The rules for the Tony Awards are set forth in the official document "Rules and Regulations of The American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards", which applies for that season only. The Tony Awards are considered the highest U.S. theatre honor, the New York theatre industry's equivalent to the Academy Awards (Oscars) for film, the Emmy Awards for television, and the Grammy Awards for music. It also forms the fourth spoke in the EGOT, that is, someone who has won all four major annual American entertainment awards. The Tony Awards are also considered the equivalent of the Laurence Olivier Awards in the United Kingdom and the Molière Awards in France.
As of 2014, there were 26 categories of awards, in addition to several special awards. Starting with 11 awards in 1947, the names and number of categories have changed over the years. Some examples: the category Best Book of a Musical was originally called "Best Author (Musical)". The category of Best Costume Design was one of the original awards. For two years, in 1960 and 1961, this category was split into Best Costume Designer (Dramatic) and Best Costume Designer (Musical). It then went to a single category, but in 2005 it was divided again. For the category of Best Director of a Play, a single category was for directors of plays and musicals prior to 1960.
A newly established non-competitive award, The Isabelle Stevenson Award, was given for the first time at the awards ceremony in 2009. The award is for an individual who has made a "substantial contribution of volunteered time and effort on behalf of one or more humanitarian, social service or charitable organizations".
The category of Best Special Theatrical Event was retired as of the 2009–2010 season. The categories of Best Sound Design of a Play and Best Sound Design of a Musical were retired as of the 2014–2015 season. On April 24, 2017, the Tony Awards administration committee announced that the Sound Design Award would be reintroduced for the 2017–2018 season.