Monday, August 19, 2013

Emmys, Schmemmys

I’m in a very perturbed mood at the moment, which is not conducive to reflections on Comfort TV. However, it’s ideal for discussing the Emmy Awards. This year’s ceremony is approaching, and I am already looking forward to my annual tradition of ignoring it completely.

There was a time when I loved the Emmys, from the moment the nominations were announced to the awards show itself, which paid due homage to the television of generations past while honoring the best shows and performances from the previous year. 

My Emmy disenchantment was a gradual phenomenon, that escalated as I watched brilliant, critically-acclaimed shows go virtually ignored (The Gilmore Girls, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and the same actors win almost every year while equally deserving performances were overlooked. You can read more about this in last year’s Emmy rant.

But my biggest gripe with the Emmys, and one I acknowledge I am almost alone in expressing, is the placement of network shows and cable shows in the same categories. I don’t believe it is fair, and as a result of this iniquity cable shows now dominate in both nominations and wins.

Network television broadcasts are still regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, and are limited by standards and restrictions implemented by that government agency. We won’t debate here whether that is still appropriate or necessary (I think it is) – it means that the networks have to play by different rules.

Networks also have to select the programs they choose to air with an eye toward a larger viewing audience. HBO’s Girls draws about 800,000 to 1 million viewers, and it’s hailed as a hit. If a network series pulled that number it would be canceled.

Cable’s Emmy dominance, and the edgier fare it offers, have caused many to dismiss network television as boring and uninspired, a dinosaur on the path to extinction. Whether that prognosis proves accurate or not, network television still draws more viewers than cable TV, but its shows are not recognized by the Emmys because of the perception that all the good stuff is on cable. 

Why is any of this important? Because one of the ways we recognize that the television of decades past is worth celebrating and preserving is the number of Emmys these shows received. Even shows like Bewitched that did not receive a lot of Emmys were nominated often, an acknowledgment that the series was among the best situation comedies of its era.

Today’s network TV shows have largely been denied that measuring stick of achievement, because Emmy nominations and statues are going to shows on cable by at least a 3:1 margin.

My solution is to create two categories – broadcast Emmys and cable Emmys. It’s not so far-fetched, as we already have separate Emmy presentations for daytime shows and for local market productions. And there would be no shortage of competition, with eligible shows from four networks plus PBS and the CW.

Let’s look at just one category as an example – Best Actor in a Drama Series. This year’s nominees are Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Damian Lewis (Homeland), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom).

That’s one network show, four from cable, and one from however you want to classify Netflix. If there was a separate category for broadcast TV, that would make room for equally deserved nominations for Nathan Fillion (Castle), Charles Esten (Nashville), Michael Emerson (Person of Interest), Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary) or John Noble (Fringe).

In the pre-cable era, all of these performances would have been nominated, along with Megan Hilty in Smash, and Madeleine Stowe in Revenge, and Dana Delaney in Body of Proof. You can find just as many deserving and overlooked candidates in the comedy categories.

Would an Emmy nomination for Dennis Quaid have saved Vegas from early cancellation? It was Emmy nominations that once convinced viewers to try a sitcom call Cheers that finished dead last in the ratings after its first season. Today, it would have been shunned for shows like Veep and Enlightened and Louie and Girls, and it would have disappeared, remembered only as another failed network newbie.

Just another reason why I won’t be watching the Emmys this year. 


  1. Robin Wright is up for a Primetime Emmy this year for her work on "House of Cards." In the late '80s, she received three Daytime Emmy nominations for her work on "Santa Barbara." Though that daytime serial was never a ratings blockbuster in the United States, it won a whole bunch of Emmys, one of which went to the lovely Marcy Walker in 1989. I wonder if those responsible for primetime programming in the early '90s would've been as interested in Marcy as they were if she hadn't won that Daytime Emmy as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. (I do have to admit that during the season Marcy won that Emmy for, her "Santa Barbara" character Eden Capwell was brutally raped. The series dealt with the aftermath of Eden's rape.)

  2. The first time I remember watching the Emmys was in 1980, which was marred by an actors' strike. I've read that it was Mike Farrell's idea to deliver this insult to the TV Academy & the viewers. I loved the Smothers Brothers that time for appearing, and NBC appreciated them too, giving them a deal for at least 1 tv series. I've mostly disrespected unions since them, and nowadays I think awards shows in general have been ruined by left-wing political statements that I don't bother to watch them at all.

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