Are sci-fi and fantasy shows being snubbed at the BAFTAs?

His Dark Materials, Game of Thrones, Ghosts and Good Omens all landed BAFTA nominations this year – but not for their acting or writing.

Dafne Keen Lyra His Dark Materials

The announcement of any awards shortlist is traditionally followed by the riotous calls of “snub!”, and the much-delayed BAFTA 2020 nominations are no exception.

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Where’s the last series of Lesley Manville’s Mum, some asked online. Why did EastEnders miss out on a BAFTA nod in its 35th anniversary year? And what do Line of Duty or Peaky Blinders have to do to finally get some real recognition?

As with any shortlist there were a few surprising absences, but there was one BAFTA TV Awards 2020 trend that didn’t shock me at all. Once again, a host of sci-fi and fantasy TV shows picked up nominations – but only in the technical or craft categories.

In the list, the BBC’s His Dark Materials picked up nominations in costume design, photography and lighting, titles/graphic identity, sound and visual effects. Comedy series Ghosts only got a nod for titles, the final series of Game of Thrones appears in the public-voted must-see moment and costuming categories, Steven Knight’s a Christmas Carol received a sound nomination and Good Omens only squeaked in with visual effects.

In of themselves these nominations are tremendous achievements, and well-deserved. But by only honouring the visuals and technical craft of sci-fi and fantasy stories, it feels like a tacit suggestion from BAFTA that, while these shows are nice to look at, that’s all, with little substance to the writing and performances therein or the series as a whole.

Of course, on a case-by-case basis this could be the truth – I’m not saying that by sheer virtue of being a sci-fi or fantasy production, these shows definitely have terrific performances and snappy writing – but the fact that they take place in other worlds doesn’t mean that they definitely don’t, either.

Ghosts

The Crown and Chernobyl can pick up VFX, filming, acting and major drama awards – but a brilliant adaptation like His Dark Materials, filled with great performances (especially Ruth Wilson’s) and wonderful scripts by Jack Thorne can’t. A hit comedy like Ghosts languishes outside the major categories while peers like Stath Lets Flats, Man Like Mobeen and Home are lauded with multiple nominations.

Look, not every show can be nominated in every category, and I’m sure everyone honoured this time around is more than deserving. But year after year, awards season after awards season, in TV, films and other media it feels like there’s a continuing snobbery about what counts as “proper, serious” drama, and what’s just a pretty diversion for the kids.

There are definitely exceptions – crossover hits like Black Mirror, the Handmaid’s Tale and Stranger Things have picked up the odd BAFTA nomination here and there over the past five years, and Doctor Who used to feature from time to time – but even then examples were few and far between, and rarely in any major acting or drama categories.

For there to be award winners, there need to be award losers. But by continually suggesting sci-fi and fantasy TV shows are admirable works of craft, and not arts in their own right, a whole section of TV production is done a disservice. And sadly, we’re all so used to it it doesn’t even feel like a snub any more.

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The BAFTA TV Awards 2020 take place on the 31st July and will be aired on BBC One. If you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV guide.