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Hope Springs Intermittently: Stories of the 2011 Emmy Nominations

Stories of the 2011 Emmy Nominations

July 14th, 2011

My favorite thing about Emmy nomination morning is the sense of hope.

It lingers in the air before the 5:35am PT announcement – last night, as both coasts drifted off to sleep, people on Twitter were posting lists of contenders that they were crossing their fingers for, still believing that shows like Fringe or Community had a shot of breaking into their respective categories. This is not a slight on either show, or on their fans who choose to believe. As always, some part of me wishes that I didn’t know enough about the Emmy nomination process to logic away any chance of sentimental favorites garnering a nomination.

My least favorite thing about Emmy nomination morning is the moment the bubble bursts. When the nominations are actually announced, it’s this constant rollercoaster: one nominees brings excitement while another brings disappointment. The bubble hasn’t burst yet, at that point, as there are often enough shifts in momentum that no one emotion wins out, leaving us struggling to figure out just how we feel.

The moment it bursts is when you open the PDF and see all the nominations laid out before you, and when the math starts adding up. Twitter has quickened this process: you don’t need to wait until critics and reporters break down the nominations, as everyone is tweeting the sobering details by the time 8:45am rolls around. Excitement in one area turns to disappointment in another, with one favorite’s surprise nomination becoming deflated when you realize that other favorites were entirely shut out.

As always, I was one of those people sorting through the list of nominations, and the bubble did burst at a certain point. It was the point when I remembered that surprise nominees are often unlikely to be surprise winners, and that for every category with a surprising amount of freshness there’s another that reeks of complacency and laziness. These are not new narratives, of course, but they’re narratives that overpower any sense of hope that could possibly remain after a morning of sobering reality, and that temper any enthusiasm that might nonetheless remain.

Although we cannot say that there is no enthusiasm to be found. While there are no real dominant narratives at this year’s Emmys, I do want to focus on a number of stories that I consider important based on the nominations, some of which involve excitement and others which involve that defeatist Emmy spirit we cynics hold so dear. One deals with how a network fights to remain relevant after giving up its Emmy bait, while another deals with the failings of an oft-derided set of categories. The others, meanwhile, look at the difference between being nominated and being competitive, as well as why it might be that an entire set of categories can’t help but feel like a disappointment.

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SYTYCD Season 7′s Top 4: With Great Power Comes Blatant Posturing

Season 7′s Top 4: With Great Power Comes Blatant Posturing

August 4th, 2010

Well, America, the power is finally in your hands.

I’ve written briefly in the past about how So You Think You Can Dance represents a strange sort of mediated democracy, in that the judges maintain control over who goes home (albeit out of a Bottom Three selected by America) for a large portion of the competition – while it purports to awarding the title of “America’s Favourite Dancer,” America isn’t involved in the process until the finals begin, and even then their influence is limited up until a certain point.

While Season Seven has seen a lot of changes for the series, the one I find most interesting is that Nigel Lythgoe and his producers chose to wait until the final week before the finals to turn things over to America – instead of taking control halfway through the competition, as we’ve seen in previous years, America gets to make one single un-aided decision regarding an elimination.

I’m intensely curious to know whether this was something they had planned in advance, or whether it was – like most of the season – an on-the-fly decision which resulted from the producers’ access to each week’s voting results. I raise this point not to suggest that there was some kind of conspiracy, but rather to emphasize how there was something about tonight’s show which felt decidedly manufactured, as if America was being expressly sold these contestants as a result of their newfound power. This usually happens at this late stage in the competition, but part of what has made the last few weeks so engaging was the sense of looseness about it – without the injuries, I think this could have been a really exciting season, and I felt like I was being sold the idea of that excitement tonight rather than actually allowing it to come through in the performances.

Instead, it seems like the show was more focused than ever on selling us this particular set of contestants, which made for a less enjoyable show than in previous weeks.

