Over the past few days, we’ve been examining how often Emmy voters go for the tried and true and to what degree this prevents other deserving shows or performers from winning. The numbers suggest there’s a lot of clumping–in many categories, we’ve gotten nearly 2/3 recycled winners over the last two decades.
The first question, I suppose, is whether this is a problem. If there are obviously superior shows or actors, why should they be punished for being superior–why shouldn’t they get an Emmy every year? We tend to be okay with that in other competitions, like sports–if someone is clearly fastest or strongest, they win, regardless of whether this blocks other athletes from victory. Judging something as subjective as art makes that comparison suspect, but multiple winners might fairly claim they’re simply better.
Feelings on that likely lie with whether you’re in the winners’ camp or the losers’. Die-hard fans of The West Wing are probably less troubled by that show’s four straight wins than fans of The Sopranos are. Fans of CSI: Original Flavor (should they exist) are probably frustrated by the six awards the West Wing and Sopranos crews soaked up. When the Baconeers have picked our potential nomnees, we tend to find we agree with the Academy about 25% of the time. To some extent, people who aren’t crazy about repeat winners just have to accept that Emmy voters’ taste doesn’t match their own.
What’s a little more unsettling, and less just an issue of subjectivity in judging art, perhaps, is the way repeat winners might reveal just what makes up that taste. In terms of shows, patterns appear to reveal a taste for upper-class, well-polished, professionals. Lawyers, politicians, lawyers, doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, lawyers, TV producers, lawyers, real estate agents/contractors, lawyers, fashionistas, lawyers, admen, and lawyers tend to dominate. Looking at this, it’s amazing shows like The Sopranos, The Office, or Everybody Loves Raymond ever won. As we’ve pointed out in previous pieces, anything labeled as “genre”–science fiction, mystery, romance–stands little chance of being nominated, let alone winning. While it’s true there are few shows about the experiences of people of color on TV, such shows are even less likely to be nominated for or win Emmys. Yes, I’m still bitter about The Wire. As the television universe continues to both expand and splinter, more and more quality–and niche–programming is being made. With so much more good stuff to choose from, repeat winners seem less and less justifiable.
Could making changes to the Emmy procedures help break these logjams and spread the wealth to repeat nominees like Hugh Laurie or Steve Carell? Could changes break up the class-taste nexus and bring recognition to other parts of the television spectrum? If so, what should those changes be?
The short answer: heck if we know. We’ve played with lots of possibilities–more categories? Recognizing ensembles? Recognizing the rise of the dramedy?–and have found them all to be largely as arbitrary as the current system. How do you decide who’s a lead actor, a supporting actor, or an ensemble actor? How funny does a show have to be before it gets moved from a drama to a comedy? We don’t know, and we suspect the industry doesn’t know either. We’d love to hear your suggestions, and provide a few possibilities to kick off the chat:
- Getting rid of categories altogether for nominations. We tried this as an experiment and were astonished how quickly things came together and how easily we were able to find victors in the traditional four acting categories from our list of nominees. Granted, our experiment was very much a pilot study, as the Baconeers tend to be on the same page on TV–how would a broader application work? We kept the nominees segregated by sex–should even that be done away with?
- Viewing panels. The Academy has tried several variations on this over the past few years, including general voting that created a 10-candidate list from which a “blue ribbon panel” chose the final nominees as well as screening panels for final voting that ensured that–unless they fell asleep in the screening–panelists were voting based on the actual work instead of buzz or social networks. Some argue (and I might agree) that both of these systems shook up the repeat/multiple patterns, but both systems were probably more expensive than the current system and may have further diluted the pool of willing voters (not a great thing if you want to broaden the taste profile of voters).
- Forcing winners to sit out a year. Sure, maybe winners tend to be of very high quality (maybe). But are repeat winners really that much better than their competition? If we just said “one and done,” the last five years would look like this:
Drama: 24, The Sopranos, Mad Men, ???, ???
Comedy: The Office, 30 Rock, ???, ???, Modern Family
Actor, Drama: Keifer Sutherland, James Spader, Bryan Cranston, ???, ???
Actress, Drama: Mariska Hargitay, Sally Field, Glenn Close, ???, Kyra Sedgwick
Actor, Comedy: Tony Shalhoub, Ricky Gervais, Alec Baldwin, ???, Jim Parsons
Actress, Comedy: No change
Supporting Actor, Drama: No change
Supporting Actresss, Drama: ??? (Blythe Danner clipped from the year before), Katherine Heigl, Dianne Weist, Cherry Jones, Archie Panjabi
Supporting Actor, Comedy: Jeremy Piven, ???, ???, Jon Cryer, Eric Stonestreet
Supporting Actress, Comedy: No change
Going back only five does lose some of the pattern in some categories–which may be a good sign–and obviously new winners would depend on which years you remove from multiple winners. But there would be more variety. Is that a good thing, or is this merely a Hugh Laurie problem that doesn’t really need fixing? Would opening up just one slot–the repeat or multiple winner–per year open enough room for genre candidates? The first basic cable shows have been nominated in the last few years–is this a sign the Academy tastes are shifting? Is the issue fixing itself? Since our tastes don’t always match the actual nominees very well, we’d hope so–what do you think?
Monday: Ballots are out! We’re hoping for nonsense and weirdness. Rob Lowe, I’m looking at you.