The Hugo Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form

Is it really recognising the full breadth of SF achievement?

Given that 2015/6 is already seeing Hugo Award reform perhaps,
now is an appropriate time to check that all the categories
function more optimally. Given some internal Concatenation
discussion in past years, Jonathan Cowie has a suggestion to further
George R. R. Martin's recent concerns over the Hugo Award for
Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form.


The Science Fiction Achievement Awards (the Hugo Awards), as do all major awards, stimulate discussion if not court controversy. This is all well and positively good in a healthy, democratic environment that treasures free speech and values constructive criticism; history has seen the human condition continually strive for improvement and if something is considered important then surely it goes without saying that stimulated discussion of major SF awards applies here too.


Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation
I admit, if you sat down various members of the Concatenation to discuss the Hugos and what they do well, as well as less successfully, you would likely get a range of different issues from each.  But a few years ago when a number of us were gathered, there was some general agreement that same TV show appearing a number of times within a year's nomination for Dramatic Presentation Short Form was a little disappointing.  Do one or two shows really adequately represent that year's genre achievement in SF in the short-form format?  We even mentioned this when commenting on the 2011 Hugo Dramatic Presentation Short Form nominations half a decade ago as the majority of that year's nominations went to just one show!

Seriously, was the principal embodiment of television SF achievement that (or even any) year captured by just one show?

This problem is not new.  Back in 1968 the entire Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo shortlist was comprised entirely of Star Trek episodes! (Again, was Star Trek really the only TV show of 1968 to merit being considered of having SF achievement? Prisoner fans might well have something to say, let alone those of Britain's The Avengers.)  And there have been six years since 2003, when the Best Dramatic Presentation was split into 'Long' and 'Short' forms, when one show took three out of the five short-list slots. That works out as being equivalent to almost every other year between 2003 and 2015!

The heart of the problem I feel (and I am open to considering that I may be wrong) is that the Hugo for Dramatic Presentation Short Form can be seen by outsiders as the Hugo for best television 'series' when in effect it is the Hugo for best television 'episode'.  And so what happens is that while fans of a particular show can legitimately nominate five different episodes from the same series, to the outside world it looks very much as if the SF community is vesting most of its opinion as to science fiction achievement in just one series!  Yet conversely – and surely clearly – other series are potentially as worthy.

Now, you may disagree with me, which is fair enough. But if you do then disagree with me on the intellectual (or lack of) grounds of my argument, and not because of who I am (a nobody).  But if you really are wedded to dismissing me because I lack any significance within the SF community, rather than on intellectual grounds, then I'd gently remind you that someone of substantial standing within the community articulated similar concerns just last month (December 2015). This is what that person said:-

"I want to focus on Dramatic Presentation, Short Form…
          I was no fan of the efforts of Puppies to game the Hugo Awards last year. I don't think I have been shy in my opinions on that subject. But I will give the Puppies this much – their efforts did break the decade-long hold that Dr. Who fandom had on the nominations in this category. I have no problem with episodes of Dr. Who being nominated, and indeed winning, mind you... and the Doctor has won plenty of times in this category over the past decade... but when four of the six finalists are from the same category, that strikes me as way unbalanced and, well, greedy. The Doctor's fans love their show, I know, but there is a LOT of great SF and fantasy on the tube right now. Nominate Dr. Who, by all means... but leave some room for someone else, please.
(And yes, I would feel the same way if it was four episodes of Game of Thrones being nominated every year, rather than four episodes of Dr. Who)… There's a lot to choose from, actually…
          Let's spread the love. Lots of people are doing good work in television right now, and deserve some recognition. Five nominations, five different series, that's my hope." 5th Dec 2015

And this got me thinking as someone else more closely involved with the N. American-centric Worldcon community shares our concerns!  So, what to do?  Alas, George R. R. Martin's well-meaning plea for voters to leave room for other shows will not work because while, in this case, Dr Who fans may decide not to be greedy and nominate just one of their five (the rules up to 2015) choices to Dr Who, they will not know which episode to go for and so, if enough fans vote, so more than one nomination for the show with different episodes may still end up on the final ballot so squeezing out other TV series.

But still I wondered not only if we could get around this problem, but whether we could have our cake and eat it? That is to say to have five different shows on the final ballot and yet retain a 'best episode' component?  And, you know what, after a bit of thought I decided we could have a Hugo Dramatic Presentation Short Form that recognises both  individual episodes and  reflect the ever-increasingly broad diversity of televisual (and dare I say it internet) SF series on offer.


