Outlander fan hopes and dreams aside, Outlander will never be nominated or win any major Emmys. Here’s why the Outlander Emmy snub is here to stay.
Outlander will never win any of the major Emmys. Here’s another shocker: It will never even be nominated for any of the major Emmys.
Do I want it to be nominated or win? You bet. I love it so much that my wife and I podcast about it all year round. Should it? Well, that’s where things get…dicey. Here’s why.
Let’s first define a major Emmy: A major Emmy is either Outstanding Drama or any of the Outstanding Lead/Supporting acting categories.
I know Outlander has been nominated a total of four times since 2015 for either costumes, set design, or musical composition. I also know any Emmy nomination is a big deal, and it takes A LOT of hard work to earn one, so we should celebrate anything our favorite show receives. I get it.
Clearly, however, the fandom is outraged because Outlander has never been nominated in one of the major categories listed above. So, with all due respect to the four previous nominations, they are not relevant to this essay.
It is painful for Obsessenachs across the globe when Outlander isn’t even nominated for one of the major categories. That’s understandable. It’s your favorite thing. You want your favorite thing to be seen, heard, and universally loved.
This is especially true after season five, which much of the fandom considers to be the finest of the series since Outlander’s inaugural run way back in 2014.
How could the academy not recognize the writing and directing for episode 5.12, “Never My Love?” Or the lead acting from Sam Heughan during his scenes with Duncan LaCroix in episode 5.07, “The Ballad Of Roger Mac?” Perhaps Caitriona Balfe should be hoisted on the collective shoulders of the ENTIRE Academy because of her performance in the finale? Sign me up.
Now that Outlander has found its singular voice under newly anointed showrunner Matt B. Roberts, the show seemed far more comfortable in its own skin to take big swings, massive risks, and feature more creative gambles this past season than most programs do for their entire run. Lest we forget the highly stylized “silent film” storytelling device from “Famous Last Words,” or even Roberts dipping Outlander‘s toe into X-Files waters with episode 5.03 “Free Will,” these were BIG choices that netted BIG results.
Despite the big results for fans, however, Outlander still has one major flaw: It doesn’t have any juice.
No one outside of the fandom is talking about it. This pop culture absence is primarily why it’s not getting any nominations, never mind any wins.
Alan Sepinwall, perhaps the most widely respected television critic in the business, had this to say about the Emmys recently:
When you don’t understand why something happened with the Emmys, the answer is almost always name recognition and/or inertia. Giancarlo (who’s excellent, but was not showcased nearly as well as Dalton this year) is more famous and has been nominated often in this role.
— Alan Sepinwall July 28, 2020
Sepinwall may be referring to Better Call Saul in this particular post, but ever since I read this tweet, I’ve been suffering from the the biggest Brain-Eater this side of Marion Cotillard casually balancing on an open hotel widow sill in Inception.
Yes, Outlander is our favorite show and we think it deserves ALL the awards. But, whether or not we, the fans, think Outlander should win and Emmy or, at the very least be nominated, is totally irrelevant. Ultimately if it’s going to play the Emmy game, it has to play by the Emmy rules. It needs name recognition and/or momentum.
Unlike its competition in years past, and certainly this year’s competition in the major category candidates, Outlander vastly lacks any name recognition, critical acclaim, or momentum in comparison.
Sam Heughan may have produced some incredible results this season — “kill them all” — but can anyone tell me with a straight face that he’s a bigger star than the likes of his opponents: Jason Bateman (Ozark), Steve Carell (The Morning Show), Brian Cox (Succession), and Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us)?
One could potentially make an argument against the star power of Heughan’s lesser-known challengers such as Jeremy Strong (Succession) or Billy Porter (Pose) because they are hardly household names. Though, their performances (especially Strong’s) are truly other-worldly, and their shows have one distinct advantage over Outlander in general and Heughan in particular: boundless critical praise.
Critics have been lukewarm with Outlander over recent seasons and, frankly, deservedly so, especially after the clunkiness of seasons three and four. While fans believe Heughan may have turned his best performance of his career as James Fraser in Outlander season five, he simply doesn’t have enough force to overcome his lack of star power and the critics’ tepid response.
