The Emmys get it wrong, again

by Maureen Ryan

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

7 August 2009


PASADENA, Calif. — Sometimes at the Television Critics Association, you get a master class in what could be called “The Art of Making TV Critics Angry.”

I thought CBS’ Emmys panel would be a bit of fluff, a half-hour session at which TV scribes would celebrate the fact that the talented Neil Patrick Harris of “How I Met Your Mother” is hosting the affair and thus there was hope that it would perhaps not be as leaden as it has been in the past.

Nope. What happened was this: Don Mischer, the executive producer of the Emmys, poured gasoline over a simmering controversy and lit a few dozen matches.

Some context before I detail what went down: To try to cram all 28 Emmy Awards into a 2-hour broadcast, the producers have proposed “time-shifting” eight awards. Those awards would be given out before the live portion of the broadcast begins, and though those acceptance speeches would be shown, they would be cut, if producers deem parts of them irrelevant or meandering.

The time saved by cutting walks to the podium and trimming acceptance speeches would be used to showcase scenes from TV — not all of which will necessarily be Emmy-nominated. The awards show, Mischer said, needs to display the kind of television that actually “connects” with people.

“It’s about broadcasting, not narrowcasting,” Mischer says. Apparently too many “narrow” shows get nominated for and win Emmys. Well, thank goodness the Emmy producers have seen fit to fix that mistake by demoting several categories in which “narrow” shows do well.

And let’s be clear: The shift to the pre-show Siberia is a demotion. Getting an award on live TV gives the situation a different energy. No wonder 100 writers signed a petition protesting this change; two of the four Emmy writing awards are being “time-shifted.”

As “Battlestar Galactica’s” Ron Moore asked the Hollywood Reporter, “If (the cut content) doesn’t really matter, then why don’t they do it for the whole show?”

Not only did Mischer’s every sentence at the Emmy session reinforce that the alarming view that the ceremony need to be more about popularity than about quality, he told a room full of people who frequently champion “narrow” fare that people don’t want to see those kinds of shows receive recognition.

He might as well have said, “That stuff you critics think is good? It’s not popular enough. Nobody cares.” Well played, sir.

Mischer pointed out that the TV academy’s research showed that the Emmys have been showcasing programs that “mainstreams viewers did not know and were not interested in.” Well, there’s a much better way to solve this problem. Just do away with the Emmys altogether, and give the People’s Choice Awards a showcase slot in September.

Because duh, everyone knows that popularity equals quality.

Forgive the sarcasm. Of course popular things can be wonderful. Just this past Saturday, at its annual awards ceremony, the Television Critics Association gave one award to “True Blood,” a popular cable hit, and two awards “Big Bang Theory,” a traditional comedy on the most mainstream broadcast network.

We’re not snobs, but we sure don’t like being told, in so many words — and by a representative of an awards-giving body — that quality shouldn’t matter quite so much.

The fact is, if the Emmy people were worried that viewers wouldn’t know about or care about those eight categories, why didn’t they have the courage of their convictions and just exile those categories to the technical awards ceremony?

But no, their proposal is this jerry-rigged “solution” which will please almost no one.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming. The Oscars are undergoing a similar crisis: It was recently announced that in future there will be 10 Best Picture nominees. The thinking appears to be that if more popular fare gets nominated or celebrated, more people will tune in. Sure, that will work out great when some drippy, formulaic romantic comedy gets nominated and makes a laughingstock of the ceremony.

The fact is, this is a niche-ified world. Desperately scrambling to fight that tide is not going to work, and all the Emmy folks have done is alienate people who make TV and those who follow it most passionately. In other words, the people who would be most likely to watch the Emmys in the first place.

Of course, the real issue here is money. Keeping the ratings up — and this “time-shifting” is a desperate attempt to do that — means that the awards show stays on a broadcast network, and that means that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences gets a large check from the network broadcasting the ceremony. Who wants the show to be on cable? I mean, nobody watches cable, where all those “narrow” shows are, right?

In all seriousness, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has long been known for frequently failing to nominate quality programs and amazing actors. I didn’t think it was possible to get more riled up by this organization, but they managed it.

I guess that’s an accomplishment of some kind.


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