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Posted at 10:10 PM ET, 06/19/2012

ANIMATORS v. EMMYS: TV Academy should rethink its double-standard eligibility

TODAY’S RIFF...

CARTOON CHARACTERS FREQUENTLY FACE enough prejudice in their televised lives, what with some viewers refusing to watch not because of the content, but because of those animated features and googly eyes and the tint of their primary-colored skin. To them, cartoons are strictly for kids.

So now, really: Must their creators really suffer blatant bias, too?

According to “The Simpsons” producer Al Jean and many of his cartoon-land colleagues, the Emmys like to keep writers of animated programs contained in their current and tidy awards-boxes.

In a letter sent Monday to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Jean and about 50 of his professional peers — including Seth MacFarlane (“Family Guy,” “Cleveland Show”), “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening and executive producer Jim Dautrieve (”Bob’s Burgers” and “King of the Hill”) — write:

“We the undersigned animation showrunners and writers desire to address what we have regarded as a pernicious and unfair ruling by the Academy for the past 20 years, which we believe now, more than ever, should be redressed. We have been told that animated program writers could not also submit their work for writing Emmys, for reasons we never understood, but supposedly pertaining to the purity of the branches.”

That’s right: If you write for cartoons, you’re apparently somehow, in the eyes of Emmy, not a “real” writer — one who can routinely compete for the awards with writers of live-action.

Yet in a conspicuous twist, writers for mostly live-action can compete in the animation category.

Does it really take a trained cartoon humorist to see the absurdity of this double-standard?

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A special episode of the NBC sitcom “Community” is eligible for Emmy consideration in animated categories. ("Community" / NBC.com)

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This kerfuffle has reared its Simpsons-yellow head because of the NBC comedy “Community,” which once again this past season aired a “special” animated episode — and thus has been deemed eligible for animation Emmys.

The cartoon-show professionals write in their Academy letter:

“Imagine our surprise when this year we see ‘Community’ once again eligible for comedy series, writing, animated program, and short-form animated program. This letter is in no way intended to be a slight on the terrific show ‘Community,’ but a request from us to enjoy the very same rights they now do.”

One of the letter’s signers, “Simpsons” writer Tom Gammill, tells Comic Riffs today: “We just want to be able to submit our scripts in the ‘Best Writing’ category — animated shows have always been banned from doing that.

“But we’re a half-hour comedy show on TV — why not judge the writing against the live-action half-hour comedy shows, too?” continues Gammill, who was also a writer for “Seinfeld,” so he knows the lay of the land from both camps. (Gammill is also creator of the comic strip “The Doozies.”)

In a statement to The Wrap, the Academy replied to the animators’ campaign as such:

“It is a general rule of the Emmy competition that producers, writers and directors enter separately in their own program or individual achievement categories, e.g., comedy series writers enter the Writing for a Comedy Series category, drama series directors enter the Directing for a Drama Series category, etc.

“Eligibility in animation programming is an exception ... because the animation producers, writers and directors enter the Animated Program category together as a team. There is no separate category for the individual achievements of animation writing and directing.”

Al Jean’s beef, however, is not that there isn’t a separate category for individual animation writers and directors. It’s that there’s been a virtual ban on category cross-pollination for animators — to maintain TV-species ”purity” — but not for live-action showrunners and writers who decide to dabble in animation for a special episode.

Which leaves only one step, apparently, to break down this Emmy barrier:

Animated shows such as “The Simpsons” need to create special “live-action” episodes that they can submit in a live-action writing or directing category. I mean, if “The Simpsons” can deliver a single live-action scene like Katy Perry’s appearance in “The Fight Before Christmas” — in which the 2-D characters were instead represented as 3-D “muppets ” — then surely the inspired minds at the legendary Fox show can deliver a whole new all-live-action episode.

Perhaps even one that could beat the clever “Community” at its own Emmy game.

[Note: “The Simpsons” has won more than a dozen Emmys — including 10 for Outstanding Animated Program.]

By  |  10:10 PM ET, 06/19/2012

 
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