A similar set of unfortunate, and unfair, circumstances plague Caitriona Balfe. Do I think she’s a treasure who should be studied by scientists for years to come because of how truly talented, cool, and outstandingly engaging she is? That’s a firm yes.
Balfe’s star power, while growing, simply cannot compete with that of Laura Linney (Ozark), Olivia Coleman (The Crown), Zendaya (Euphoria), or Jennifer Anniston (The Morning Show). Sure, bring me your Sandra Ohs and Jodie Comers and scream that Cait is a bigger star. But, Killing Eve has an insurmountable cacophony of critical praise and maintains an exact energy from previous year’s nominations/wins.
This leaves us with the nomination for Outstanding Drama Series.
Consider Outlander’s competitors and the networks to which they are attached. Better Call Saul (AMC), Killing Eve (BBC America), Ozark (NETFLIX), Stranger Things (NETFLIX), Succession (HBO), The Crown (Netflix), The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu), and, finally, The Mandalorian (Disney+). These nominees are backed by MAJOR players in the market who each have a foothold in the popular zeitgeist of television production.
Backing Disney and Hulu (recently acquired by Disney), is a bottomless treasure of funds that would force the boys from The Curse Of Oak Island to rethink their life choices. Consequently those networks can more adequately subsidize the proper “For Your Consideration” campaigns. Not only that, but The Handmaid’s Tale has won best drama in years past so it’s the proud owner of precious critical and creative momentum.
As for The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda. Well, they have exploded into a full blown cultural phenomenon.
Add this cultural momentum to the serious name recognition of being guided behind the scenes by some of Hollywood’s most talented creators — Taika Waititi, Dave Filoni, Deborah Chow, Jon Favreau, and Rick Famuyiwa just to name a few — sprinkle in a little Star Wars branding, and preeminent production value, and you’ve got a perfect mix for Outstanding Drama Series.
Like Disney, AMC is also the proud owner of a prodigious pedigree. As a producer for some of the most prolific shows to ever grace the silver screen (see: Breaking Bad/Mad Men) they know how to spend their dollars, what to emphasize, and how to advertise for the win. Bake in the fact that Better Call Saul is not only a singularly superior show but it is tied to Vince Gilligan (one of the most celebrated showrunners of all time), and his original Breaking Bad, and Outlander doesn’t stand a chance.
In terms of name recognition, HBO is quite literally the gold standard on how to leverage dollars, reputation, and momentum. They can cite Game Of Thrones, The Sopranos and countless other winners as part of their resume, placing them in a category by themselves. And that’s before considering Succession, the best television show on the market right now.
The only network that has given HBO a run for its money in recent years is NETFLIX. Heck, NETFLIX just toppled HBO’s record for the most Emmy nominations ever in a single year this year! Between critical darlings like House of Cards, The Crown and an ever-growing barrage of incredible original content, NETFLIX has positioned itself as the premiere creator-driven network, and it’s got a boat load of Emmys to prove it. (Name recognition AND momentum.) So when it comes to Ozark (well written/acted/shot), Stranger Things (another cultural phenomenon), or even The Crown (prestige drama written by one of the most respected writers in Peter Morgan), Outlander, once again, is out of its league.
BBC America is not necessarily a major player, but Killing Eve boasts an enormous amount of critical momentum since it took the Television Academy by storm in its first season so it doesn’t need the kind of support the aforementioned networks provide.
STARZ doesn’t have as much money, the advertising skills (and I’d argue the smarts), or the Academy pedigree as any of the aforementioned networks. It’s like pitting your hometown high school football team against the New England Patriots. Yep, both know how to play the game, but the other is just way more seasoned, talented, and also just happens to have Bill Belichick too.
Here’s another facet that nobody wants to consider: Outlander is past its prime.
We already established that if we want Outlander to be included in the Emmy game, it has to play by the Emmy rules. That being said, if OL were to be either nominated, or win an Emmy, at any point, it should have already done so.
Granted, I admitted earlier in this article that season five was Outlander’s best outing since season one, but that doesn’t mean its star is still rising. In other words, OL’s long standing state of award inertia further prohibits any future nominations/wins. In the eyes of the Academy, if OL hasn’t been nominated yet, something must be lacking so it doesn’t deserve to be considered.
