How the Emmys Nominated Seven Lead Actresses 

Slate's Culture Blog
July 19 2012 2:10 PM

Why Did the Emmys Nominate 7 Lead Actresses?

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Lena Dunham was one of this year's seven nominees for best lead actress in a comedy series.

Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW.

The 2012 Emmy nominations were announced this morning, and one unusual aspect left many culture junkies scratching their heads. In the category of outstanding lead actress in a comedy series, seven ladies are nominated. How did the Emmys end up with seven nominees?

It was probably too close to call. In the rare event that two potential nominees tie for the last remaining nomination, Emmy procedures dictate that both should receive nods. Here’s how the official rulebook puts it:

Ties that include the possibility of the total number of nominations being 1 number from the target number of nominations break in favor of the higher possibility.
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Otherwise most categories generally wouldn’t go over their target number of five nominees, and categories like comedy actress lead wouldn’t award more than their standard six nominees.

Ties like this have been rare, especially because of the sheer number of Emmy voters. There are more than 15,000 members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, divided into about 25 peer categories (such as acting, makeup, and writing) for Emmy nominations.

While in the Emmys’ more than 60-year history, this category has fluctuated (in its earlier years, there were as few as three nominees), in the last 30 years, the number of nominees has stayed at a relatively consistent five to six. This year’s crop of funny women—which includes newcomer Lena Dunham and veteran Tina Fey—have to compete in a larger pool than their peers in other acting categories and most of those who came before them.

So what would happen in the unlikely event of a three- or four-way tie? How high could the nominee count go? The Emmy rules are highly variable from year to year, but this year, at least, there was no possibility of each group of contenders numbering more than 10: Rule No. 4 states that the number of nominees cannot go over by more than one-third of their goal for any given category.

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

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