washingtonpost.com
For Primetime Emmy Nods, The Joy of Six?

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

At the crack of dawn tomorrow in North Hollywood, "Grey's Anatomy's" Chandra Wilson and "Big Bang Theory's" Jim Parsons will stand in front of a gaggle of celebrity-suck-up-show hostesses, bleary-eyed reporters and eager junior publicists, and historically announce six Primetime Emmy nominees for best drama series and six more for best comedy series. They will have been chosen by popular vote of the entire TV academy membership.

Wilson and Parsons also will tick off six nominees apiece for best lead actor, lead actress, supporting actor and supporting actress, for both comedy and drama series, rounding out series "glam" categories.

The television academy added the sixth nominee to placate critics of its decision to dump exclusive "blue-ribbon judge panels" that formerly chose nominees. Those critics say the change back to voting by the whole academy -- which includes everyone from makeup artists and directors to TV stars -- will drum out "small-fry contenders" such as AMC's "Breaking Bad," which last year took home an Emmy for best drama-series actor.

With any luck, those critics are right.

Since the Emmys were launched in 1949, five nominees have competed in each of the categories, as God intended, as has been good enough for the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes.

But back in January the TV academy announced it was bumping the number of nominees to six in these above-mentioned derbies. The academy's board had given the idea a big thumbs up at a meeting. Also getting a resounding endorsement: scrapping the "blue ribbon" judging panel process by which nominees were determined, and reverting back to pre-2006 rules, in which noms are chosen by popular academy vote.

Critics howled in protest.

The purpose of the judging panels was "to help small-fry contenders like 'Breaking Bad,' " explained one such critic: Emmy navel gazer extraordinaire Tom O'Neil.

O'Neil literally wrote the book on the Emmys, called, appropriately, "The Emmys," published by Penguin Putnam. Now he blogs about trophy shows for his TheGoldDerby.com, which the Los Angeles Times bought a few years back.

"To use a popular ballot will obviously result in just the most popular shows being nominated," O'Neil complained to The TV Column.

Which, frankly, is exactly what CBS -- this year's Emmys broadcaster -- and the other broadcast networks need to see. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox take turns airing the trophy show:

-- They pay a lot of money to air the Emmys;

-- The license fee they pay gins up a big portion of the academy's operating budget;

-- The Emmycast has become a three-hour commercial for shows broadcasters don't air;

-- The Emmycast last year made history with its cable wins, including the first-ever basic cable win in a best-series race ("Mad Men," best drama series);

-- The Emmycast last year spent about a third of its screen time doling out trophies to a premium cable miniseries watched by barely a million people in its premiere (HBO's critically heralded "John Adams");

-- The Emmycast last year also made history in that it clocked the franchise's smallest audience: 12.3 million viewers.

You do the math.

(Full disclosure: In 1990, when the Emmys aired on the then-fledgling Fox network, which was not available in all markets, the Emmy show had logged an on-par 12.3 million viewers.)

Broadcasters have one more year after this in their contract with the TV academy to take turns airing the Emmys. Next year, the ceremony will air on NBC, which may have to move it to August because of its NFL contract. The Emmy show would do poorly in August. CBS, on the other hand, is the most-watched network in the country. Its audience skews older. Its audience likes trophy shows. This is the academy's last best year to demonstrate to broadcasters why they should continue to air the show.

Hence popular voting. And six nominees. Otherwise, broadcasters are threatening privately that they may dump the show. It will wind up on Bravo. Or A&E. Or HBO. Then it's just the CableAce Awards -- the trophy show the cable execs concocted for themselves before they started winning Emmys.

"The blue-ribbon panel process was instituted several years ago to give low-rated cable shows and stars a fair shot at a nomination," O'Neil told The TV Column yesterday.

"However, when obscure contenders ended up bumping out popular series like 'Lost,' TV academy chiefs couldn't take the heat from the TV masses upset that their favorite shows weren't named," he continued.

By "TV masses" he means, um, you.

The TV academy "didn't have the guts to stand by the result of their noble effort," O'Neil said of this year's changes.

"The bottom line is Thursday morning the underdog contenders better be in there, or the Emmys just screwed them over," he grumped.

"If this results in the top-six most popular contenders, then the Emmys' latest voting experiment has failed."

Or succeeded.

* * *

In other Emmy news, the TV academy has picked Kathy Griffin to host the so-called Creative Arts Emmy Awards.

That's the first night of the Primetime Emmy Awards two-day orgy of trophy dispensing. A lot of the tech awards are handed out that night -- best makeup, best hairstyling, best lighting -- but also best reality series (non-competition) and best drama and comedy guest-acting Emmys, etc. E! telecasts a two-hour mash-up of the Creative Arts Emmy Awards every year.

Griffin, best known for her Bravo series "My Life on the D-List," actually caused The Reporters Who Cover Television to regret not attending the creative arts portion of the Emmys in 2007. It was the zippiest moment of the entire Emmypalooza. That's because, when she picked up her Emmy for best reality series, she noted that when a lot of people come up on stage at trophy shows they thank Jesus for giving them the incredible talent that made their win possible.

"I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus," Griffin told the audience.

"Hell has frozen over. [expletive] it Jesus -- this award is my god now!"

Sadly, E! bleeped that historic acceptance speech, but some intrepid Associated Press reporter was there, and the rest is history. That inspired the academy to issue a statement calling her speech "offensive."

The next year Griffin came back and gave another salty acceptance speech -- though, in truth, it was nothing you couldn't hear at any of the other non-televised trophy shows put on by various guilds. Anyway, this year, the Emmys' creative arts ceremony's producer, Spike Jones Jr., noted in a statement that Griffin is the first Emmy winner to host the creative arts show, adding: "She stole the show the last two years, so now we're giving her the opportunity to officially hijack it. We're all very, very excited. And just a little bit scared."

Wanna bet the media turn out in force this year? Mission accomplished, crafty TV academy!

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company