A possible suggested solution?
My suggestion actually would not impact on Hugo nominators and voters in any way! As far as they would be concerned they would carry on nominating and voting on the short-list in the usual way as if nothing had changed.  But what would change would be the way the nominations were treated: both the series and the episode titles would be counted differently.

Here, with nominations, a nominator could nominated episodes from five separate series or, at the other end of the extreme, for five episodes from the same series, or any mix in-between just as nominators can do now. (And 'yes', I know that the nominating rules are about to change but for now I want to keep this simple.)  The suggested change would be in the way these nominations were counted.  Nominators would get just one vote per series they nominate. This means that if you voted for four episodes of Star Trek and one of Tripped then that would only  count for one vote each for Star Trek and Tripped (two series votes -- one for Star Trek and one for Tripped -- even though four episodes of Star Trek were nominated).  At this first nomination stage we would only be considering series (not episodes).  In this specific way the series with the most people-votes would get on the short-list ballot with nominators effectively getting just one vote per  series they nominate.  Ignoring episode titles at this stage, and considering only series (be they TV or web series or even short films), would ensure that the ballot had on it a list of different series with no duplicates.  In other words all the series on the ballot would reflect the numbers of people nominating series (and not, as is now, the numbers nominating different episodes of the same series) and no series would be duplicated on the short-list.

Then, with the next stage of finalising the shortlist would come the individual episode part.  At this stage we have just a list of series and an episode title needs to be associated with each. However some series may have had more than one episode nominated. Here, all those that nominated for series on the short-list would have their nominations for all  their individual episode titles counted: again, one vote per  episode title.  And so, to continue with our example, all  our nominator's four Star Trek episodes would all be counted and each episode title get one vote.  Of all the nomination forms submitted, the individual episode with the most nominations for any single series is the one that gets on the ballot.

And so the short-list for 'Best Dramatic Presentation -- Short Form' would end up being comprised of different series (no duplicates) reflecting on the greatest number of people who voted for each series, and an episode associated with each series reflecting the greatest number of nominations. Democracy would be retained along with diversity. Martin's love would have been spread around different series.

This would mean that the Hugo for Dramatic Presentation Short Form nominations would better reflect the diversity of televisual SF that exists with a range of different series always ending up being on the short-list final ballot and then with the most popular episode at the nomination stage associated with each one.

Importantly, the consequence of this proposal would be to help spread the word beyond Worldcon fandom as to what series might be considered for viewing or at least checking out. The final short-list competition would therefore be between series and not between episodes.  Yet this Hugo category would still continue to reflect which was considered by the Worldcon SF community the best episode of these different series that year.  And, as George R. R. Martin says, it would help 'spread the love'.  Neither, surely, are bad, and are in fact decidedly positive steps (unless, of course, one thinks that SF achievement in any year can only reside within just one or two series).

What do you think? Your thoughts are important especially if you are a N. American regular Worldcon attendee. Alas, as we are European based, while a number of us do regularly go to the European-venued Worldcons, we do not have a number going to the N. American Worldcons and so cannot attend the annual World SF Society business meeting to propose and see through such a suggestion over the number of years necessary to carry through a proposal. However, if enough of you feel that there is some merit to this proposition (or a variation thereof) then maybe this suggestion might gain some traction?

Over to you.

Jonathan Cowie

Update September 2017: The above article was written in 2015 (posted January 2016) and based on discussions earlier in 2015, hence before the 2015 and 2016 Worldcons. New rules from the World SF Society (under whose auspices the Worldcon is held and the Hugo Awards are conducted) ratified in August 2016, now mean that from the September 2017 Worldcon (Helsinki) that no author, or group of authors, or dramatic presentation series, can have more than two finalists in any one category.  This, while not going the whole way to addressing the issue of a single TV series blocking the Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form, does go a very long way to solving the problem.  This is further helped as also from now on there will normally be six rather than five finalists shortlisted in each category. This means that in terms of TV series (and, yes, there are other forms of short dramatic presentation) that in the worse case a minimum of three can appear on the Hugo shortlistbut in practicality most years it is likely to be four or more. This goes someway to addressing the problem.

Looking further ahead, the summer of 2017 saw a couple, a past and a current Hugo Administrator, recommend that the long-form be split into two awards: one effectively for film and one for TV series. Also that the short form be split into two: one for TV episodes and one for short films.  This went to the 2017 World SF Society Business Meeting at the 2017 Worldcon Helsinki who agreed to set up a working party/committee to look into these proposals.  If  these proposals are accepted then the concerns raised in this article will be fully addressed. Indeed these 2017 proposals go further than most dared hope and no doubt largely gained the traction they did due to the proposer's history associated with running the awards.


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