As Tommy Smothers received his Commemorative Emmy Award for his work on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, he ended his (rousing) speech with a small note: in all languages, Truth means the same thing – what others make you believe. And while there are broad implications of this statement in regards to the world’s political climate, there’s a more direct application: the idea that that the decisions of the Academy are supposed to be seen as the “Truth” about last year’s best television.
Of course, what Smothers was getting at is that this is impossible, primarily because the definition of truth is so malleable and, in our case, adaptable. There might be one or two TV viewers out there who agree with every single decision made tonight, or those who believe in award shows as simple celebrations of excellence as opposed to any sort of competition. And even some people who consider themselves to be elite television viewers could open their favourite internet news site and find word that critical favourites 30 Rock and Mad Men took home the evening’s big prizes – surely, then, the Emmys are truly representative of the best in television.
But, if this is truth, I don’t want to know what fiction is – yes, there were quite a few deserving winners, but the criteria by which most categories were decided is severely divergent from anything even remotely approaching truth. For some awards, age defines truth: if they’re older than the other competitors, then they must truthfully be the superior performer. For others, truth is defined by past precedent: if we voted for you before, than there is no way that your greatness is any less truthful this time around. Conversely, on the same note, was the legacy win: if we nominated you for previous roles but you didn’t win, surely there was truth to our judgment and maybe you were truthfully great here as well.
For that reason, Stephen Colbert’s presence at these awards is all the more apt: his word, truthiness, defines the nature by which awards shows are decided. And there is no greater example of the dangers of truth that, while his writers were rewarded for coining the turn of phrase, he himself was not honoured for saying it out loud for that first time. And while there are greater injustices of truth around the world, let us for one night recognize the subjectivity of truth and the mixed up world of the Primetime Emmy Awards with some Headlines, of sorts.
[For more scattered, but also more fully-encompassing, reactions to tonight’s show, check out Cultural Learnings’ LiveBlog.]
“What’s Mad Men?”
While we critical types are applauding Mad Men’s victory in the Best Drama Series category (And Matthew Weiner’s win for writing the show’s pilot), I am sure there are millions of people saying something quite different: “What the hell is this?” You see, the amount of people who watch Mad Men is about, oh, 1/17 of the average audience for CSI. And while there has been some lowly-rated shows that have won in the past (Arrested Development, as an example), never before has there been a show on Basic Cable that has emerged from the pack to take the award for Best Drama Series.
And the impact it will have is yet unknown: the show, following Don Draper and the life of advertising executives and their lives outside of the office, debuted to little fanfare on AMC before downright exploding onto the critical scene. I’ve yet to see a critic who is ambivalent about Mad Men, even – it’s the kind of show that hooks people in. With a fancy-looking DVD set on the shelves, the second season airing right now on AMC (Plus with episodes available On Demand), this is a show that should be set up to receive a real boost.
But it’s also not a mainstream show, the kind of show that the people who make CSI a hit are going to gravitate towards. It’s a period drama that, while painting some fascinating characters, does so at a pace that, while I like to give them the benefit of the doubt, might scare away a fair chunk of potential viewers. Still, though, let’s ignore for a second the financial or ratings realities of television: here is a show which, in a single season, built stunning characters, an amazingly realized world, and a sense of self-identity that has led into a tremendous sophomore year so far. Simply put, this was the best show on TV last year – few would argue that point of those who’ve seen it, so let’s hope that number increases ever so slightly in the weeks to come.