If we’re being fully transparent here, Outlander seasons two through four were uneven AT BEST and the Academy seems to agree given the extremely slim recognition of the STARZ drama.
To that end, let’s take a gander at past winners for Outstanding Drama/lead actor. They all have one thing in common: they won big and they won early. Not only that, but nearly all of them retained the same showrunners throughout their entire run.
Look for yourself:
2000 – 2003: The West Wing (written and run by the most famous writer on the planet Aaron Sorkin) won in all major categories from the jump. Sorkin did leave, but the show won most all its awards under him.
2004: The Sopranos: speaks for itself. David Chase, sole showrunner.
2005: LOST: speaks for itself. Damon Lindelof/Carlton Cuse, sole showrunners.
2006: 24: nominated every year and won big in all major categories from the jump. Plus, it revolutionized TV in its storytelling. Changed showrunners early, but won big under its second showrunner, Howard Gordon.
2007: The Sopranos.
2008 – 2011: Mad Men: speaks for itself. Matthew Weiner, sole showrunner.
2012: Homeland: from the creators of 24 and swept the major categories with wins from Damien Lewis and Claire Daines. Howard Gordon again.
2013 – 2014: Breaking Bad : speaks for itself. Vince Gilligan, sole showrunner.
2015 – 2016: Game Of Thrones: speaks for itself. David Benioff and Dan Weiss, sole showrunners.
2017: The Handmaid’s Tale: critical darling and major win for Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men fame) as lead actress plus many others right from the jump. Bruce Miller, sole showrunner.
2018 – 2019: Game Of Thrones.
Unlike the shows listed above, Outlander hasn’t won any significant awards, and it certainly didn’t gain any awards early. What’s more is that while I love me some Ron D. Moore, there has been some, shall we say, instability in the writers’ room since he decided to take a step back from the showrunner role in season three.
In addition to the seasonal wholesale changes to the writing staff, there has been seismic shifts in departments such as costuming, direction, and set design. The biggest fault line, though, is that it wasn’t until SEASON FIVE that we finally had a consistent primary showrunning vision in Matt B. Roberts.
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say that I’ve never been a huge MBR guy. But, after this season, I am ecstatic to admit that I was wrong in the judgement. Season five was a make or break for Matt, and he absolutely met the challenge head-on. I can’t help but wonder, however, if his focused voice and deft pen hand may be too-little-too-late.
Certainly television series have won Emmys when showrunning duties changed hands but most are comedies and they had the initial run of Emmy wins right from the beginning of their run. See: Veep and Seinfeld.
Lastly, niche shows like Outlander (female driven, time travel, love story) simply don’t find recognition at the Academy. Outlander is famously hard to peg down in any particular category style, so it’s almost as if the television Academy has no idea what to do with it. It serves neither a wide ranging nor a large sized audience so it doesn’t have the kind of universal appeal as its competitors.
In the end, will Outlander ever boast a major Emmy nomination or win? Given its current standing within the television community writ large, it’s not likely.
The larger question is this: does it matter?
Do Emmy nominations/awards have the power to renew shows and ensure their ability to tell their story? Of course not. Just look at programs like Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, or even what is considered to be one of the greatest shows ever created, The Wire. None of them EVER won an Emmy. Yet, their legacy lives on in their creativity and quality.
Nope, Emmys don’t renew television shows. Suits do.
As long as the suits are happy with ratings, and most importantly, subscriber numbers, then Outlander will continue to move forward and tell the rest of the Fraser saga. THAT is what matters, not gold plated trophies.
So keep watching, and get all your friends to subscribe to STARZ. I want to know the end of this series just as badly as you do.
Do you think Outlander deserved an Emmy nod this year? If so, for which category? If not, why not?
I totally agree. I think the biggest challenge facing Outlander is that there is no central driving question anymore. The driving question of seasons 1, 2, and half of 3 was: how will Jamie and Claire’s relationship survive against the backdrop and aftermath of the Jacobite Rebellion? The Rebellion was always there and even if the drumbeat of the rebellion was quiet, the audience could always hear it growing stronger and stronger. While the show isn’t about the rebellion, it is about how their relationship is impacted by the rebellion and the question was always: how can this relationship survive?
