This is the first time in six years that Game of Thrones won’t be at the Emmy Awards, but that doesn’t mean genre television is out of the picture.
Stranger Things and Westworld lead the nominations at this year’s Emmy Awards, including nominations for both in the prestigious Best Drama category. In past years, this category has produced a variety of winners. Game of Thrones has accepted its fair share of accolades, but despite that, traditional dramas have overshadowed and overpowered genre television. Without Game of Thrones, there’s an immense amount of pressure for Stranger Things and Westworld to perform.
With 22 nominations for Westworld and 18 nominations for Stranger Things (with a caveat that many of these are for technical categories), both series are sure bets to grace the winners’ list and become the belle of the ball. Like Game of Thrones, Westworld and Stranger Things are phenomenons signaling a rebirth of appointment television.
Game of Thrones, Westworld and Stranger Things may not have the same numbers as The Walking Dead or The Big Bang Theory, but they are the most talked about series currently on air. People don’t just watch Westworld, they theorize about the consequences of each passing scene. Netflix subscribers don’t just watch Stranger Things, they obsess over it.
Game of Thrones has been deemed too big to ignore — the $9 million an episode series has turned each episode into a cinematic spectactle — and because of that, the show has garnered acceptance among Emmy voters. Stranger Things and Westworld are in the same boat that Battlestar Galactica was in 2005. Ronald D. Moore, an executive producer on the show, told Vanity Fair that despite the series’ popularity, Battlestar Galactica was still considered “kiddie stuff” when compared to 24 or The West Wing.
“That’s not real TV,” Moore told Vanity Fair. “It’s people running around in silly outfits. There was real TV and then what we were doing.”
Game of Thrones helped thrust fantasy into the spotlight by proving it didn’t have to be as cheesy as genre shows of decades past. As Stranger Things’ co-creator Matt Duffer also told Vanity Fair, Game of Thrones helped launch a generation of TV that could “pull off dragons and monsters in a way that doesn’t look cheesy.”
This has helped television audiences accept series like Outlander (also run by Moore), Stranger Things and Westworld, but only after Game of Thrones’ success did voters begin to take genre TV seriously. Westworld and Stranger Things have taken on the difficult task of proving that Game of Thrones wasn’t a fluke; that a show could be successful critically and popularly.
Without Game of Thrones, the darling of genre television, to stand as an example of why sci-fi, fantasy and niche programming deserves more attention from those who aren’t subscribed to a subreddit, it falls to Stranger Things and Westworld to prove that genre still has a place to shine and thrive.
It feels a little silly to still be writing about genre TV having to prove itself in 2017. Game of Thrones aside, Stranger Things, Westworld, Mr. Robot, The Handmaid’s Tale and so many other series have left a meteor-shaped dent in the industry. A few months ago, the only series that seemed to be of any consequence was The Handmaid’s Tale, while shows like The Crown and The People v O.J. Simpson that took home all the awards at this year’s Golden Globes. That’s not to say that The Crown or The People v O.J. Simpson were bad, but it felt like Westworld, Stranger Things and even Game of Thrones were left out of the conversation that night, despite being the only conversation topic just months prior.
That’s why Stranger Things and Westworld need to win tomorrow. It’s not that ratings for either will fall if they’re ignored, nor are will fans stop overanalyzing every trailer and photo leading up to their second seasons. But a win signifies is that, unlike genre shows of generations past — even Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica — we’re finally acknowledging that science fiction is no longer the “ghetto” as Moore’s agent called it.
Game of Thrones helped break through a number of boundaries, redefining what genre television could be, but Game of Thrones won’t be around forever. Genre needs to be represented at award shows like the Emmys or the Golden Globes because it deserves to be celebrated by more than just fans of niche programming. The Handmaid’s Tale and Westworld are examples of brilliant, wonderfully crafted television programming; those involved with the series deserve to take their bow in front of their peers instead of being routinely considered the “kiddie stuff” that happens to draw in large audiences.
Stranger Things and Westworld are more than their ratings — tomorrow will hopefully prove that to be true.
The 69th annual Emmy Awards air on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.