The TV Academy announced the 2016 Primetime Emmy nominees on Thursday, with a nod to digital content.
The category of Outstanding Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program, which was first awarded in 2011, was expanded this year to recognize the ever-evolving, expansive world of streaming series. The four new categories -- animation, comedy or drama, nonfiction or reality, and variety -- as well as the two acting categories for actor and actress have opened up the opportunity for series on sites like YouTube and Vimeo to be nominated in addition to the network-sponsored content that has dominated the Emmys.
While major networks -- Adult Swim, AMC, Comedy Central and Lifetime -- were nominated for Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series, Her Story, an independent series hosted on YouTube, broke the mold by taking the fifth spot.
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"The potential for the future has burst open," Laura Zak, star and co-writer of the LGBTQ series about two transgender women finding romance in Los Angeles, tells ET. "It feels like the culmination of a lot of hard work of a lot of different people on our team."
Partially funded by Indiegogo, the series has maintained a grass-roots spirit from the initial production to its Emmy nomination. "From conception of the show to the point we are here, we just had a mindset of, 'We may have not done this before, but why not?'" Zak says. "Why not aim for the best of what is available to us?"
"We didn't have the money to put the show together, let alone an Emmy campaign," Angelica Ross, who plays Paige, says. Yet, Zak says that once they "found out the category was being introduced, it was sort of a no-brainer."
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"We were surprised to see that we were the only independent series because there are several that we like and respect" Zak says of their category.
While LGBTQ content has rapidly expanded on streaming networks, with Transparent on Amazon, Orange Is the New Black and Sense8 on Netflix, and Difficult People on Hulu, the creative team never saw those as an option for Her Story.
"It's so small," Jen Richards, another star and co-writer, says, while also addressing the downside of those platforms. "We wanted to make the show as accessible as possible to our viewers. The very few trans representations that were available were behind paywalls. It may not seem like a lot of money, but a lot of the girls that we wanted to reach are accessing email accounts on a library computer. They don't have the money to spend on Netflix or Amazon."
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And the weight of being an Emmy-nominated LGBTQ series, with its particular focus on telling authentic transgender stories, is not lost on the team.
"For all three of us growing up," Richards says, referring to herself, Zak and Ross, "we had less people to look up to in media."
"It's so important for the Emmys, for this stage, to see a project like this up against all those all other projects," Ross says.
The award for Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series will be handed out during the Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony, which will be held over two nights on Sept. 10 and 11 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.