Thirty years ago, "Magnum, P.I." received its second of three straight Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama Series. With all due respect to Tom Selleck's mustache: TV dramas have come a long way, baby.
You see, we are currently living through a Golden Age of Television, with networks and cable channels producing dozens of original drama series each year in an unprecedented output of quality. In short, TV is better than ever. (Of course, TV is also worse than ever, with trash TV at an all-time high, but that's a whole other story.)
And yet the Emmys still only name six nominees for Outstanding Drama Series each year, and only named five up until 2008. That might have been fine back in "Magnum's" heyday, when there were only three TV networks (!) and cutting-edge content was effectively muted by strict network standards. But in light of the recent explosion in cable and streaming content, six slots seem woefully inadequate to represent the best TV has to offer.
There is a solution, though. The Oscars have recently expanded their Best Picture category to include as many as ten films each year; a transparent attempt to make room for audience-friendly blockbusters, maybe, but one worth exploring by the Emmys. After all, none of last year's Drama Series nominees topped 5 million viewers a week. So why not throw ten shows into the mix? It'll only bring more attention to all the great TV out there, and encourage the fans of those shows to tune into the Emmys broadcast. And that can't be a bad thing, right?
(Notice we're not advocating for a similar expansion to the Outstanding Comedy Series category. While excellent TV dramas are almost too plentiful these days, TV comedies are in an odd lull at the moment. And we all know "Modern Family" is going to win anyway, so we'll leave that one alone for now.)
To illustrate our point, let's walk through all of the TV dramas that deserve attention from Emmy this year. And as you'll notice, the list goes way past six.
The following four shows are virtual locks to land an Outstanding Drama Series nod this week. If any of them doesn't, it's pretty much a travesty and you have our permission to riot.
AMC's never-less-than-fascinating period piece "Mad Men" is an established Emmys darling, with four Outstanding Drama Series statuettes already on the shelf. It did get shut out at last year's ceremony, taking home zero awards on 17 nominations. But it getting snubbed here is as unthinkable as Don Draper staying faithful and being happy for any length of time.
HBO's sprawling fantasy epic "Game of Thrones" enjoyed its best season yet, capped by the jaw-dropping Red Wedding that spawned a thousand YouTube reaction videos. (When people not only watch your show, but watch videos of people watching your show, you're doing something right.) "Thrones" scored Drama Series nods for its first two seasons, and it's only gaining pop-culture steam, so expect to see it on Emmy's shortlist.
Go behind the scenes of the pivotal Red Wedding on "Game of Thrones" (spoiler alert!):
Sure, Showtime's pulse-poundingly tense "Homeland" went out on a particularly crazy storytelling limb in Season 2. (The pacemaker!) But we still loved every minute of it. And after pulling off the rarely-seen Emmy trifecta last year with wins for Drama Series, Actress (Claire Danes), and Actor (Damian Lewis), there's no way Carrie and Brody don't make the cut this year.
With Walter White's riveting journey into darkness almost complete (the final eight episodes begin next month), Emmy can right a shameful wrong by awarding "Breaking Bad" its first win for Outstanding Drama Series this year. As it stands, though, the competition is fierce, and to be honest, the first half of Season 5 was not the show's finest hour. Still, AMC's meth-trade masterpiece should have no problem scoring a fourth straight nod.
Here, we have six series that definitely merit strong consideration for a Drama Series slot, but might not find a chair to sit in when the music stops.
"Downton Abbey's" elegant costumes and refined drawing-room setting are tailor-made for awards season, even if the plot frequently descended into melodrama this season. No matter: Emmy will find a way to invite the Crawleys to the ball.
The true wild card in this year's mix (if you'll excuse the pun), a nod for Netflix's black-hearted political expose "House of Cards" would be a watershed moment for TV, since it'd be the first online-streaming series ever to earn an Emmy nomination. Can Kevin Spacey's star power get this very worthy contender the votes it needs to make history?
Critics have been gushing about FX's "The Americans," a stark portrait of two Soviet spies posing as an American husband and wife in 1980s suburbia. In fact, it's generating the same kind of buzz that "Homeland" did in its first season, before it swept last year's Emmys.
