Judging unscientifically by my Twitter feed last night, Emmys are an exercise in hate-watching. Judging by the internet headlines I’m seeing this morning, there are as many opinions on how to fix the awards as there were women in red dresses at the ceremony itself. Well, I’m here to tell you not to bother. They probably can’t be fixed. Enjoy them or not, but don’t take them seriously.
Believe me. I feel your pain. Even though Breaking Bad is one of my favorite shows in the past decade, I found myself wondering whether it was really necessary to reward it again when it already had multiple wins spread across every category. The Emmy voters, the only people whose opinion counted for anything last night, decided it was absolutely necessary. While Sherlock wound up with the most statues overall if you count the awards that weren’t handed out on TV last night (7 in the Miniseries/TV Movie categories), Breaking Bad won for Outstanding Drama, Lead Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress and Writing to go along with the Editing award it had already won off camera. It was a near sweep of the Drama categories and I’m sure Julianna Margulies went to sleep last night grateful the show did not have any lead female characters.
The biggest head scratcher for me though was Modern Family marching to its 5th straight Emmy for Outstanding Comedy. It’s a likable enough show, it’s always reliable for a few laughs and it still performs well in the ratings, but quality-wise I would be surprised if even its fans didn’t admit it’s been on a downward slide. Modern Family perfected its routine (quirky group of relations who don’t always like each other but realize at the end of every half hour episode that they love each other) in the first couple of seasons and has since simply been repeating it with diminishing results season after season. Meanwhile, several new shows including Veep and Louie have come along to shake things up and to challenge what we think of when we think of TV comedy. I could add the terrific Orange is the New Black to that list, and it was nominated, but there is much debate whether that even belongs in the Comedy category and that’s a subject for a completely different post.
It’s less about this or that individual winner and more about the repetition running contrary to innovation that makes the Emmys seem so irrelevant and everyone has an opinion about how to improve the results. Eliminating category fraud is thrown around a lot as regular stars are submitted as guest stars, hour long comedy/dramas are submitted along with half hour sitcoms and limited series compete with the dramas or vice versa. Firming up the rules in those areas would certainly reduce some of the controversy, but it’s not going to force the voters into making more interesting choices.
The Television Academy could introduce a whole new level of categories that focus on new shoes and performers, but if anything there are already too many categories and the show is already too long. Changing the voting mechanic is another suggestion I’ve read as though somehow the current system favors mediocrity.
The most common suggestion I’ve seen is to limit the number of wins any show or performer can receive. Obviously, if a performer wins for one role, they would still be eligible to win for future roles, just not the same one. This is the suggestion that would most likely have the desired result of keeping the Emmys fresh and interesting, but it also moves the awards the furthest away from what their real goal should be: to award the best. I’m not going to defend Modern Family, but I can’t argue that Breaking Bad did not deserve to win last night, especially since this season was its last and it accomplished the rare feat of wrapping up its story satisfactorily. I’m not sure I want an awards body that doesn’t let its voters pick what they truly think is the best.
The problem in the end is the voters themselves. As a body, they favor the safe over the challenging and the familiar over the new. That’s an unfortunate side-effect of pretty much any democratic process. Likable and non-threatening tends to rise above edgy and divisive. This is further complicated by the sheer number of hours of television the average person has to choose from. 12 episodes of a series running 50 minutes is 10 hours. Most series run more than 12 episodes and the number of them almost seems endless with all the different cable channels and even Netflix and Amazon getting into the series game. It’s doubtful if anyone working in the TV business has time to actually watch everything that is good to great in the medium they create. There wouldn’t be time for anything else.
The Oscars, flawed as they are, are a much more closed system. There are a finite number of movies eligible for consideration every year and of those, most are easily and quickly weeded out as non-contenders. Even so, the Oscars are constantly being tinkered with to the satisfaction of no one. It’s still an unruly beast prone to safe, boring choices. If you can’t fix the Oscars, there is no hope at all for the Emmys. Watch the show if you want and root for your favorites. Enjoy the spectacle if that’s your thing, but don’t expect the Emmys to actually mean something outside of the theater where they are presented.