A Test for Hanging Episodes

A version of this article was published to Gold Derby on July 17th as “Will Mad Men be Helped or Hurt by Hanging Episodes?”

Just as film studios release many of their Oscar contenders in December, television networks sometimes air episodes close to Emmy voting in order to be the first thing on voters’ minds when they tick off their ballots.  This could explain how Veep, which aired its finale the day that ballots came out last year, got a surprise nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series over the favoured Louie, which had been off the air for nine months at that point.

Before 2007, the academy enforced a strict June 1st to May 31st eligibility calendar, meaning that late season finales would have to be shelved for Emmy consideration until the following year.  For example, the first season finale of Arrested Development, which aired June 6th, 2004, was included on their 2005 series reel a year later when the second season contended for best comedy.

The June to May calendar proved problematic for the final season of The Sopranos because the last two episodes of the season aired in June, which would have made them ineligible as part of the final season and ineligible the next year because they would not have met the minimum six-episode requirement to qualify as a season by themselves.  With the rise of cable networks and their disregard for the traditional broadcast cycle, the academy implemented a “hanging episodes” rule that permitted those final two episodes of The Sopranos to compete in the 2007 Emmys.  The rule is colloquially referred to as “The Sopranos rule”.

Last year, Mad Men aired two hanging episodes in June before ballots were released.  The late airdates seemingly had no negative effect on their Emmy chances and may have even helped them: the episode “Commissions and Fees” was nominated by the writers’ branch, while the season finale “The Phantom” was recognized for its cinematography.  This year, Mad Men did something much riskier by airing four episodes in June, including two after ballots had been released.  In fact, the season finale “In Care of” was broadcast thirteen days after ballots were released and just five days before the deadline to turn them in.  This means that unless a significant percentage of the voters are procrastinators or specifically waited for Mad Men’s season to conclude before marking their ballots that “In Care of” might not have factored into their voting.  This likely would hurt Mad Men’s nomination total, considering that the episode is considered the season’s high water mark, as the highest-rated episode on both TV.com and IMDb, with a standout performance by Jon Hamm and script by Matthew Weiner and Carly Wray.  Nominations will be announced on Thursday morning, at which point the people campaigning for AMC will be pronounced geniuses or fools.