It’s a new world — Emmy needs to expand horizons

[8 July 2008]

By Maureen Ryan

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

I’ve been reading the unofficial lists of Emmy semi-finalists that Tom O’Neil has been posting at the Gold Derby site (goldderby.latimes.com).

And I was struck, once again, by an idea that would go a long way toward fixing the eternally frustrating Emmys.

What if the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences simply left the lists of semi-finalists as they are? Why not have 10 slots for each of the major Emmy categories?

It should be noted that the names on the lists of semi-finalists in each acting category have not been confirmed by the academy. But O’Neil usually gets the goods straight from Academy voters. In any case, those lists will be cut down to five nominees in each category through another round of voting that ends July 10.

That next round should be scuttled. The lists should be left as they are.

The number of worthy TV shows has exploded in the last decade, yet the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences doles out a mere five slots in each of the major acting categories and in the best comedy and drama categories. These are the same five slots that were available when the Emmys judged the fare on three big broadcast networks with little competition.

Now there are four broadcast networks, and every year an ever-expanding array of cable networks come up with yet more original programming. It’s easy to name at least three dozen scripted series that deserve Emmy consideration in one category or another.

The TV academy needs to open up the field and allow more nominees in the major categories. The alternative is to keep confirming its reputation as an out-of-touch, almost comically inept organization holding a yearly popularity contest for well-known shows.

But the lists at the Gold Derby site are proof that, given the chance to expand their horizons, the often-stodgy Emmy voters will allow worthy but less famous shows to get some much-deserved attention.

I normally scream and gnash my teeth when the official Emmy nominee list is released, but these preliminary rosters leave me surprisingly migraine-free. Sure, there are shows that deserve far more representation than they get from the Academy on a yearly basis, but all things considered, these lists aren’t embarrassing, and that’s a start.

Yet when July 17 rolls around and the final nominees are announced, many TV observers, including myself, will probably be moaning about the fact that “The Wire,” “Flight of the Conchords,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Dexter” - all of which are represented on the semi-finalist lists - didn’t make the final cut.

“In Treatment” is well represented at this stage in the balloting, but will it hold out against more well-known but past-their-prime war horses such as “Boston Legal” and “Grey’s Anatomy”? That’s highly questionable, considering many Emmy voters don’t watch much TV and tend to just vote for the shows they’ve heard of.

I’m not a particular fan of “Samantha Who?” or “The Sarah Silverman Show,” but it would sure be nice if the stars of those programs, who are on the semi-finalist list in the comedy-actress category, could be part of the final roster of nominees. Who wants to see another “Desperate Housewives” near-shutout in this category?

There are many problems with the Emmys, starting with the organization’s evaluation methods, which seem designed to punish the most risk-taking, bold programs. TV’s greatest dramas are often somewhat serialized and need the episodes they submit to be seen in the context of several seasons’ worth of storytelling.

But the quickest and best way to make the Emmys relevant is to expand the number of nominees in each category. The sheer number of TV shows - and the quality of the top shows - has been expanding at a dizzying pace. It would be helpful if the Emmys woke up to that fact.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/its-a-new-world-emmy-needs-to-expand-horizons/