Why I Write About the Emmys

Why I Write About the Emmys

August 27th, 2010

On her Twitter feed, the illustrious Maureen Ryan (soon to be of AOL TV) posted the following:

This would likely be a common sentiment amongst TV critics: they write about the Emmys less because they care about them and more because they’re a major television event which their employers (whether they be print or online outlets) feel they need to have coverage of. There’s a general cynicism towards the Emmys, with many critics writing posts which question their validity or offering their own alternative ballot to better reflect a more objective (albeit decidedly subjective) survey of the year in television.

However, in my unique position without any sort of employer, I am able to write about what I want to write about, which begs the question: why, precisely, do I write about the Emmys as much as I do? I don’t have to predict the nominations, or analyze the submissions, or break down each individual category, but I choose to do so. I had originally planned to just predict Comedy and Drama series and be done with it, but there’s been enough talk about how and why we cover the Emmy Awards floating around that I wanted to offer my personal perspective before we head into the weekend.

I do not care about the results of the Emmy Awards.

To clarify, this does not mean that I don’t get emotionally caught up in the Emmy Awards, or that I have no interest in them; on the contrary, I’m on the edge of my seat during every award given, and I would go so far as to say that I am fascinated by them. However, if things do not go my way, I do not believe that some form of injustice has been done: sure, I may joke that Nurse Jackie winning for Best Theme Song has set American television back twenty years, but I do not believe that the Emmys matter in a real and substantial fashion. While it is undeniable that Emmys can help keep a show alive (see: Arrested Development, 30 Rock), or become an important part of ensuring a series becomes a cultural icon (see: The Sopranos, Mad Men), I do not write about these awards in a way which gives them power or legitimacy.

Rather, I write about them because I’m fascinated by the ways in which they seek out that power and legitimacy, in particular the structures through which the televisual text is manipulated and displayed throughout the process. I like to think, perhaps naively, that what I do is write Emmys criticism; while most tend to focus on the event while stating as fact that the awards are never going to recognize the best in television, usually while citing The Wire’s lack of attention from the voters, I want to look at the specific ways in which the voting process tries to (perhaps without hope) achieve that goal. As series are boiled down to screener DVDs sent to critics, and entire characters arcs are boiled down to a single episode (or a series of scenes from a single episode) for the sake of voting, the Emmys’ ability to reflect the growing trend of heavily serialized dramas is forever lost, and yet shows like Mad Men still end up in the winners’ circle. I want to better understand how and why that happens, and just what role the text itself plays in the success of a particular series or performer, and in order to do so I think there needs to be a break in the blanket cynicism with which we normally approach the awards.

In the end, my conclusion is usually that there are about a dozen factors which rank above actual quality in voters’ minds, and that the text is distorted and even ignored by the way the voting process is organized. However, I think that we need to ask these types of questions, which is why I spend so much time writing about the awards early on in the year. Of course, you could say that writing predictions is a much more shameful sort of discourse which gives into the way we traditionally think of the Emmys, but it’s a logical culmination of each year’s Emmy journey: it’s not about being right, it’s about being able to place into context the early buzz, the external promotion, and the submitted tapes which will eventually combine to form each award’s result. Plus, to be honest, it’s just sort of fun: you can pick apart and dissect the Emmys process for only so long before you want to enter into more popular analysis, albeit popular analysis informed by that knowledge.

I am aware that many do not share my love for my award shows, nor my fascination with minute details of the nomination and submission process, and I in no way judge these people: I’m aware that many who read this blog probably don’t care about the Emmys in the least, and tune out any of my analysis leading up to the show, and that’s precisely what I would do in their shoes. However, this blog is ultimately an expression of my personal interests, and since the Emmys are something I find myself thinking about in my spare time it’s something that I want (or, if we’re really exaggerating things, need) to focus on; while I won’t be live-blogging the awards, largely because I think Twitter has made live blogs obsolete, I will be offering up a post-show analysis here at the blog, and for me this is something to look forward to instead of something to avoid.

My life will not be affected by the outcomes of the Emmy Awards: I may be excited for certain winners, and disappointed with others, but I will write my piece about the show later Sunday night and then sleep perfectly fine even if the winners are disappointment after disappointment. After that, I’ll simply move onto another Emmy season, wondering what each performer will submit in the following year or pondering what kind of episode tapes new or returning series could put together. For better of for worse, there is a part of my critical approach to television which involves the Emmys and their flawed and yet fascinating process of determining the best of television, and so that will remain part of Cultural Learnings into the future.

[I’ll have my final analysis and predictions, for Drama and Comedy Series, tomorrow, and then I’ll be sporadically tweeting during the ceremony itself before offering my take on the awards as a whole after the fact.]

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