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On Thursday July 19, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced the nominees for The 64th Primetime Emmy Awards. As expected, there were many outcries of disappointment from those who felt their favorite shows or performers were left out, but there were also lucky nominees that seem to be recognized year after year.
From a quick look over the past five years, it would appear we can formulate a few rules-of-thumb:
1. Any category for best series will have at least thrree nominees from the previous year.
2. Program categories with a lower cancellation rate (talk shows or reality competitions) often have the exact same nominees from one year to the next.
3. When a scripted show is nominated, a slew of actors and actresses from the program will be nominated.
All of that is why some of this year’s nominees like Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, 30 Rock, Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, John Hamm, Alec Baldwin, and others look so familiar. More to my point, it is the sign that at the Academy, change is not something that comes easily.
Emmy award nominees and winners are chosen by their peers (actors pick actors, directors pick directors), except for program categories like Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Comedy Series and all others that are not representative of a group of people (there are no “living” series that would select other series). The Academy voting system and maybe the profile of the typical member (if there is such a thing) might explain the perceived conservative approach to program nominations.
That leads me to my next point, among this year’s Outstanding Comedy Series nominees, we have Emmy-favorite The Big Bang Theory (CBS) and newcomer Girls (HBO). Girls is a much more substantive show than the former, and is a minor break from tradition. New Girl (Fox), another newcomer that is nearly as popular and as frothy as The Big Bang Theory, yet it has no love from the Academy, despite being more refreshing.
I do not mean to say that nominated series should all be alike, but I am simply trying to illustrate that having a successful series similar to an Emmy-favorite does not guarantee a nod, even if it is an arguably better one. As it is, The Big Bang Theory and Curb Your Enthusiasm are no more what they used to be, and they have already had enough recognition from the Academy. Besides the glaring omission of Parks and Recreation (NBC) from the list, newcomers like Enlightened (HBO), and even the overhyped New Girl (Fox) and Louie (FX) deserved some consideration.
In the Outstanding Drama Series category, the arguably sloppy second seasons of Downton Abbey (PBS) and Boardwalk Empire (HBO) were nominated while the sharp third season of Justified (FX) was left in the cold. The same goes for the always excellent The Good Wife (CBS). Since last year, this category has welcomed a new entrant probably brought in by its popularity, with little chances of being the winner. Game of Thrones (HBO) already broke a glass ceiling (as a fantasy series) by being nominated and is unlikely to break another one by becoming a winner.
The fact that I can easily make such a statement is a testament to the conservative nature of the Academy voters who are more likely to hand Mad Men its fifth crown than to shake things up. Although Mad Men still deserves a place on the list, I find Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire are present more because of voters expectations for them, rather than the actual quality of their latest seasons. Justified and The Good Wife had far more reward qualifying seasons and should have had those two spots.
Acting categories are largely influenced by program categories, but there are welcome exceptions. The Good Wife wasn’t nominated in the programs, but had well-deserved nods for its impressive ensemble cast. Although Modern Family (ABC) is a respectable comedy, I doubt that every actor and actress in it deserved a supporting role nomination. Game of Thrones should have had more nominations in this category, and Hugh Laurie deserved a goodbye nod for his work on House (Fox). Finally, the absence of names like John Noble (Fringe) is disappointing, yet not surprising, considering the Academy voters’ dismissive attitude with science fiction and fantasy series.
To me, the examples to follow in the program and acting categories are set by those related to miniseries and movies. Because of the very nature of those short features (that is when programs like American Horror Story (FX) don’t sneak in), every year brings new names and new faces. I believe Academy voters should always look to renew their lists and return to the previous year’s series and performers only when there is no other alternative. Sometimes, programs take a season or two to find their creative voice, but after a few years, all programs grow stale, and that happens even to the very best like Mad Men. It is part of the reasons why The Big Band Theory and Curb Your Enthusiasm should not have been nominated, and maybe why Michael C. Hall from Dexter should have been left out. The quest for new and fresh faces would allow the Academy to replace existing favorites with newer and/or similar shows, and would set it up for more interesting selections, which would add much needed surprises to spark our interest for this annual award show.