Archive for April 3rd, 2013

Hugos: A Dramatic Presentation

I’m not a Hugo voter. I never have been. It’s not an exclusive club by any means, one just needs to buy a Worldcon membership. Not even attend or intend to attend. Each Worldcon tends to offer a membership level for those who don’t plan on attending but want a chance to vote for the Hugo awards. You can, quite literally, buy a ballot. One of these years, when I feel I have the income to spare, I’ll become at least a voting member of Worldcon so that I may nominate and vote.

So I have no agency when it comes to nominating for the Hugos. Or the voting for the Hugos. Certainly I have no agency when it comes to how the Hugos are conducted, that process involves an open meeting at Worldcon so does require attendance. I say this before setting down to my main point: the Hugo Award for Dramatic Presentation is broken, and needs to be fixed.

In 1958, Solacon saw the first Hugo Award for Dramatic Presentation. It went to the movie The Incredible Shrinking Man. This new Hugo category recognized that the basis of any dramatic presentation is its writing. Until 2002 it was a single category and winners included movies, episodes of TV series, entire seasons of TV series, and even the news coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Starting with the 2003 Hugo Awards the category was split into Long Form and Short Form, with the defining line of 90 minutes.

In practical terms this means that there’s a Hugo category for movies, and a Hugo category for television episodes. Oh, it doesn’t always work that way. Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) has included a web series, a YouTube video, even an acceptance speech from the previous Hugo ceremony. The Short Form category Hugo has been awarded to eight television episodes, the made-for-the-internet series Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, and Gollum’s acceptance speech at the MTV movie awards. However, for the most part, it’s movies and television episodes. Since the split only two Long Form nominees weren’t movies (both were entire seasons of a TV show nominated as a unit), and only nine Short Form nominees weren’t TV episodes.

Lately that means Doctor Who episodes.

Wait wait wait, Whovians and Wholigans, before you crucify me, understand that I am one of you. I love the show. However, since the relaunch of the series, 22 episodes have been nominated. 2009 is the last year to see only two episodes nominated.

This isn’t specifically a Doctor Who problem, the show is just the latest incarnation of a phenomenon that dates back to the 1968 awards when all five nominees were episodes of the original Star Trek. Enterprise, Firefly, and Angel have also all been double nominated since the Long Form/Short Form split. With the exception of Star Trek landing eight nominations in two years, no show has ever dominated the nominations more than Doctor Who. No show has ever dominated the nominations for as long. And I think that’s a detriment to other shows and to the award.

Fringe, one of the best science fiction shows of the last decade, got its first and last nomination this year. That ties it with Community. Continuum, an original and compelling time travel drama from Canada saw no nominations. Eureka came and went without a single nomination.

I see three potential fixes for the Dramatic Presentation category. Fix number one: a cap in place for the number of episodes a series can have nominated in a single year. Yes, it would be immediately called the “Doctor Who Rule,” I’m sure. Yes, it would see some outcry, and I doubt this proposal could get through the rule amendment process. Which is a shame, as there’s plenty of fantastic science fiction on television that isn’t being recognized.

Fix number two? This is unrelated to the Who dominance. I think there needs to be a clarification of eligibility.

No video game has ever been nominated for a Hugo Award. Ever. io9 ran a series of posts about this a few months ago, and the answers ranged from “but they’re not eligible” to “should they be long or short form” to “they don’t have the same exposure.” The last issue isn’t going to go away by action of the Hugo committee, but the first two can. They absolutely are eligible, it’s right there in the text for the award. A dramatic presentation is defined as, “a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music.” That there are nominators who might not know they’re eligible is hurdle one. Hurdle two can be solved by some clarification as to how to count a video game. Are we talking just the cut scenes? The full play-through length of a game? The latter is problematic because it varies from player to player.

There are other problems clarification could solve. 90 minutes is the dividing line, however the 2011 winner for Short Form was roughly 105 minutes long. In 2012, Game of Thrones was nominated as a season for Long Form, in 2013 a single episode was nominated for Short Form. Movies that are under 90 minutes, such as Safety Not Guaranteed have no clear home, ineligible for long form and likely overlooked for Short Form.

I think all of these have a single solution, which is my fix number three. Split the category one more time so there are three Dramatic Presentation Hugos:

  • Theatrical Presentation for works originally released on the big screen.
  • Televised Presentation for works originally intended for television, with a one episode per show cap. Nominations would work the way Emmy nominations work. One episode of a longer series, one portion of a miniseries, or the entirety of a made-for-TV movie. Want a good eligibility rule of thumb? A nominee can only have a single set of opening and closing credits.
  • Special Presentation for all other presentations, including video games, animated shorts, web videos, and whatever other silliness the nominators want to include. Basically it’s a home for the other nine nominees that have been featured in the Short Form category in a fabulously eclectic category.

So I’m creating an addition award sub-category. This is with fine precedent. In 1963 the written fiction awards expanded from three categories to four. In 2002, Dramatic Presentation split into Long and Short Form. In 2007, Professional Editor followed suit.

Perhaps we’d still see Doctor Who dominating as winner of Television Presentation, but that’s not a problem. If the voters legitimately think it is producing the best episodes of television, then it should. Some might argue this makes Doctor Who even more powerful, as there’s not chance of a vote split (not that this has cost it Hugos in the past). However, it would be nice to see other shows are least get some recognition that science fiction and fantasy exist on television. And it would give a clear home to worthy nominees that live on the outskirts of the current categories.

I don’t expect any of these changes to happen, but it feels good just to talk about them. Agree? Disagree? Have any Hugo categories you’d change? I’ll be in the comments waiting to hear.

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