The Trouble with the Emmys

As not only a lifelong fan of television but someone who moved cross-country to pursue working in it, Emmy nomination day is a pretty big deal for me. I imagine many people feel the same way about the NFL draft- based on my limited sports knowledge, I’m pretty sure that’s a thing. When I still lived on the east coast, I would often set my alarm and wake up to watch the nominations announcement live. In California, that would require waking up at 5am, and I’m allergic to mornings, so this year I settled for scrolling through the list at 7:45 from the comfort of my bed. I have to say, my initial reaction was boredom.

For the past several years, we have seen roughly the same 6 series in the Best Drama and Best Comedy categories. Upsets are few and far between. This year, I was hopeful. I thought perhaps we would finally stop nominating Downton Abbey, which, while enjoyable, is a soap opera that only seems more sophisticated because everyone has a British accent. I thought this might even be the year that Mad Men didn’t make it into the big category, as the season that was eligible was, in my opinion, their most disappointing. On the comedy side, every single year I hope that my favorite sitcom currently on the air, Parks and Recreation, will be recognized for the wonderful piece of television it is, and every single year I am disappointed. The only name that made me sit up and go “oh!” in the major categories was Lena Headey in Supporting Actress for Game of Thrones, a nomination that is well-deserved and notable because it is rare anyone in their ensemble cast aside from Emmy winner Peter Dinklage is recognized.

There are some things the voters got right. Orange is the New Black, which I adore, received a strong assortment of nominations for its first eligible Emmy season, including a wonderful and groundbreaking Guest Actress nomination for Laverne Cox, who became the first ever transgender Emmy nominee (and, I predict, will become the first ever transgender Emmy winner). Amy Poehler and Kerry Washington were nominated for more Emmys they will not win, but at least they were nominated. The stellar final season of Breaking Bad earned many deserved nominations, although I also predict Bryan Cranston will lose his final Emmy bid to Matthew McConaughey. In addition to True Detective becoming a bit of a pop culture phenomenon, we are basically living in the Year of McConaughey, and I think he’ll ride his current buzz to another piece of that EGOT.

I am the 164757285th person on the internet to say this, but one of the most glaring omissions was the lack of a nomination for Tatiana Maslany, who is absolutely phenomenal in Orphan Black. Last week the show’s official Twitter account jokingly said the award for Outstanding Lead Actress Playing an Ensemble Cast should go to Maslany. They are not wrong. She has a job unlike that of any actor or actress on television, and she excels at it. She played 7 characters in season 2, and in a fair world would be nominated as both a Leading Actress AND a Supporting Actress. Sci-fi shows, however, have been historically overlooked by the Emmys (Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my favorite show of all time, I am no stranger to this), and apparently two consecutive Critics Choice wins have not alerted enough voters to Maslany’s existence. I was also less surprised, but almost equally disappointed, to see the lack of recognition for The Mindy Project. As my Twitter followers know, I am straight up annoying when it comes to my love for this show, and I would have loved to see the show itself, Mindy Kaling, and/or Chris Messina be recognized.

The reason the Emmys tend to be rather stagnant for years at a time with very few new shows and performers breaking in is partially that viewers simply do not watch all of the eligible shows, and instead check off recognizable names on the ballot. Allison Janney is nominated for Supporting Actress in a Comedy for Mom. I do not know a single person who watches this show, but I know plenty of people who enjoy Allison Janney’s body of work. Those who may not have kept up on Mad Men may assume it has continued at the same level of excellence. Unfortunately, there is not an easy fix for this. Given the sheer number of shows and performances eligible for these awards, it would not be fair to expect every Emmy voter to truly see everything. I do wonder if there is a way to get them to see more. In the Short Film categories at the Oscars, voters need to prove they have attended screenings of all eligible nominees in order to vote. The official rules for voting in the Tony Awards state that “voters are expected to attend all nominated productions, or at least to refrain from voting in any category in which they have not seen all of the nominees.” Live performance is obviously different from television in that physical presence at a certain locale is required to adequately judge, but the concept is still more fair. Emmy voters receive screeners at their home, and no one has any idea if they even open any of them.

Just as actors are often nominated more for their body of work than for whatever role they are currently playing on a show, that issue holds true when it comes to actors who are regularly nominated for long-running series. Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks both lost in the years they were eligible to submit the episodes that are widely considered to be their best work on Mad Men to date (“The Suitcase” and “The Other Woman”, respectively). Do these oversights mean the series should end without either being recognized? It’s a tricky question, because while sentimentally I don’t feel that way, the rules of the awards state that actors are judged based upon what they choose as their best episode from the eligible season. Maybe Jon Hamm will be given material on par with “The Suitcase” in the final season, or maybe he will be given an Emmy for his body of work as Don Draper, even if the final season does not turn out to be his best work. Submitting specific episodes almost seems pointless in cases like this.

In all seriousness, though, my biggest issue with the Emmys this year is their misguided decision to air them on a Monday. Since the west coast does not show most major awards shows on a time delay, this means they will be airing at 5pm PST on a weekday, when most people who care will be at work because no one who works in television goes home before 8pm. Unfortunately, I’m kind of okay with the fact that I’ll likely be unable to watch the ceremony live, although I will miss judging people on the red carpet while drinking wine.


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