" swan-song season.)

How common is it for actors to go from winning an Emmy to not even nominated the following year, such as Jon Cryer and Eric Stonestreet ? — Nanty R., Washington

"The performer nominations from year to year are freshly derived from the votes of an ever-changing jury of about 1,700 performers evaluating the new work within the new eligibility year," says Dr. John Leverance, senior vice president of Awards at the TV Academy. Ergo, he says, "anything can happen, but what does happen is always unique to the year. This is a zero-sum competition."

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How does the TV Academy keep the Emmy results secret every year in an industry full of leakers? — C.W., Rhode Island

By going through some pretty intense measures, courtesy of tabulation firm Ernst & Young. According to firm partner Andy Sale, the company requires any employee involved in the tallying process to sign a letter acknowledging that early disclosure of the voting results, or tampering with the ballots, is actually a violation of the law — the Communications Act of 1934, to be precise.

The ballots are mailed or delivered directly to Sale's office and handled by few folks from that point on; only two or three people are trusted with actually printing and stuffing the official envelopes with the winner names. Once those packets are filled, Sale tells me, they're guarded by a company official around the clock.

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(It's a similar story with the nominations. Once the votes are tallied on a few special folks inside the vaunted halls of the TV Academy know which names will be called early nomination morning.)

As for transporting the envelopes, Ernst & Young often employs creative methods to ensure that the results arrive at an awards venue intact.

"One year we transported envelopes to a venue in a laundry sack," Sale tells me.

And, of course, there are those handcuffs — the ones that Ernst & Young officials are seen wearing as they parade down the red carpet with that iconic briefcase every year on Emmy night. (Sometimes the envelopes are actually in that case; other times, they're elsewhere. Secrecy is security, you might say.) Sale tells me that sometimes the handcuffs are fake, and sometimes not.

"It just depends on whether the envelopes are actually in the case that year."

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