Emmy analysis: why the Academy can never get it exactly right

By Lori Acken

And so another round of Emmy nominations has been unveiled … and with it, the usual flurry of cheers and jeers and outright outrage that summarily blankets the blogosphere and other media outlets.

I’m tasked with adding a few thought-flakes to the pile.

This is pretty funny to me because out of the entire editorial staff, I am probably least likely to get myself worked up about who’s in and who’s out — except for the strange scheduling decisions that led to no Breaking Bad nor anyone in it being nominated for anything. That right there makes me want to Break a little Bad, myself, since three seasons into the show, I am still literally slack-jawed at both the fiercely original storytelling and visual magic of nearly ever scene.

I’m tickled to see Ed O’Neill get his due, so the Academy can finally wipe the egg off its collective face from last year and O’Neill’s Modern Family colleagues can fully enjoy their sophomore nominations. Also, I am glad to see Amy Poehler nominated for playing Leslie Knope, because that’s my maiden name and we Knopes rarely get nominated for anything good. Otherwise — most likely because I tend to shamelessly embrace the kind of TV that doesn’t stand a prayer for landing any sort of artistic kudos (Cupcake Wars and Dance Moms, anyone?) — I just tune in to see the dresses and the speeches and call it good enough.

But having banked the two cents of my coworkers and picked my way through several dozen op-ed pieces about what it is I should be mad about, I actually did begin to form an opinion. Not about the winners and losers so much, but about the state of the Emmy’s themselves, and how much of a reflection of the television industry — and the people at home who are watching — they truly are.

Consider that the Emmys are now 63 years old. For much of that time, the Academy rewarded people and projects who appeared on a mere three or four networks. The field was narrow, the prospects easily corralled and, I am imagining, the decisions reasonably easy to make.

Even when cable TV came into being, it took a figurative forever for it to be universal enough for cable shows to swim in the Emmy pool — and even then, until 2004 for HBO’s The Sopranos to become the first premium channel series to take home the Best Drama Series prize. Basic cable didn’t land its first best-series Emmy until four years later when AMC’s Mad Men — also a 2011 nominee — garnered the honor.

What cable HAS done is blown wide open the number and the scope of shows available for viewers’ devotion — and therein, the discussion, if not the science, of what truly makes for television art.

Depending on what cable package they have and what attributes they value in entertainment, one man’s Survivor is another man’s Game of Thrones. And I’d be the first to argue that playing yourself starving to death in a bathing suit that hasn’t seen Woolite (or a moment off your body) in a month while doing some daff-tastic obstacle course is every bit as complex as donning a cape, grabbing a sword and running around pretending to be medieval for a spell. And every bit as entertaining.

But is it as artful? Probably not.

Will Game of Thrones have the number of successful seasons and, thus, the lasting impact on the entertainment lexicon as Survivor? Probably not.

So then which is more deserving of being called Emmy-winning? Thanks to the relatively recent additions of reality categories, both are 2011 nominees — but there are plenty of people who think that’s a travesty. Given the reality staple’s declining ratings, I might put me in the bunch. But I’d fully expect to get an earful from the series’ faithful and you’d never convince me I’m 100% right.

Likewise, there are plenty of people — my colleague Tom for one — who think that shows such as The Office and 30 Rock, which are now a little long in the tooth and short on the ingenuity they once displayed, have hogged enough space at the Best Comedy table and need to make room for fresher fare. Perhaps Showtime’s Episodes, whose self-effacing star Matt LeBlanc earned a nomination while supporting comedy master Tamsin Greig did not.

In my mind, this is a twistier matter.

Like I said, nothing made me happier than seeing Modern Family and Breaking Bad earn statuettes in their earliest years. But in this era of Ten Thousand TV Shows, I think there is also something to be said for sticking around and still pulling in the viewers while you’re at it. Originality is a dish oft served early — keeping it on the table for seasons to come is a true test of how well the writers and producers considered their concept before committing it to the airwaves. And that, I think, is definitely something worthy of reward.

Plus, for all of HBO’s mind-bending 104 nominations or Showtime’s near-perfect record at crafting stellar original TV, the majority of television viewers still don’t have premium channels and therefore have never seen many of the nominees, most especially in the movie/mini-series catagories. So if a tree falls artfully in the forest …

And what about the near-annual revelation of particular talents who earn a nomination for This Thing even though they were freakin’ perfect in That Thing and never won a single thing for it (you, Walter Goggins). Or the nominations that only come after a series has passed it’s prime — or is declared dead despite unwavering viewer and critical support (a win in overtime, Friday Night Lights!).

I guess what I am saying is that it is the very nature of the snubs and the head-scratchers and you-have-GOT-to-be-kiddings that make the Emmys the Emmys — even more so than the sketchy production numbers, and every bit as much as the sheer pleasure of seeing a truly deserving nominee take home the statuette.

And there’s no better time than the approach of another season of series premieres, the majority of which will fail, to celebrate TV for the inexact science that it is — and the awards show which honors that very thing.


About Lori Acken 1195 Articles
Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.