Once Claire goes back to Jamie in season 3 and once they come to an understanding of how to rebuild their relationship, the show starts to fall flat because the central question driving the show has been answered and resolved. There really is no need for the show and everything that has come after is merely a contrivance to provide some kind of drama to threaten their relationship.
I’m still a huge fan of the show. I love spending time with these characters but the show has become much more of an episode-of-the-week style drama rather than a drama that still hasn’t answered the central question which is what all of the prestige dramas you named share:
Game of Thrones– who will sit on iron throne and what happens when Dany comes to Westeros? Will the Night King destroy everything?
Breaking Bad– How far will Walt take his transformation into a drug kingpin and how will that impact those around him?
Handmaid’s tale: How will June survive/ escape this horrible world around her?
LOST: What the hell is the Island?
Killing Eve: How are the two central characters going to survive each other?
Succession: What is going to happen to the company? Who will take it over and what will happen to the family?
There really isn’t a central question to Outlander that I can identify anymore. Yes, there are story arcs and while dramatic and traumatic things happen, it isn’t the same. I love the risks the show took this season but it had to take those risks to compensate for the lack of a central narrative question.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the show. And I think the performances are stellar by the two leads. But the show is now answering the question: “what happens if we stay with our favorite characters after the main story ends?” I love hanging with them on the Ridge and seeing their life unfold but let’s not mistake it for a prestige drama. Outlander deserved awards for season 1 and season 2 (yes uneven but the back half and the last episode were incredible) but after that, both the books and the show are more fan service to allow us to spend more time with Claire and Jamie. While I absolutely love the show and will keep watching it, I don’t think it is anywhere near Emmy worthy when put against what is there. (Um, hello Watchman and Succession– incredible).
If anyone reads this I know I will get TONS of flack for it but I’m still a fan and still watch and love the show. I still am commenting on it– I don’t comment on any other show. But I think the Emmys got a lot right, including the exclusion of this show.
Gretchen – this is a fantastic observation and, honestly, I believe you’re right.
You made your most convincing argument when you said,
“Once Claire goes back to Jamie in season 3 and once they come to an understanding of how to rebuild their relationship, the show starts to fall flat because the central question driving the show has been answered and resolved. There really is no need for the show and everything that has come after is merely a contrivance to provide some kind of drama to threaten their relationship.”
There was a natural arc to the first three seasons. But in starting in season 4, it seems like things happen because that’s what the narrative needs to keep going.
In other words, it’s all politics and who you know. Some of the nominations leave me wondering how he/she could be nominated. I feel Seasons 1, 3 and 5 of Outlander are the best, and a person’s acting ability should be the determining factor not name recognition as primary reason. As with politics every where you just wonder what actually goes on behind the scenes with these supposed awards shows. The Emmys and Academy Awards are no longer what they were first designed to be.
I think a lot of it has to to do with popularity, and probably who you know. But, it’s not like that in every case . I mean, Killing Eve was a show that came out of nowhere and didn’t have any “stars”. It was just exceptional in it’s first season., and the Academy recognized it.
You said this all quite well, but unfortunately WHAT you said is the the Emmy’s are essentially worthless as an award for superior work. I thought they were originally conceived to promote and reward excellence…now they just reward the “power”, the “money”. As to the “central question” brought up by another poster – for me the central question has always been and continues to be – how do these amazing characters hold their lives together and overcome the odds facing them…that is the story of a marriage. Seasons 4 and 5 they faced the dangers of homesteading in a wild, new world. Season 6 and beyond will bring them back into surviving in a time of war. Their circle has widened…but they are still the center of that circle. So there is still the same “central question” as there has always been, only the circumstances have changed. I love this story, I love the way it is being translated to the screen and the extreme talent of everyone associated with the show. And I love you guys, Blake and Mary…for giving us this platform to share that love and our ideas about it. Thank you~!
Karen you are more than welcome! I am so glad to find such disparate opinions here 🙂
As far as the purpose of the Academy – well, I still think it has a relevant voice and purpose in the television/film landscape. It’s not “worthless” when it comes to superior work per say. They shows that were nominated were extremely deserving. Perhaps they were just more deserving than Outlander?
