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?