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When SYTYCD Art Meets SYTYCD Structure: Stacey Tookey’s Carefully Designed “Mad World”

When Art Meets Structure: Stacey Tookey’s Carefully Designed “Mad World”

July 29th, 2010

I’ve spent a lot of time during So You Think You Can Dance’s seventh season discussing the non-dancing parts of the show, primarily in terms of the producers’ decisions in regards to the changes to the series’ format. I think this is ultimately because I don’t actually know anything more about dancing than what the show tells me, and because this season has (for better or for worse) been defined my competition elements other than dancing – injuries, All-Stars and choreographer conflict have been key topics of discussion, and frankly all of that takes away from the fact that I actually think there are four legitimate contenders for this year’s title of “America’s Favorite Dancer.”

This week, it’s tempting to go down the same path: we have Adam Shankman dropping a “Balls Out,” we’ve got Nigel Lythgoe showing just how much attention he’s paying to this competition as he accidentally drops an “American Idol” in there (which he chalks up to his mind being elsewhere, as he’s returning to Idol as its executive producer for Season 10), and you’ve even got yet another injury, with Lauren being attended to by the medics following her Foxtrot with Adechike (and making for a woeful final sendoff where Cat Deeley has to inform America that the judges, minutes after cheering about the lack of injuries, that they had jinxed it.

And yet, for once I want to focus on the dancing, and one dance in particular. Stacey Tookey’s societal piece with Billy and Ade was perhaps not the most emotional dance of the season, but it by far (for me) the most impressive conceptually. And while I think that part of this has to do with its artistic value, which I don’t entirely feel comfortable discussing what I do want to briefly analyze is how the dance is the perfect mediation of the choreographer’s artistic image and this season’s structural challenges, delivering something which is capable of standing as a piece of art while also being something which seems to absolutely capture not just the vague “spirit of dance” but instead the show’s competitive elements.

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Injury Time: Contestants turned Survivors on So You Think You Can Dance

Injury Time: Contestants turned Survivors

July 15, 2010

Earlier this season, So You Think You Can Dance was creating its own problems: the new format got off to a rocky start, and early efforts to course correct felt like an admission of those problems, making the whole thing seem like a failed experiment. However, I’m willing to admit that the show has pulled it together, as by the time we reached last week’s decision to introduce a combination of All-Star routines and contestant pairings it felt like a natural evolution. The show is still clearly flying by the seat of its pants, but the season no longer feels like it is doing so in an effort to fix the initial setup. The more they adjust, the more it shows that they’re dedicated to finding the right balance, and I’ve been impressed with those efforts.

The problem, of course, is that two injuries have kept the series from really coming together, with two of the early favourites taken out by injury and eventually forced out of the competition. On a show which always features a balance between the power of the judges and the will of the audience, here the decisions are being made by a third partner, fate, which cares not for the quality of dance on display. It’s a sign that the season just can’t catch a break, crippled by these injuries which keep the natural competitive field from developing to its full potential, leaving an imbalanced group of dancers who represent less the best America has to offer and more the survivors of a grueling season.

A few thoughts on the optics of these injuries and the odd organization of the upcoming tour, along with an extension of last week’s piece on musical performers, after the jump.

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Turning Over the Keys: Musical Guests in Reality Competition Programming

Turning Over the Keys: Musical Guests in Reality Competition Programming

July 9th, 2010

LeBron James’ decision to join the Miami Heat in the fall isn’t half as interesting as his choice (nay, demand) to announce this decision on live television after twenty-eight minutes of hilariously awful build-up in which television sports journalism lost a great deal of credibility. Frankly put, ESPN had no idea how to string together a show around such a crass act of self-promotion, which to their credit isn’t a particularly easy task: this was an hour-long special built around a ten second announcement, taking what could have been some interesting pre-decision and post-decision analysis and blanketing it with hyperbole about how this will forever change the game of basketball. This wasn’t ESPN covering LeBron James (which has become nauseous in and of itself), but ESPN turning itself over to LeBron James, which at the very least will have media scholars talking for a long time (or, about as long as it took Jim Gray to actually ask LeBron the question of the night).

