For the Primetime Emmys, a Series of Changes

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, July 6, 2006

LOS ANGELES, July 5

It took the cancellation of "Everybody Loves Raymond" to break Doris Roberts's stranglehold on the Emmy for best supporting actress in a sitcom -- and, just in time for the 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, the TV Academy has taken steps to make sure such a thing won't happen again.

In an effort to end the redundancy of winners that has plagued the Primetime Emmys for, oh, say 58 years, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has overhauled the steps for determining who and what will be nominated. The first nominations under the new rules will be announced here early Thursday.

What with TV Academy members being only human, voting to determine who gets nominated and who eventually wins has tended to be something of a popularity contest. How else to explain Roberts's reign, or John Larroquette's monopoly on the competition for best supporting actor in a sitcom that ran from '85 through '88, after which he had the good sense to withdraw his name from contention before he turned into a running Emmy joke?

This certain sameness to the Primetime Emmy competition is not entirely the TV academy's fault. Because prime-time series tend to run until the ratings get too small or the cast's salaries too big, the field of possible contenders has a "Groundhog Day" quality each year, unlike the Academy Awards, in which the product is thankfully gone and forgotten (except on DVD) same time next year.

This year, the TV Academy has taken radical steps.

In the past, the five nominees for, say, best drama series were the five drama series that had received the most votes from academy members.

This year, however, the 10 drama series receiving the most votes from academy members were then reviewed by a super-secret panel of judges who determined which five would be nominated.

In the acting derbies, nominees this year were chosen not just by their actor peers, but by directors and casting directors as well.

"The feeling has been that networks like NBC, ABC, CBS and HBO were overrepresented with Emmys, and networks like WB and UPN were traditionally underrepresented," as were niche cable networks, explained 20th Century Fox TV Senior Vice President Steve Melnick.

"The hope is that Numbers 8, 9 and 10 could be more interesting choices than the top five. Number 10 may be from a small network and off the [TV Academy voters'] radar. But once in the top 10, the show is on equal footing . . . it's a level playing field."

That said, the shows most discussed out here as being likely beneficiaries of the change are "Gilmore Girls" and "Battlestar Galactica," gawdhelpus. I mean, after all, "Gilmore Girls" just wrapped one of its dimmer seasons, and "Battlestar Galactica" is, well, "Battlestar Galactica."

Proponents of the change will be paying particular attention this morning to whether Lauren Graham snags a nomination for best actress in a comedy series, in which case the changes immediately will be declared a resounding success in certain circles.

Lauren Graham is the Susan Lucci of Primetime Emmys. Only in Lucci's case, she was at least nominated 18 times -- although without winning, until her streak was broken in 1999 and the Daytime Emmy Awards competition ceased to be interesting, or to get ratings.

Graham, who plays Lorelai, Rory's mom/best pal/competitor-in-cuteness in the WB series "Gilmore Girls," has never even been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, despite much hooting and hollering by TV critics who think she's the latest word.

For that matter, "Gilmore Girls" has never been nominated in its six-year run on the soon-to-be-defunct network, though the show did snag the trophy for best non-prosthetic makeup in a series a couple years ago. But this year, it could happen.

In theory, a noticeably different list of Emmy nominees will attract more viewers to the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony, which does a good enough number -- about 19 million viewers last year -- while running a distant second to the Oscars. But in one of those twists that make covering the TV industry so invigorating, thanks to NBC's new deal to air Sunday football games, the Primetime Emmy Awards show has been moved from its traditional air date -- the Sunday before the official start of the new TV season -- to Aug. 27, the weekend before the Labor Day holiday, when the number of people watching prime-time TV takes a dive.


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