Pandering to the Demo: The Critics’ Choice Television Awards

I’ve known about the existence of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association for a while now, and it’s always struck me as a bit odd. Seemingly an alternative to the Television Critics’ Association, although some of the members actually hold membership in both organizations, the BTJA “has been formed as a collective voice to represent the professional interests of those who regularly cover television for TV viewers, radio listeners and online audiences as well.”

This sounds all well and good, but it seems pretty obvious to me that someone like TV Line’s Michael Ausiello doesn’t have any issues getting access to either stars or content, and the same goes for members representing TV Guide, AOL, or Access Hollywood. For these people, the second part of the BTJA’s mandate seems like the true raison d’etre: “BTJA will also present the Critics’ Choice Television Awards to honor the finest achievements on networks and channels big and small.”

The nominees for the first annual Critics’ Choice Television Awards were released this morning, and my Twitter stream lit up with excitement over nominations for shows criminally overlooked by the Emmys in previous years. I saw tweets from excited bloggers, excited fans, excited executives, and even excited nominees. And yet, when I went to actually look at the nominees, my response was more apprehension than excitement.

Now, my issue is not so much with who/what was nominated, but rather how those people/shows were nominated. Essentially, I consider the Critics’ Choice Television Awards to be a large-scale extension of “Dream Emmy Ballot” pieces, an outlet through which an individual or group can increase their own profile by pandering to fans of particular programs by including them and pointing out that the Emmys will never do the same. This is not an effort to create a more transparent or accurate nomination process, nor does it place any pressure on the Academy to revamp the Emmy Awards process: all it does is use the lure of awards glory to gain our attention.

And while it’s nice to see someone pandering to my demo for a change, that doesn’t mean that we should be partying in the streets.

First off, I will readily admit that part of my issue with the Critics’ Choice Television Awards is that they are not actually decided by critics: while the membership list does feature a handful of people that I would consider critics, for the most part it features journalists, and I would argue that they are not always one and the same. To call these the Critics’ Choice awards given the membership list feels like a stretch, and seeing various people talking about these nominees in the context of critics just leads to confusion. With all due respect to Mylin Watkins, a producer on Entertainment Tonight and The Insider is not a critic, and so the very title of the awards (which is adopted from their sister organization’s Broadcast Film Critics’ Association awards, of course) seems specious.

The organization is also very vague in terms of what their nominating system actually looks like. There are two references to something called “Nominating Committees,” but it’s unclear what these are or what their decisions might be based on. At the very least, given that the membership are defined separate from these committees within the nomination process breakdown, we can surmise that a more limited group of critics made the nominating decisions rather than the group at large, which is itself not particularly large.

This raises a few alarm bells for me, as I indicated on Twitter. Something about these lists just seem incredibly micro-managed, with the potential headlines floating around in their heads while the nominees were being chosen. They really do remind me of Ausiello’s “Dream Emmy Ballot” pieces, which have now become TV Line’s Dream Nominees: in fact, and this is highly anecdotal, the “Dream Nominees” for Best Comedy Actress match up almost exactly with the Critics Choice nominees, except for Edie Falco replacing Kaley Cuoco.

I raise this comparison not to suggest that Ausiello is some sort of puppetmaster, but rather that the entire Critics’ Choice nominating process seems like a game of “Well, if we controlled the Emmy Awards,” and I don’t think this is something that we should be celebrating. Allowing ten nominees for the series categories doesn’t make for better categories so much as it makes for larger categories, so that every show’s fans have something to latch onto, and so that every network can throw “Two Critics’ Choice nominations” onto its marketing material to tap into what they consider as critical acclaim.

In other words, it’s just like every other awards show, except that this one seems like it has been designed to tap into the marketing potential at hand. Is there room for an alternative to the Emmy Awards? I would say yes. However, I don’t think that alternative should be designed or pitched as an alternative to the Emmy Awards, and that’s the vibe I get from these nominations: the results are not indicative of an intense knowledge of television, but rather an intense knowledge of what online television fans will share, celebrate, and publicize. When a small group choose the nominees, and when the nominees feel so clearly targeted towards particular demographics, and when there is an excess of nominees so that nearly everyone gets a nomination, it loses any capacity for change and instead becomes a similarly flawed system, just aimed towards a different demographic.

And that isn’t something that I’m willing to consider a step in the right direction as far as award shows go.

Cultural Observations

  • As noted on Twitter, I don’t want this to be some sort of conspiracy theory, but the vagueness of the BTJA’s explanation leaves a lot of questions that I think should be explored. If anyone from the organization wants to set the record straight on what a nominating committee is and what criteria they were following or even who was involved, please feel free to shoot me an email: cultural.learnings @ gmail.com.
  • Despite my concerns, some part of me is pleased to see Showtime get largely snubbed from the awards, even if it is unfortunate that the great United States of Tara got thrown out with the bathwater, and that William H. Macy got nominated for Shameless (as Emmy Rossum and Jeremy Allen White are by far the better performances on that show). The network’s Emmy domination has always struck me as odd given the growing sameness among their programming, and any cut to the ego might help them reinvigorate their development process.
  • The awards will be held on June 20th, streaming live on VH1.com and also airing two days later on ReelzChannel. They will also be hosted by Best Reality Host nominee Cat Deeley, a decision that may be the one part of the awards I wholeheartedly support.
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2 Comments

Filed under Award Shows

2 responses to “Pandering to the Demo: The Critics’ Choice Television Awards

  1. I don’t know. In my mind, anything which gives low-rated gems (like “Parks and Rec” and “Community”, for instance) a chance for some decent exposure outweighs any of the issues you point out. Who knows: for some shows the few new viewers this kind of exposure generates could be the difference between renewal and cancellation. I don’t see the harm. But that’s just me.

  2. Tausif Khan

    “a handful of people that I would consider critics, for the most part it features journalists, and I would argue that they are not always one and the same”

    -What are differences between journalists and critics here that would offer a better understanding of what it means to be a television critic? (I am not necessarily of the opinion that casting news does not offer something to critical conversations of television)

    “I raise this comparison not to suggest that Ausiello is some sort of puppetmaster”

    -I remain quite confused as to Ausiello’s role in the critical television community and for that matter TV Line which has started to offer recaps and post-air television analysis as well as their usually casting news and spoiler alerts.

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