While I agree with your assessment and reasoning about the lack of nominations for Outlander, I just wanted to point out that another small show from a small cable network(FX) didn’t win any major Emmys until it’s sixth and final season. The Americans was nominated for smaller, less significant categories from its initial season in 2013, but only in 2018 did it finally win two major categories: Best Leading Actor (Matthew Rhys) and Best Writing for the show’s final episode. That being said, The Americans was a vastly superior show versus Outlander.
Outlander is a good looking show with high production values and appealing lead actors. No question about that. But, basically it has always been some version of Scottish, sexy, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman with a touch of science fiction here and there. It’s pretty to look at, but is not a deep or thought provoking show. And that’s okay…shows don’t always have to say something important to be entertaining.
Agreed that The Americans is a superior show. Also agreed that it didn’t win until it’s final season. BUT, they had massive critical praise and momentum because both Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell (big star) were nominated for many years in a row for lead actors. Also, the show was nominated many years in a row for Outstanding Drama. The final wins were more of a recognition for great past work, in addition to a spectacular finale.
I have stated from the beginning of the nominations push that Outlander and it’s cast would not be in contention as it is a “foreign” casted show with NO U.S. stars or names. Blake confirms this.
um, hello, Game of Thrones?
Not sure what this comment means. Could you amplify?
I actually kind of disagree with this assessment. My first example I’d cite would be a show like Downton Abbey.
Suggestion: why not have Rita Wilson on your show & discuss with her the awards shows & what she thinks as an insider? She’s a big fan of the show. Her or any others in the industry that are fans and their thoughts. Also, I really think the ship has sailed because if Sam didn’t receive an Emmy nod for the rape& recovery, I don’t think he ever will. IMO, that was the best acting I’ve ever seen by Sam & Tobias.
We certainly could ask! Thanks for the suggestion 🙂
I only started watching this year and I love it! Have watched it several times. I find the story intriguing and there’s not too many stories I watch over and over. I love historical dramas and think the acting is so great! For two little known actors, they have definitely brought their A game and put their heart and soul into the show, and I appreciate that! They are both incredible talents and it’s a shame they don’t get recognized because they are not “popular”. I think Outlander has just as good of story line as any other show nominated. But I do love historical period shows. I think the time travel aspect of it is very cool. To me, it is a love story between two people from different times, that weather the storms and hard times and always find their way back to each other. That is the central theme and people tune in because they love the characters and want to see what happens next! Their chemistry is undeniable and I tune in to see what’s going to happen next, and will till the end. Hope we get to see the end!! It’s one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. There are alot of other great actors on the show as well. The set and costume design is incredible, so detailed! Go ahead and snub us award shows! Have your critically acclaimed and popular shows nominated. I don’t care! Us Outlander fans will be loyal til the end because we LOVE the show and we know greatness when we see it!! People who haven’t seen Outlander have no idea what they’re missing!! We snub you Emmy’s!!! OUTLANDER LOVE?
Yes, I have always felt that Starz has lagged seriously in the promotion department…. There was never any kind of build up to be the next show or season…”what will happen to Jamie when Claire suddenly appears from 20 years in the past?”
“is Mutagh really back?”
“What happened to make Ian want to stay with the Indians?”
Also the new season…Who is Malva and why is she making trouble for Jamie?”
… on a different take… aren’t the numbers watching the program and the huge number of world wide supporters
And the on-line chatter that helps!
And even though no Americans were cast in Outlander…. shouldn’t Diana, a true American, who has written these stunning series of books be recognized?
Plus I believe her stories surrounding the struggles during and including the American Revolution ( especially now) should definitely be considered in the next Emmy cycle… if they can ever get back in front of the cameras.
I am a huge fan of the show. But season 4 and 5 were disappointing. I am not sure why. Seasons 1, 2, and the first half of season 3 were downright magical. The scenery, the actors, the writing, the characters were outstanding. But something happened in season 4 and 5. What once was a “magical” show, it has lost its magic and charm. I can’t pin it down to one thing. But I can tell you that I really kind of sick of the major characters getting raped. Jamie, Mary Hawkins, Bree, Claire, Fergus, and the attempted rape of Jenny. Who’s next? Once was enough. If they are going to save this show, they need for the characters to return to Scotland and pick up the pieces after Culloden. I know it is 20+ years later, but the storyline of Jamie re-connecting with his family could be very interesting. Yes, many of the characters died in the battle, but what of Jamie’s family that survived and was left to pick up the pieces? There is a lot of history of what when on in the aftermath of the battle. But then again, I am sure because Diana Gabaldon probably has a lot of say in how true the show is to her books, and that will probably not change. There may be a season 6, but I’ll bet no more after that.
