The Dirty Little Secret of awards show culture is this: The only people with a hankering to watch are overwhelmingly older and coastal.
I think I can speak for the rest of America in leading a collective exhale after reviewing this morning’s Emmy nominations.
We’re safe in the knowledge that the nation’s TV critics will not be forced to walk off their jobs en masse (at least, the nine that remain).
Why? Because Jim Parsons got nominated as lead comedy actor for the CBS comedy "The Big Bang Theory," serving to restore something resembling sanity to a selection process perpetually steeped in new rules and fresh indignation .
In case you haven’t seen the memo, the Emmys aren’t really the Emmys anymore — if they ever were in the first place.
A process always ruled by slow-to-react-to-the-marketplace movement and relentless repetition ("and the winner again is…’Frasier’!") has degenerated into an annual race to see if the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences can stay a step ahead of the apathy police.
Lately, it’s done a particularly poor job, even as its voting members have commendably ensured that credit go where it’s due: i.e., to cable.
The unscripted boom at the broadcast networks and accompanying de-emphasis on anything that costs more than a couple of dinners at Nate & Al’s has shifted the balance of quality to cable in a Golden Age sort of way, led by "Mad Men," "Damages," "Dexter," "Rescue Me," "The Shield" and "The Closer."
So true excellence ain’t the issue.
No, the real concern faced by the TV Academy in particular and Hollywood’s gatekeeping overlords of self-congratulation in general is this: Nobody cares — at least, no one with a Nielsen box under the age of 30. And that’s a very big problem indeed.
The Dirty Little Secret of awards show culture is this: The only people with a hankering to watch the Oscars, the Emmys and the Grammys are overwhelmingly older and coastal. If you want to see the generation gap widen before your eyes like the Grand Canyon, try asking any teenager whom they’re rooting for to win in the drama series category. There might be a spark of recognition if you were to broach the VMAs, but even that’s iffy, given its streaming limitations on a PDA.
The traditional Hollywood trades are having some problems in large part because even the studios and networks with a vested interest in awards shows are loathe to purchase plentiful amounts of ads anymore, given the lack of tangible benefit to the bottom line.
And if showbiz itself can’t be made to give two hoots, how are you supposed to sell the thing in Skokie? Hint: Not by honoring a bunch of artsy shows that scarcely move the Peoplemeter needle.
Last year’s lovefest for "30 Rock" and "Mad Men" hit a ratings bottom with barely 12 million viewers, the smallest Emmy viewership in history. Part of that also was due to an unscripted opening featuring reality show hosts admitting they had nothing in particular to add to the national dialogue.
So the Emmys, like the Oscars, have hit on a strategy of turning up the volume and a theory of "If you can’t beat ‘em, bombard ‘em."
The Oscars already have announced it will be doubling the number of best picture nominees next year to 10. The Emmys upped the top comedy series and drama series entries and the nominees in the series acting categories.
Their thinking is that by opening up the playing field, they’d have fewer outright snubs, less righteous anger, more inclusive harmony and a glorious mix of art and populism. Everybody would be happy! Hey young people! Yoo-hoo! Over here! This ain’t just for your mom and pop anymore!
Except that Project Youngway didn’t quite work out exactly as planned this first time around.
Two of the shows that actually seemed to generate interest amongst those in the desired demos, as they say — HBO’s "True Blood" (kids just love them vampires) and Showtime’s "United States of Tara," which bears out every child’s nightmare theory that their mother is actually four different people, all of whom are hellbent on humiliating them in front of their friends — got the big snub in terms of the series categories.
And those rare comedies people actually watch in droves, like CBS’s "Two and a Half Men" and "The Big Bang Theory," both from professional curmudgeon Chuck Lorre, likewise failed to make the cut, allowing Lorre a timely return to his comfort zone of underappreciation.
The expansion also meant, however, that a lot of really good and deserving shows and people got honored, viewers or no viewers. There was simply no better hour on television this year than AMC’s harrowing "Breaking Bad" and no better performer than its star Bryan Cranston (last year’s drama lead actor winner in a shocking instance of quality trumping buzz).
Usually, buzz is the easy winner over creativity or talent, but it’s hard to argue with many of the choices in the big-ticket categories this time, with two notable exceptions in the lineup for Outstanding Comedy Series: HBO’s deliriously slack-jawed and unfunny "Flight of the Conchords" and Fox’s hyperactive animated punchline-fest "Family Guy."
I’m sure I’ll get comments calling for my death for saying this, but "Family Guy" is wholly unworthy of a nomination given a style that’s far more ADHD child in desperate need of Ritalin than cleverly conceived continuing story.
Yet here it is, the first and only animated half-hour to get a top comedy nod since (gasp) "The Flintstones" way back in 1961. (Speaking of the Stone Age.) For those of you keeping score, that’s two score and eight years ago.
It remains the Emmys’ greatest shame that "The Simpsons" has never managed a comedy series category nod but "Family Guy" has, which we might compare roughly to Warren Harding earning a vote as one of America’s top Presidents while Abe Lincoln gets shut out.
It makes roughly as much sense, even though "The Simpsons" — after being entirely ignored in the 1990s while competing as a comedy — has found success in winning the animated series Emmy several times.
Yet the fact a show that may be the finest comedy in TV history now watches "Family Guy" snatch an honor it never has serves to define the Emmys’ utter anachronistic inconsequence and slapdash superficiality.
But if Jim Parsons wins, of course I take it all back.
(Ray Richmond blogs at www.manbitestinseltown.com.)
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