The Emmy Awards bucked 60 years of tradition when they announced the nominees for the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards on July 16, 2009. They unveiled seven nominees for each of what are widely seen as their top awards—outstanding comedy series and outstanding drama series. They had usually had five nominees in each of these categories.
Six and a half months later, on Feb. 2, 2010, the Oscars took it even further when they announced the nominees for the 82nd annual Academy Awards. They unveiled 10 nominees for their flagship award, best picture, up from the usual five. They announced 10 nominees the following year as well.
The Tony Awards have a much smaller field of potential nominees, but even they got into the act with their top two awards, best play and best musical. When they announced the nominees for the 68th annual Tony Awards on April 29, 2014, they had five nominees for best play (up from the usual four) for the first time since 1975. Two years later, at the 70th annual Tonys, they had five nominees for best musical for the first time since 1960.
The Grammys finally joined the party when they announced the nominees for the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Dec 7, 2018. They went with eight nominees for each of their big four awards—album, record and song of the year plus best new artist. They had generally had five nominees in each of these categories.
The Emmys and the Oscars have both since tinkered with the number of nominees for their top awards, but neither has dropped as low as five since they went big. Since 2009, the Emmys have announced between six and eight nominees for both outstanding comedy series and outstanding drama series. Since 2011, the Oscars have veered between eight and nine nominees for best picture.
In recent weeks, both of these shows have announced that they’re going to go large in the future. The Emmys have announced that beginning with the upcoming 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards (nominations are due July 28), they’ll have eight nominees for both outstanding comedy series and outstanding drama series. The Oscars have announced that, beginning with the 94th Academy Awards which will be presented in 2022, the best picture category will be set at 10 nominees, rather than a have fluctuating number of nominations.
The Tonys have also tinkered with the number of nominees in their top categories in recent years, but they had five nominees (a lot for them, remember) for best musical at the 2019 Tonys (their most recent show, due to COVID-19) and five nominees for best play at both the 2018 and 2019 shows.
The Grammys are planning to hold at eight nominees in each of their big four categories for the third consecutive year when the nominations for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards are announced later this year.
The move at all four of these awards shows to expand the field of nominees for their top awards is linked to the effort in the past decade to increase diversity and expand the types of projects that tend to get nominated.
Sid Ganis, then president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, made that point when the Oscars’ decision to bump up the number of best picture finalists to 10 was first announced on June 24, 2009. “Having 10 best picture nominees is going to allow academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize. I can’t wait to see what that list of 10 looks like when the nominees are announced in February.”
There has been some internal push-pull at the Emmys, Oscars and Tonys to determine just the right number of nominees. Bruce Davis, then executive director at motion picture academy, said in 2011, “A best picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit. If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn’t feel an obligation to round out the number.”
Davis’ reservations notwithstanding, the trend at award shows these days as far as the number of nominees in marquee categories is go big or go home.