Jamie and Claire do return to Scotland in the books but not for some time, and the books focus largely on the American revolution. I don’t see the show continuing much longer however as Gabaldon takes literally years to release a new book and the show will soon catch up with the books currently published. Seasons 1,2 and half of 3 are the best IMO. The show became too fantastical for me after that.
I appreciate your analysis and food for thought. I personally believe the primary factor in Outlander’s lack of major nominations is the network to which it is attached. Why do some actors and shows get nominated? How do they achieve “star power” and “prestige”? Certainly, it is not always on their own merit. I’ve long considered “name recognition and/or inertia” as major drives. I agree about the “juice” too. And that is more often than not the result of money and power thrown at a (more or less) worthy product. Politics. Persuasive language and relentless promotion. We’ll tell you what’s worth watching. We’ll tell you what you need to watch and talk about. Would some nominated actors and shows be as fortunate if they were a Starz production? I think not.
There’s a YouTube series called “Adam Ruins Everything” and in the episode called “Adam Ruins the Oscars”, he explains exactly how award show winners are picked. It has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with money. Specifically, how much money studios are willing to throw at the “judges”. If you want to see what BS these award shows are, watch the video. You’ll never watch award shows the same again.
I totally don’t agree. Both stars are very famous and the Emmys is just a political judging nightmare! So what you are saying is that the Judges for the Emmys will only pick super stars and ignore those that are not well known? WTF! The Emmys can go to hell as I won’t watch any more and I would love to see all the Outlander fans do the same!
Yes, it’s a fact they’re up against some extremely recognized shows. I’ve read Diana Gabaldon’s books in the Outlander series. Outstanding! The history, writing, emotions, the characters ecc.; for some reason after S3 episode First Wife, this excellent show, though not exactly like the books, turned into an “ok” soap opera. S5 was excellent but it’s lost it’s momentum. I still watch it yet it is the books I prefer right now.
So, I was thinking about this last night, and now here’s your post. Pretty much agree with your take. I wonder if the second half of S1, was in a different Emmy season, so the voters were already disengaged from the characters and story when the last 2 episodes at Wentworth were aired. Might also be why they weren’t around for “Faith”. Also there is the beautiful theory. Cary Grant never won an Oscar. The male voters, who I bet outnumber the women, don’t like to vote for beautiful men, and a lot of times, women can’t win if they are playing beautiful. But clearly the voters are gone by Season 5. I do disagree with S3 and S4. Yes, not as consistent with the previous 2 seasons, but each had moments of great acting, so the actors deserved recognition. Bree and Jamie, Bree and Claire, Lord John and Claire, for some S4 examples. And “First Wife” in Season 3. As far as I’m concerned, I have rarely seen better acting in a television show, and I know that the Emmy voters are missing it.
I agree with bits of everything in the previous comments. If you are a true OUTLANDER , I think that you will love each season and episode (as I do). However, my worry and concern is that Cait and Sam will not get the recognition that they deserve; that their careers will stagnate and stay where it is right now. Sam will be a brilliant actor in whatever he chooses, if he is given the chance. He is not just a handsome face and fantastic body and he could be more than BOND, although I would love to see him in a tux driving THE car. Cait has shown us for the past 5 seasons what a fabulous actor she is. By not getting recognized by any group for their acting, doesn’t that mean it will be that much harder?
I really thought the show and both Sam and Cait deserved emmys in the first season. Their scenes in Wentworh prison were so well acted that they were hard to watch because it was hard to separate the acting from the real thing. The story about Faith and Cait’s reaction to the loss of Claire’s baby was amazing. I think the critics are too elitist. Don’t shows send their best scenes to the academy for their consideration? Surely, the scenes I’ve mentioned were Emmy worthy on their own no matter what the critics think of the show itself.