Why ‘The Walking Dead’ gets so little Emmy love


“The 67th Primetime Emmy Awards,” 8 p.m. Sunday, Fox

When the Emmys air on Sunday, shows such as “Downton Abbey,” “House of Cards” and “Mad Men” will get plenty of love and attention. But “The Walking Dead” will be ignored in all major categories, as it has been since it debuted in 2010.

The zombie horror drama, which also happens to be a tense character study, has been the most popular show among the advertising sweet spot demographic of 18 to 49 years old for three years running. The AMC show — shot primarily in the Senoia area but with occasional forays into the heart of Atlanta — draws more than 20 million viewers a week.

But when it comes to Emmy voters, popular “Walking Dead” actors Andrew Lincoln (Rick), Danai Gurira (Michonne) and Norman Reedus (Daryl) may as well be slayed zombies themselves. They have received a collective zero nominations.

Robert Bianco, a longtime TV critic for USA Today, said there is a perception, fair or not, that fans watch the show for the zombies: "I think in part because 'The Walking Dead' has been so brave about killing off cast members and constantly replacing them, that this creates an impression human beings are less important than they really are."

The show has won two technical Emmys for prosthetic makeup and a token award here and there in other arenas such as Favorite Cable TV Drama last year from the People’s Choice Awards and Most Bingeworthy Show this year from the Critics’ Choice Television Awards.

"Most bingeworthy? That's like 'Miss Congeniality'!" said James Frazier, who runs the Walker Stalker conventions, which are heavily focused on "The Walking Dead." The third annual Atlanta version arrives Halloween weekend, and he's expecting 50,000 attendees. (Last year, it drew 35,000.) "It's not the award you want. At the end of the day, it's kind of a parting shot. You're there. We acknowledge you but not quite enough for the big category."

“The Walking Dead” is airing during what many critics consider the “golden age” of TV, especially in terms of scripted dramas. TV executives such as FX chief John Landgraf have said choices are so vast, it’s verging on a glut, making it difficult for new shows to break out.

He told TV critics over the summer that there isn't enough creative talent or viewers to sustain the level of production: 370 scripted programs last year and about 400 this year.

Perhaps in an earlier era, "The Walking Dead" would have stood out more among critics and Emmy voters. In reality, it's a reasonably well-liked show among those who cover the business. In Hitfix's annual polling of 50 TV critics, "The Walking Dead" ranked No. 7 in 2012, No. 16 in 2013 and No. 20 last year.

Alan Sepinwall, the TV critic for Hitfix, said he placed "The Walking Dead" in his top 20 once in 2012 but never in his top 10.

He feels the show is “pretty good” and “capable of being great, but hamstrung by a lot of thinly drawn characters,” though he said current showrunner Scott Gimple has done a better job than his two predecessors.

Verne Gay, a veteran TV critic at Newsday on Long Island, said Emmy voters are more conservative than the average viewer and tend to prefer shows such as "Downton Abbey" and "The Good Wife."

“Horror — other than of the watered-down ‘American Horror Story’ variety — doesn’t really click with this crowd,” he wrote in an email.

But Gay is a fan.

The show “is simply very difficult to watch — it’s that well done, and that well-directed, and that well-acted — and the horror is visceral and shocking and a punch in the face,” he wrote. “And it doesn’t have some sort of compensatory moral. No, it’s pure undiluted nihilism. Again — a no no with the academy.”

At the same time, Gay said without so much critical love, he thinks “The Walking Dead” executive producers are free to cater to the hardcore aficionados: “The show is for fans, not for the TV academy, so that’s maybe the way it should be.”