Friday, July 07, 2006

the emmys: more than just your typical hack awards show

I have a bone to pick with the Emmys. The 2006 nominations were announced yesterday (the list of popular nominations to read at your leisure), and people are crying foul.

But first let me say this: I find it hard to really respect any awards show because I have lost faith that they can actually honor the best of a field, now that they have turned into marketing spectacles that tend to shift their accolades toward mediocrity and popular opinion. The Oscars have reserved a bit of fun and surprise, but oftentimes disappointment follows in its wake too. (I know as little as possible would argue that in some sense this is part of the fun and anticipation of the Oscars, and it's true that I kind of agree.)

The Emmys are in fact the grand poobah of hack awards shows; the Golden Globes come in a close second, mostly for their unabashed starfucking and also because they tend to be an accurate precursor of the Oscars and therefore kind of fan that flame. The Emmys carry no respect or any indications of awarding the best that television can offer, and have in fact historically settled for less. The question always remains: does the television academy actually watch television?

So, I have no build up or excitement for Emmy nominations, because in the end I could care less. Why? The last nail in the coffin: Susanna Thompson was flat out robbed of a rightful nomination in 2002 for "Once and Again"'s third season. I won't go into too much lush detail, but this woman pulled off perhaps the most heartwrenching story arc in recent network television history, and was ignored when Emmy nominations came around. Her performance was so affecting that it's an insult that she wasn't recognized.... isn't the point of the Emmys to award the best aspects of television in the year? The unfortunate story involved here is that a) "Once and Again" had been canceled and was receiving zero support from ABC for an awards campaign, b) viewership of the show dwindled so severely thanks to ABC's mistreatment of the show, and c) the Emmys traditionally didn't herald nominations from canceled shows. (A trend that ended with this year.... but more on that in a bit.)

This year, though, the Emmy nominations seemed to pull a more widely-perceived upset. Out of the gate with some kind of new-and-improved nomination system (out with the mass ballots and in with a top-secret panel of judges to handpick from a list of potential nominees), it looks like there was some kind of weird backfire. Oddly missing from the line-up: "Lost" scored no major acting nominations, nor one for Best Television Drama. In a year when "Lost" was red-hot, this is strangely of suspect. Also conspicuously missing from major categories were expected heavyweights like "Desperate Housewives" and "The Sopranos". I for one am tired of "The Sopranos" walking away with wheelbarrows of awards when the show is kind of loopy and misguided. As for "Desperate Housewives", good riddance. It's about time someone stepped up and publicly bitch-slapped this overrated drek, pointing out that the only thing going for the show in the first place was a suspiciously aggressive marketing campaign, becoming the first watercooler hit of ABC's programming renaissance before it even hit the air. The phenomenal Alfre Woodard gets the last laugh though; despite how underwritten and misused her character was on the show (she left at the end of the season), she walked away with "Desperate Housewives"'s only acting nomination.

So people were expecting this new nomination system to finally bring underdogs like "Gilmore Girls" (why?) and "Battlestar Galactica" to the light of Emmy attention.... but it didn't. In fact, it seemed to pull some obscure nominations out of the hat, many of them from already canceled shows (for instance a nod to "Commander in Chief" for Geena Davis). This is an interesting development, almost like a slap in the face to the networks that canceled shows that are now being nominated as the best in the field.... including triumphant (and very well-deserved) nominations to the dearly departed "Arrested Development" (for both Best Television Comedy, and to GOB for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Comedy). Too bad "Once and Again" couldn't have taken advantage of the new system when it needed it.

But, just like every Emmy year, too much non-challenging material is showered with praise: [insert vapid sitcoms here]. The Emmys also tend to show love to the same actors over and over again (Blythe Danner racked up three acting nominations last year for three different performances); thus Stockard Channing walks away with a nomination for some forgettable sitcom this year when she had already swept the decks clean with numerous historical "The West Wing" nominations and wins. Thankfully gone, however, are entire categories partitioned off by nominations for the same show (*ahem* "The Sopranos" and "The West Wing"), as seen in the past and jilting more deserving shows and performances of eking into a slot.

Award shows with respect to television always seem to jump the gun, unloading on the first seasons of promising shows nomination after nomination.... and in some cases impulsive wins, such as the usual Golden Globe win for actors on a show that has spent no more than two months on the air (see Jennifer Garner for "Alias" in 2002 and Geena Davis for "Commander in Chief" this year). They also tend to follow along with the yes-men nodding of high ratings and glowing reviews (hence a massive influx of HBO/Showtime programming stepping up to the plate in recent years). In a year where every damned article mentioning "24" has to gush about how the 5th season was its best, when in actuality it was its most bland and predictable, it seems the Emmys could only reciprocate. So, with enough gushing and enough prodding and lauding, "24" walks away with the most nominations of any show this year. Don't get me wrong: I'm happy that Jean Smart picked up a Best Supporting Actress in a Television Drama nomination for her eclectic (and enjoyable) performance as the First Lady, but somehow I can't help but think that another actress from "24"'s past deserved a nomination in the same category a few years ago.

So, some people think that this year's nominations are a total hack because the usual suspects didn't make an appearance, and others were holding out for the Susanna Thompsons of this year to land a surprise slot. What they don't understand is that the Emmys have always been a hack, and this year it's just been dragged into the light. I for one and am intrigued (and not exactly disappointed) that "Lost" ended up with diddly squat (and it should give something for those grandstanding podcast-happy producers of theirs to suck on for awhile) and that this "new" nomination system has dredged up some unexpected choices, as well as exposed a flaw in the networks' terminating of shows that had some more juice left in them.

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