Haven't seen "The Americans"? Find out what all the buzz is about:
It often gets lost in the discussion of TV's great dramas, but "Boardwalk Empire," HBO's gangster epic set in the heart of Prohibition, would dominate the Emmys in any pre-"Sopranos" era. It's racked up a whopping 30 Emmy nods in two seasons, but a third straight Drama Series nomination looks like a bad bet.
CBS's whip-smart legal drama "The Good Wife" is the networks' last, best hope to end cable's stranglehold on the Drama Series category, having twice earned a nod. But four seasons in, the Lockhart/Gardner team is badly lagging behind the above shows in buzz.
Watch a key scene from Season 4 of "The Good Wife" right here:
"The Walking Dead" is probably too gory for older Emmy voters to stomach, and previous seasons weren't up to snuff, dramatically speaking. But Season 3 of AMC's zombie-infested thrill ride stepped up its storytelling game — along with racking up killer ratings. If Emmy expanded to ten nominees, we'd be rooting for this haunting post-apocalyptic nightmare to earn the final slot.
So we've already named the ten shows that have the most realistic shot at an Outstanding Drama Series nod. But just to fully demonstrate the depth we're dealing with, here are ten more shows that, in any other era, would surely be in the mix for a nomination.
Two chilling new frightfests, NBC's "Hannibal" and A&E's "Bates Motel," earned strong reviews this year for their freshman outings. As with "Walking Dead," the blood here might be too much for Emmy. But both shows might find better luck in the acting categories: Mads Mikkelsen for "Hannibal," and Vera Farmiga for "Bates."
In the category of Charmingly Flawed Family Dramedies, NBC's "Parenthood" and Showtime's "Shameless" are poignant standouts with loyal (and growing) audiences. Sadly, both have been virtually ignored by Emmy so far, with only guest-actor nominations to their credit.
Watch a key scene from Season 4 of "Parenthood" right here:
FX's hard-nosed biker saga "Sons of Anarchy" has been revving up viewers and critics for five seasons now, but Emmy refuses to come along for the ride: The series has nabbed exactly one nomination to this point, for its theme music back in 2009.
Aaron Sorkin took home armfuls of Emmys for "The West Wing," and despite very mixed reviews, his new HBO drama "The Newsroom," with its highfalutin peek inside a cable newsroom, seems like it'd be a natural for Emmy consideration… if the field weren't so crowded, that is.
Overstuffed with ridiculously enjoyable plot twists, ABC's "Scandal" evolved into a bona fide hit in Season 2, powered by a breakout performance by Kerry Washington as political fixer extraordinaire Olivia Pope. It may seem too soapy for Emmy, but don't forget: Just a few years back, Shonda Rhimes' previous effort, "Grey's Anatomy," was nominated twice for Outstanding Drama Series.
With four seasons in the books, FX's gritty Kentucky crime drama "Justified" still hasn't broken through on the Drama Series front yet. But it's definitely on Emmy's radar: Margo Martindale and Jeremy Davies have taken home acting awards in past seasons, and star Timothy Olyphant scored a Best Actor nod in 2011.
Check out all the highlights from last season of "Justified" right here:
Despite Emmy's aforementioned aversion to gore, it's managed to shower the serial-killer drama "Dexter" with a slew of nominations, including four in the Drama Series category. But even die-hard fans say Showtime's iconic hit is running out of steam in its final seasons, so its chances in this category have flatlined.
You probably haven't even heard of Canadian import "Orphan Black," but the BBC America sci-fi series is quickly amassing a rabid cult following, especially for Tatiana Maslany's multifaceted lead performance(s) as a con artist — and all of her various clones.
Whew… so that's twenty current TV dramas that can make a legitimate claim for inclusion in this year's Outstanding Drama Series discussion. Twenty!
And we haven't even mentioned tiny gems like Sundance's "Rectify," or fan-favorite procedurals like "NCIS," which pulls in 20 million viewers each week for CBS. (A number the Emmys broadcast would kill for, by the way.) Laugh all you want, but a by-the-book procedural named "Law & Order" won the Drama Series Emmy back in 1997. Of course, in TV terms, that might as well have been a million years ago.
But that's the point: We're living in a new television era. One that the Emmys couldn't have imagined even two decades ago. So we're begging you, Emmy: Expand the Drama Series field to ten, to more accurately reflect just how much amazing TV content is available these days. And welcoming a few million new viewers to the Emmys broadcast wouldn't hurt, either.
See which TV shows and actors we think deserve their first Emmy nomination this year: