When Do You Stop Caring?:
Giving Up on the Emmy Awards
Last week, I posted my thoughts about the Emmy Awards’ most recent attempt at becoming relevant, eliminating a series of panels that were designed to improve the nomination process in favour of a more populist structure. I went to great lengths to demonstrate how this won’t fix the problems most people identify with the process, and that the Emmys are going to be just as flawed as they were before.
And, well, Dan from Ambience of Media posed a very thought-provoking question:
With all of those complaints, the politics involved, the reactionary rule changes, the drive for ratings, the consistently lackluster nominations, etc., at what point do you give up following these awards? After all, their relevance is directly related to the attention paid them.
And then we couple that with what my brother Ryan posted at McNutt Against the Music about Canada’s Juno Awards, our national equivalent to the Grammys:
I always thought that not writing about the Junos would demerit me as a Canadian music blogger, but if the Junos will not even pretend to care about celebrating our country’s best music, then I will not even pretend to care about them.
See, normally, what the Elder McNutt discussed was what I would use to answer Dan’s question: as a TV blogger/critic, and one who has spent a lot of time around the awards process, it seems like I’m required to have an opinion, to follow the changes to the structure, and to chronicle the grasp for relevancy. And yet, I think they both have a point: at which point is the attention provided to them ultimately their only real power?
There are currently two variables, outside of the actual quality of the show, that are viewed as having an impact on a show’s future: ratings and awards. While there are other factors that can lead to a show’s survival (like Ben Silverman’s former company having a hand in developing it, see: Kath & Kim), it is these two which have the most impact on the bottom line of a show’s fate. And as someone who pays a fair bit more attention than the common television viewer to both of these issues, it’s important to decide when I’ll stop following them.
The answer? When there’s nothing left to worry about, or when I stop enjoying the sadism of criticizing them.
Admittedly, there is part of me that is fascinated by something like the Emmy Awards process: the predictions, the politics, the bureacracy, the wacky decisions, and everything else that comes with it ultimately are intriguing to me at some level. But in terms of actually disagreeing with the winners and demanding a fairer representation of television quality, there’s really only two reasons to do it. You’re either hoping for some sort of cosmic television justice, or you’re trying to keep a show alive.
An Emmy for Best Comedy Series likely kept Arrested Development on the air after its first season, and winning the same Emmy likely gave 30 Rock a major boost with NBC brass heading into its second. These are but two examples where awards shows can confirm for executives that shows struggling in viewership can become a different sort of show, a “prestige” show if you will. There is value in this type of series, and as long as this is in some way prescribed value by networks there is reason to be frustrated when shows sitting on the bubble (like, for example, How I Met Your Mother in its first two seasons) don’t get any attention and are never given the same chance due to the usual political reasons.
I don’t feel as if this is an unhealthy relationship with the Emmys: as long as the industry continues to take them at least somewhat seriously, they are a useful avenue for any series looking to grab a foothold of the rapidly contracting world of primetime television. With ratings in the toilet for pretty much all NBC shows, and Jay Leno about to take five hours of primetime, an awards season domination has 30 Rock with a secure fourth season but a lack of awards attention for shows like Chuck or Friday Night Lights might make them a tougher sell. And while we’d love to think that the voice of critics, who love both of these shows, is enough a couple of fancy statues can’t hurt.
But outside of shows that are in danger of being lost before their time, I think that there is increasingly less value to be found in following the Emmy awards. While a search for television justice might seem like a noble cause at first, I feel like we might be at something approaching a turning point. Battlestar Galactica managed to last four seasons despite a lack of awards (or ratings), and appears set for a deserving finale. The Wire left the air without a single Emmy, but with such a singularly impressive piece of work the Emmys are rendered insignificant. And the Emmys have even been on the ball with some shows, cementing Mad Men’s future with an Emmy this September.
Perhaps the best example of all of this is Lost. Yes, I felt that many more members of Lost’s cast deserved Emmy attention last year, especially Henry Ian Cusick for being so pivotal to the game-changing “The Constant.” But the show is currently guaranteed its final two seasons, entirely independent of any ratings or awards. There is nothing left to fight for, for Lost: the show is going to end precisely when Lindelof and Cuse want it to end, and the tempermental nature of the Emmys and the steadily decreasing Nielsen ratings are going to have no effect on its future.
And so, the idea of holding a grudge about the Emmys, or the Nielsen ratings, is no longer a personal phenomenon. I don’t have a show that I feel could be saved by the Emmys, nor do I feel that any amount of changes to the formula will make a difference. But I do think there is a story to be told in the process as long as that fact is made clear, and as long as things are kept in perspective. The Emmys, even more than some other award shows, really does feel like it is given purpose by its industry, and as a result I’ll always be watching to see how wrong they are: but know that my criticisms are rarely personally driven, instead designed to fulfill that internal critic that so often flows into the pages of Cultural Learnings.
But I’ll pose the question to the readers: have you already checked out from the Emmys, or is the show’s power in the industry enough to keep your hopeful about some of your favourite shows at risk of being gone forever?