What’s Really Wrong With the Emmy Awards


The nominations for the 2011 Emmy Awards were officially announced today, and as usual most casual conversation instantly turned to the snubs. While I could go through all the reasons why people like Nick Offerman or Sean Bean deserve nominations, those likely will be done to death by the end of the week.

And really, the snubs themselves aren’t the problem. They are just the symptoms of a larger disease that plagues the entire Emmy process.

The Primetime Emmys have always involved far too much politicking. There are some actors and shows the voters absolutely will never recognize regardless of quality, and there are others they will nominate every year. The voters seem to treat nominations like a statement on series as a whole, when they are supposed to be focusing strictly on the past season.

The result is something similar to what happens with All-Star Games in professional sports. Since the fans – who are the most biased people you could possibly ask to decide such honors – get to vote, they just pick their favorite players.

That’s how Derek Jeter gets elected to the MLB All-Star Game despite a subpar year, or Yao Ming gets elected to the NBA All-Star Game despite suffering a season-ending injury that also essentially ended his career.

It’s also how Glee and Hugh Laurie end up on the ballot again when their respective shows have seen significant dips in quality recently. The Emmy voters are just biased when making selections as random fans are for All-Star games.

It doesn’t help that the pool of Emmy voters looks something like a retirement home. That rewards TV shows that skew older, which normally is the exact opposite demographic for which shows aim. The most prized group for advertisers is males 18-35, not males 50+.

If the inherent bias of the voting body isn’t enough, the Emmy process is also hamstrung by the required selection of one highlight episode. Each actor is required to submit one example of their best work that season, which is an absurd way of doing things.

Even in the midst of a mediocre season, a show still can be capable of knocking one episode out of the park. So such a show can easily steal the spot of a competitor that consistently provided high quality all season.

That’s like actors being forced to choose one five-minute clip from a film to put forward for consideration as Best Actor at the Oscars and ignoring the other 90 minutes of the film. It’s ridiculous.

The process is especially damaging for drama actors. I’ll use the example of Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones. The best part of her Season 1 performance was her portrayal of her character’s transformation from fearful and abused sister to powerful and confident warrior queen.

But how can any of that be shown to the Emmy voters if all they ever see is one episode? They may appreciate the performance of that one hour, but have no idea how well Clarke showed a full range of emotions and characteristics across a season.

The greatest indictment of the Emmy system actually comes courtesy of the Television Critics Association, which provides its own awards. That body of writers consists of vastly different ages and tastes, but contains people paid to maintain their objectivity.

The result is a much more diverse and interesting group of nominees. Shows like Community and Terriers receive the recognition they so richly deserve but will never receive from the Emmy voters just because they lack star power or hit status.

But unlike the critics association, it seems that Emmy voters cannot be troubled to keep up with a variety of shows or make themselves aware of full seasons. So why are they being trusted to decide who they should honor? They have no grasp on the industry on which they are voting.

The snubs and ridiculous inclusions will continue every year because they are a byproduct of the system itself. Until the voting body is diversified or its subjectivity combated, nothing will change. And unfortunately that will never happen.

This Year’s Emmy Ridiculousness:

Glee Nominated for Best Comedy Series

I get that the series is much beloved, and I’ll admit that the first season had some solid moments deserving of credit. But the show has devolved into a mess that even critics no longer fully support. The show employs talented singers and choreographers, but the plotlines and dialogue are absolutely horrendous. It should be considered a musical or variety show rather than a comedy.

Modern Family Receives Four of the Six Supporting Actor Nominations

Modern Family is consistently the funniest and most well-written sitcom on network television. I have no problem with any of the awards it wins, because it deserves them all. But it should not receive nominations for every actor involved in it.

I’m fine with two actors and two actresses getting nods, but frankly it’s unfair to essentially shut out every other show just to stuff the box with Modern Family nominations. At this point it seems like the voters would just feel bad singling out one or two actors to not receive nominations, so they just include everybody. While they leave out people who know they would never win, but would be deeply honored just to be nominated.

Harry’s Law Receives Two Nominations

Here is by far the best example of the Emmys skewing old. Kathy Bates received a nomination for Best Actress in a Drama Series for Harry’s Law, which can only hope to one day be called mediocre television. Bates took a place that could have been given to Katey Sagal for Sons of Anarchy or Emmy Rossum for Shameless. The only reason for Bates’ nomination is that she’s Kathy Bates. Harry’s Law now has been honored with the same number of nominations as The Wire. Just think about that for a second.

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