And in what is the most shameless segue you’re likely to see all week, this same problem of “turning one’s self over” plagues reality competition programming (oh yes, I went there). For shows like American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and So You Think You Can Dance, it’s necessary for time purposes to turn over part of their results shows to a musical guest or some other type of performer who kills some time, promotes their record/show, and moves on with their life. These performances can occasionally be quite interesting, but the fact remains that there’s a tension between the narrative unfolding (the elimination of a contestant, in most instances) and the musical performance, and watching tonight’s So You Think You Can Dance (which, in my defence, I watched immediately after tuning out from “The Decision” at the half-hour mark) a few thoughts came to mind about how shows work to keep these musical performances from seeming disconnected from the series itself.

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The Trick is to Actually Watch TV: The 2010 Emmy Nominations

The Trick is to Actually Watch TV: The 2010 Emmy Nominations

July 8th, 2010

The Emmy nominations (which you can find in full here) are less a sign of what’s truly great on television and a more a sign of what the Emmy voters have actually been watching.

Series and performers are nominated for Emmys for one of two reasons: either the Academy members watched episodes carefully and saw them deserving of an award, or they looked at their ballots and chose a familiar name, a much buzzed-about series, or the first name on the ballot. And, frankly, most years the latter seemed to be their modus operandi, to the point where I’ve started to disassociate voters with any notion of television viewership – I’m not even convinced most of them own televisions.

However, for once, I’d say that the 2010 Emmy nominations seem to have been made by people who actually enjoy the medium, with plenty of evidence to demonstrate that voters actually watched many of the shows they nominated and discovered not only the most hyped elements of that series but also those elements which are truly deserving of Emmys attention. There are still plenty of examples where it’s clear that Emmy voters didn’t truly bother to watch the series in question, and all sorts of evidence which indicates that the Emmy voters suffer from a dangerously selective memory and a refusal to let go of pay cable dramedies, but the fact remains that this is the most hopeful Emmy year in recent memory.

It isn’t that every nominee is perfect, but rather that there is evidence of Academy voters sitting down in front of their television and watching more than a single episode of the shows in question, making them less like soulless arbiters of quality and more like actual television viewers – it might not stick, but for a few moments it’s nice to finally see some nominees that indicate voters aren’t so much different from us after all.

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Invasion of the Fan Perspective: So You Think You Can Dance’s Top 8

Invasion of the Fan Perspective: SYTYCD’s Top 8

July 7th, 2010

You could argue that tonight’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance is, in itself, fan service: after some have complained that the series’ switch to an All-Star format has taken away from the audience’s engagement with the dancers, the series took an opportunity with the Top 8 in order to bring back the old format as dancers performed two dances (one with an All-Star, and one with one of their fellow competitors). As someone who has been underwhelmed by the supposed benefits of the All-Star format, I was pleased to see the series return to its roots, and I actually quite liked the balance between the individual and paired performances – it was a twist of sorts on the “Paired Dance + Solo” structure the show has worked with in the past, and I preferred it to those episodes as I’ve always found the solos to be pretty uniformly boring.

However, fan response to the show’s seventh season invaded the series in another, less formal, fashion in this week’s episodes, as the fans were acknowledged within both the rehearsal packages and critiques for a number of the dancers. The series has acknowledged its fans before, but I’ve rarely seen them viewed as such a force within the competition in both explicit and implicit fashions, which is contributing to what has been a very intriguing (if not necessarily even) season for the series.

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SYTYCD (For the Cameras) & SYTYCD (with Another Dude)

SYTYCD (For the Cameras) & SYTYCD (with Another Dude)

June 30th, 2010

I was going to discuss some of the ways in which the All-Stars format continues to wreak havoc with some of the important qualities of So You Think You Can Dance, in relation to the judges comments that Billy Bell needs to work on his partnering skills, but since Nigel Lythgoe is apparently plugging his ears to any such criticism I won’t bother – if he’s not willing to accept the fact that there are trade-offs in his particular plan, and that some viewers don’t believe they come down in his favour, then that’s his prerogative and I won’t beat a dead horse.

