Game of Thrones has been a historical success for genre-fiction on television by almost every conceivable metric. Whether it was the dollars put into its production, the viewers in garnered for some of its biggest episodes, or the critical success it gained during its run the show broke records and busted any limitations put onto what a heavily genre-focused show could do. But after Game of Thrones' final season took the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series on Sunday night, this seems like the best possible time to wonder if its success can be repeated.
Few shows, of any kind, have won as many accolades as Game of Thrones. Far from its first Emmy, the most recent Outstanding Drama Series win was the fourth of its kind in the show's history piled atop multiple nominations in other years. The longer the show went on the more nominations and wins it gathered with each year, and by last year established itself as the most-nominated and most-won program in award show history. But its success could be hard to repeat.
For other genre pieces, Game of Thrones' success proves the exception to the rule. While many sci-fi and fantasy TV series often receive rave reviews online, mountains of media attention, and sky-high production budgets all of that very rarely results in award nominations. Rarer still does it result in actual wins.
Many sci-fi TV classics were largely ignored for much of their history. Dating back to Twilight Zone and the original Star Trek, but through Star Trek: The Next Generation and The X-Files there were only ever a scant few token nominations. Of those nominations, the vast majority were in acting categories, and even then shows like Next Generation never received a nod in any category.
The hope for genre-lovers was that Game of Thrones would break the barrier holding beloved sci-fi and fantasy shows back, but since its debut eight years ago, it simply appears that is not the case. The critical darling Orphan Black, for instance, only ever received acting nominations for its leading lady. And even the mega-hit show The Walking Dead has never been nominated in anything other than technical categories.
In Game of Thrones' debut year, it at least received a nomination for Outstanding Drama Series, and once it built up momentum it almost became a shoo-in for the category while gathering up Emmys left and right in several other categories. But in none of that time have other shows managed to gain any traction in the same arena. Stranger Things and Preacher, both fresh and inventive series dearly loved by critics, receive just as little attention in 2019 as they would have in 1959.
It's hard to see what the George R. R. Martin adaptation has that many other shows don't. When it comes to an expansive cast of diverse characters, titillating political drama, or heart-pumping set pieces the show may be exemplary, but it's far from the only one of such quality. Battlestar Galactica and The Expanse, both fresh and inventive series dearly loved by critics, share in many of the same qualities as Game of Thrones and yet do not share in the same attention.
So across the board, by multiple metrics, it seems that Game of Thrones outperforms other shows of its ilk despite intense similarities toward them. While it's tempting to try to identify some unique element in the fantasy series that sets it apart from other fantasy series (or other genre works) there just does not seem to be a difference of kind that translates into such an immense difference of degree. What may need to change is not the shows themselves, but the Emmy committee's outlook toward them.
If attention from the fans, critics, and advertisers don't seem to sway the Emmy committee it's hard to say what will. It may just be a quirk of outlook and the makeup of those who undergo the selection process for nominations. The cultural shift toward "nerdiness" much talked about in the last decade is often slower to make its way into the older-skewing committees behind such programs, but it does eventually make its way.
For comparison, the Oscars have seen an increasing number of sci-fi and fantasy nominations in recent years and A Shape of Water's Best Picture win proved historic in terms of what the Academy selects for its highest honor. The win did not come after some ground-breaking success opened the floodgates, either: Avatar and District 9 were two sci-fi nominations from over half a decade prior. If the Emmys are at all analogous to the Oscars it would seem that changes in perception do not grow in leaps in bounds, but in baby steps that accumulate over the years.
With that in mind, there may not be other genre-works as successful as Game of Thrones for quite some time, but the optimistic note here is their success does seem inevitable at some point. Rather than bemoaning the works as eternally ignored and hopeless prospects for award wins, it may be better to focus energy toward causing that shift to happen as soon as possible.