August 25, 2014

THE SKED: The Emmy Awards


Television as a medium seems to become more exciting and surprising practically every week these days, but one thing remains the same:  The EMMY AWARDS is still the weak, erratic sibling of the other major awards shows, even when the telecast itself is slickly packaged, as was mostly the case with tonight’s rendition from NBC and host Seth Meyers.

The TV Academy, alone among the major governing boards, uses separate voting panels for each set of categories every year, which makes the almost unrelieved tedium of unchanging results even more remarkable.  Modern Family won… again.  (For the 5th straight time, tying Frasier‘s all-time record.)    Breaking Bad… again.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus.  Bryan Cranston.  Aaron Paul.  Jim Parsons.  Jessica Lange.  Juliana Margulies.  Ty Burrell.  Anna Gunn.  The Amazing Race.  The Colbert Report.  The Tony Awards.  Allison Janney won for Mom, a first-year show, but it was her personal 6th time up at the podium, so it might as well have been a repeat.  With the exception of the Best Movie and Miniseries categories, which by definition require new blood (The Normal Heart and Fargo, in this case, although both lost acting and directing awards to Sherlock), one might as well have been watching a recording of last year’s ceremony.

It’s hugely unlikely that the Academy will consider major changes in its procedures anytime soon (the question of whether Movies and Miniseries should be one category or two regularly leaves blood on the street), but something new is desperately needed.  Either Best New Series categories in Comedy and Drama, or a rule stating that after some number of years, veteran series and performers are ineligible for nomination or are grouped together in a “Masters” category of their own–something to prevent every Emmys from feeling like a “TV’s Greatest Hits” infomercial is required.  Even leaving aside the question of whether particular multiple winners deserve to be honored yet again for largely doing the same thing (Breaking Bad–maybe so, Modern Family–decidedly not), the result is both boredom and a misleading picture of television as a field where nothing new is worthy of a prize.

As for the show itself, it was uneven as usual.  The pace was as speedy as a broadcast with seemingly a hundred prizes to give out would allow.  Meyers fulfilled the major demand of an awards show host by mostly staying out of the way, and some of the production ideas were more inspired (Meyers and Billy Eichner in a hilarious “Emmy On the Street” sketch) than others (“Weird” Al Yankovic’s embarrassing lyrics to dramatic main-title themes).  Amy Poehler was game as always, but couldn’t make a lame bit about introducing Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as presenters work.  Billy Crystal was surprisingly restrained and thus far more effective than expected in his memorial to Robin Williams.  Gwen Stefani somehow managed to mangle the title The Colbert Report worse than John Travolta botched Idina Menzel’s name at the Oscars.  Ricky Gervais proved once again that a couple of minutes of his brand of snarkiness is just about the perfect amount.  Cranston and Louis-Dreyfus managed to make a silly running gag about his once being on Seinfeld work.  Mystifyingly, Julia Roberts gave out the award for Best Drama Actor, while Halle Berry was chosen to present the final award of the night, Best Drama Series.

The challenges for the Emmys are going to get deeper, not easier.  New providers are constantly joining the original production game, both cable (WE, WGN) and digital (Amazon, Playstation, Yahoo).  A system that favors the tried and true over anything fresh is going to look increasingly antiquated.  If the Emmys don’t stop being The Modern Family Awards, someone else is going to come along and honor the medium in a more vital, innovative way that suits its actual present and future.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."