Emmys 2022: Breaking Down the Odds to Win Based on Critical Acclaim

Metacritic analyzes the last 10 years of Emmy nominee data to determine how critical reception affects series wins.
by Danielle Turchiano — 

Emmy statue

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With 350 scripted series (171 drama, 118 comedy, 61 limited/anthology) submitting for the top trophies at the 2022 Emmys, the voting members of the Television Academy had no easy feat trying to narrow the ballot down to just the top five limited or anthology series and top 10 drama and comedy series this year.

While the For Your Consideration campaign period that kicked off in the spring and any launches that occurred within that period undoubtedly helped keep select titles top of mind for voters, with such a high volume of content overall, it can be easy to overlook or forget about others that came earlier or did not have as much money put behind them. Critical acclaim and trending on social media can aid in a voter's awareness, as well, as their pieces of content are often used to prop up a project in contention.

"Historically the critics have always been your first audience, so you can get you can gauge the response, the tone, all this stuff. We tend to lean into the critics, especially as we have aggregates as what you good folks do, putting it all in one place so the audience can then find it. The critics' first response can tell a studio or a network if they have something," Michele Robertson, president, MRC, tells Metacritic.

Additionally, the critics are crucial when it comes to building the campaigning materials that the Emmy voters, who are not critics, will see ahead of voting. Short (often as short as just a single, out-of-context word) pull quotes from their reviews adorn everything from magazine ads to television and digital video spots to billboards.

"You're looking at what works for the series, but also, what's fresh for this year because you don't want people to feel they've been there, done that. So, you have to lean into what people love and give them something fresh at the same time," Robertson says of utilizing those quotes to nudge voters toward selecting a specific show.

This year, Better Call Saul Season 6.1 (Metascore: 94), What We Do in the Shadows Season 3 (Metascore: 96), and The White Lotus (Metascore: 82) are the highest-rated Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Comedy Series, and Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series nominated at the 2022 Emmys, respectively.

The rest of the drama series nominees net out as Euphoria Season 2 (74); Ozark's fourth and final season, which was split into two parts (Part 1 has a Metascore of 78 and Part 2 has a Metascore of 73); Severance Season 1 (83); Squid Game Season 1 (69); Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1 (69); Succession Season 3 (92); and Yellowjackets Season 1 (78).

The rest of the comedy series nominees are Abbott Elementary Season 1 (80), Barry Season 3 (94), Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 11 (89), Hacks Season 2 (88), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 4 (65), Only Murders in the Building Season 1 (76), and Ted Lasso Season 2 (85).

And the rest of the limited/anthology series nominees are Dopesick (68), The Dropout (75), Inventing Anna (58), and Pam & Tommy (70).

"Critical acclaim is paramount, especially for big scripted shows. With premium content, you want that validation from professional critics who help guide readers' decision-making. But I think we've all seen critical acclaim doesn't necessarily always turn into audience [attention and] it doesn't always turn into cultural moments, and those are the other two things that, of course, make an impact with the Emmys," Dustin Smith, founder and president, Smithhouse Strategy, tells Metacritic.


Scripted Series Emmy nominees 2012-

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Case in point: Since 2010, five out of the 10 Outstanding Drama Series winners (50%) were the highest-rated among their nominee group. Breaking Bad makes up two of these spots, winning in both 2013 and 2014 for its fifth season because AMC split that final run into two parts and the Television Academy allowed it to compete twice. That season earned a near-perfect Metascore of 99. The other three are Game of Thrones, which won the category four times overall but was the highest-rated among its peers in 2015, when it won for Season 5, which has a Metascore of 91; The Handmaid's Tale, which won in 2017 for its first season, which has a Metascore of 92; and the current incumbent winner, The Crown, which won for Season 4, which has a Metascore of 86.

Breaking Bad premiered in 2008 and picked up a few Emmy noms for that first season, including Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for Bryan Cranston, but didn't break into the Outstanding Drama Series race until the following year.

"The reviews were driving people to say, 'Just stick with it a little bit longer.' But I find it rare and rarer for multiple season shows to get reviews. I think it takes a big moment or a lot of commitment from either the PR team or devoted critics to give it another shot. There's just too much to watch and review. So I think it's become less important versus just the visibility of your talent or if you've been able to break through with other other moments, storylines, etc," Smith says.