However, there’s two things that I do want to discuss from tonight’s episode, which continues to provide plenty of fascinating insight into just how this competition works. Say what I will about the All-Star format, but it has revealed many of the contradictions inherent within the series’ structure, which gives me something to write about each week. In particular, I want to focus on Adam Shankman’s comment that Kent Boyd is one of the most “hireable” dancers the show has ever had, as well as the episode-ending, “gender-bending” hip-hop number performance by Alex and Twitch – while the former is predicated on a fairly rigid view of how dancers are judged by the audience (arbitrarily defined by the judges), the latter is a conscious (and hyped) effort to break away from that rigidity for the sake of memorability.

…and yes, it sort of comes back to the All-Star format, whether Nigel is listening or not.

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All-Stars, No Story: Confusion reigns over So You Think You Can Dance Season 7

All-Stars, No Story: SYTYCD Season 7

June 16th, 2010

When it was announced that So You Think You Can Dance would be changing its structure for its seventh season, in theory there shouldn’t be any complaints: after all, many of the show’s fans were frustrated by the sixth season, where the series felt stale for the first time. However, that staleness wasn’t really the result of the show’s structure so much as the decision to schedule the series in the fall (only weeks after the fifth season ended) and an unfortunate new stage which sucked some of the life out of the series. We were suffering from fatigue more than anything else, and while some small changes could bring us back to the franchise it seems as if Nigel Lythgoe decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

While we’ve known for a while that the series was throwing out its Top 20 structure and going with a Top 10 (in fact a Top 11) and teaming up the individual competitors with All-Stars from previous seasons, it wasn’t entirely clear just how that would work. The show is still a collection of 11 dance routines as it was before, but there are newfound conflicts in who we’re supposed to be paying attention to (the competitor or the All-Stars), and with Mia Michaels sitting in for Mary Murphy there is simply something different in the air.

And it’s proving to be, at least right now, a diversion from what used to make the show so engaging – while my choice of title may make it seem like the problem is that the show is focusing too much on the All-Stars (I couldn’t resist the play on No Guts, No Glory), the truth is that they didn’t focus on the all-stars at all, which is even more distracting and confusing for audiences and judges alike.

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So You Think You Can Dance Season 5: The Finale Factor

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The Finale Factor

August 5th, 2009

While I accept any and all criticism of reality television as far as the sheer gluttony of the stuff that arrived on the airwaves over the past decade or so, I will say right now that the “Finale” is the reason the genre has continued to appeal to me. There is something about sheer uncertainty that few scripted programs can really match, as there is often no way to choreograph (eww, sorry) the twists and turns that could potentially happen. With shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race, any small snafu could completely alter the power structure, leaving your expectations in tatters on the floor while an unexpected winner is crowned. That’s the kind of story that keeps me hooked on (good) reality television, and the kind of story that makes me believe the genre has a definite place.

However, for shows like So You Think You Can Dance and its musical counterpart, American Idol, there isn’t always that same sense of uncertainty. Sure, there’s always a chance that expectations can be defeated, but for the most part things have been narrowed to the point where the final performances are not a surprise, and where the result is more a foregone conclusion. Last year, I don’t think anyone believed that Joshua, with his combination of braces and some fantastic and memorable routines was beyond likeable, was going to lose, so the suspense was somewhat gone. On these shows, dancers give so many performances that there is a lot of empirical evidence for how audiences are responding and voting, and as a result one can feel like the finale is only going to cement what has already taken place.

All of this being said, I feel as if this fifth season finale of So You Think You Can Dance is an example of a finale that has only further complicated what has been a very difficult to read season. Most thought that Brandon and Janette, so strong throughout the competition, were going to sail into the finals, but both found themselves in the Bottom at Top 8 and Janette even went home. Evan, meanwhile, has lacked a single breakout performance, and yet has never fallen into the bottom. The top two girls, meanwhile, are Kayla the Partner Killer, who was regularly in the Bottom Three, and Jeanine, who carried Philip early in the competition before emerging as a powerhouse when it mattered most.

The result is a competition that’s too close to call, but based on the evening’s events I think we can say that this is a finale that will truly matter.

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