Drama Series Emmy nominees 2012-

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The impact of dwindling reviews can be felt in both the drama series and comedy series races over the past decade. They both probably need a bit of an asterisk, as many broadcast nominees over the years did not have enough individual season reviews to formulate individual season Metascores. This most greatly affects the comedy series race where such network sitcoms as 30 Rockblack-ishModern Family, and Parks and Recreation received multiple nominations (and for Modern Family, multiple wins) through their runs, while on the drama side of the ballot, it only affected This Is Us.

Looking deeper at the the comedy series race, only two winners (20%) over the past decade were the highest-rated within their nominee group: Fleabag in 2019, which won for its second season, which earned a Metascore of 96 (and technically tied for the highest-rated of the nominees with The Good Place Season 3), and the final season of Schitt's Creek, which won in 2020 and has a Metascore of 95. Interestingly, Schitt's Creek is one of the rare examples of critical acknowledgement, let alone acclaim, picking up towards the end of the series' run, with awards attention following.


Comedy Series Emmy nominees 2012-

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"In the face of so much content, it's more about an emotional connection with the audience," Smith, who did work on Schitt's Creek, says.

The limited or anthology series race probably deserves an asterisk or two of its own since it has changed so much over the last few years, from only recently adding the anthology series distinction, to previously also being combined with television movie. The highest-rated nominee in 2012, for example, was one episode of Sherlock Season 2. When you look at that season's Metascore (91) compared to the other nominees' scores, it is the highest, but reviews don't drill down into specific episodes to create scores that granular. Overall, that category counts three winners (30%) over the past decade that were the highest-scoring with critics: Behind the Candelabra, with a Metascore of 83, in 2013; the first season of anthology drama Fargo, with a Metascore of 85, in 2014 (technically tied with fellow nominee Treme); and Olive Kitteridge, with a Metascore of 89, in 2015.


Limited Series Emmy nominees 2012-

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So, there is no easy direct correlation between just critical acclaim and Emmy wins.

Historically, Emmy voters have often reached for what is familiar, nominating, and later awarding, the same series multiple times, even when the new season in contention does not have the critical praise previous seasons did. For example, the first season of Modern Family, which premiered in 2009, earned a Metascore of 86 from critics. That season was nominated in the Outstanding Comedy Series category at the 2010 Emmys (just one of 14 overall nominations that year) and went on to win that top prize. The show then picked up seven more consecutive nominations in the Outstanding Comedy Series category (winning four more consecutive times, through 2014), despite subsequent individual seasons not drawing many new reviews. None of the other nominated seasons received enough reviews to form an individual season Metascore. 

In cases such as that, Robertson notes that those campaigning would be looking to "build on the ticket to get more or bigger nominations" the next time. Aiding in a show's chance when there is not an abundance of new critics' quotes is the pedigree of the talent involved in the show and the ability to lean into more general elements that resonated with voters in the past. Smith adds there is also an importance in looking at, "What's the message, what's that connection? Is there a cultural moment this is tapping into?"

That is why just being a returning favorite (and previous winner) doesn't necessarily make such series as Succession and Ted Lasso shoo-ins, even if they have an edge. Squid Game and Abbott Elementary alone both captured the zeitgeist in exponential ways.

While the Emmys are seen as the biggest prize in television, there are a handful of other awards shows throughout the year that actually have members of the press or specific critical bodies voting on the nominees and winners, from the Golden Globes, to the Critics Choice Awards, to the Television Critics Association (TCA) Awards. And interestingly, Smith says that the level of weight given to critical acclaim is "fairly comparable" between the Emmys and the ceremonies for which critics actually vote.

"You're still trying to appeal to the objective perspective of a body of voters," he explains. "When you're campaigning to critics, you can have, I think, more open conversations with them directly because you're sticking a lot of the same language. But ultimately you have a fleeting moment of time before something else shiny comes along. So, if you can say, 'Must watch' or 'The year's best' or 'spectacular' — if you can get those catchy quotes, it's that subliminal reinforcement no matter what."

You can see how the highest-rated series fare at the 2022 Emmys when the statues are handed out live from Los Angeles on Sept. 12, beginning at 5 p.m.