This year the number of Emmy Awards has been trimmed by 30 percent from last year. That means there are a mere 221 nominees in only 58 categories -- a giant step for humanity, to be sure. Now if they would only trim the number of awards by the other 70 percent for next year, things would be just ducky, or at least a hair duckier. Just think -- there would be one less awards show on television.
What do the Emmy Awards accomplish? They bestow an aura of transitory and artificial respectability on legions of tireless toilers who otherwise must suffer the embarrassment of getting paid far too much for their work. The Emmys also require a large chunk of broadcast time to dispense; this year's show will last at least 2 1/2 hours, next Sunday night on ABC.
Of course, all America is on the edge of its easy chair waiting to find out who wins the Emmy for, say, "Outstanding Achievement in Tape Sound Mixing for a Single Episode of a Regular or Limited Series, or for a Special." And no doubt the betting is hot and hefty in Vegas over who'll walk off with the statuette for "Outstanding Achievement in Hairstyling for a Single Episode of a Regular or Limited Series, or for a Special."
Why, the suspense puts Hitchcock to shame!
To the credit of Hank Rieger, president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and its membership, some attempt has been made to ameliorate the terminal triviality and rigmarole of this annual Candygram that Hollywood sends itself. But a few more artistes willing to live through an entire year without winning an award simply must be found. Unfortunately, the tradition out there is to give each other awards the way most Americans would shake hands.
I was knocked for a loop of unabashed admiration when that terrific actor James Garner, asked where he kept the Emmy he won for "The Rockford Files," shrugged and told me, "I don't know where that thing is." He thinks award shows like the Emmys are silly and has vowed never to go to another one. Some Emmys end up as doorstops and some in pawnships, after all, in a business that can find you the star of a series one year and a featured player in a Noodle-roni commercial the next.
There are 4,200 members of the TV Academy. But only 320, divided up into "Blue Ribbon Panels" vote on the final awards, in little rooms under the vigilant surveillance of Price-Waterhouse. Examining the long, long list of nominees for this year, one finds it categorically impossible that, whatever their decisions, this year's Emmy Awards will truly honor the best in television. Much of the best in television didn't even get nominated.
Incredibly, such outstanding dramatic specials as "A Question of Love" and "Too Far to Go" went unnominated, and with them, outstanding and memorable performances by Gene Rowlands and Jane Alexander in "Love" and Michael Moriarty and Blythe Danner in "Far." Intelligently and even artfully made films like "The Winds of Kitty Hawk," "Ishi, the Last of His Tribe," "Rainbow" and Joe Schumacher's cruelly ignored "Amateur Night at the Dixie Bar and Grill" received not a single major nomination among them.
A jingoistic bias is obvious in the omission from final consideration of such imported British programs as "Edward the King," Harold Pinter's "The Collection" with Laurence Olivier, "Lillie" and the first four BBC and Time-Life productions of "The Shakespeare Plays."
Rieger estimates that 85 percent of the Academy membership is in Hollywood and that this is perfectly fair "because it's the creative community." Leaving aside the looseness with which the term "creative" is used, one wonders how many in that community actually go home at night and watch television like the rest of us.
If they do turn on the set -- considered a socially stigmatic act even in show-biz circles -- it's probably to watch a movie on Hollywood's popular pay-cable "Z" channel. Only a collection of TV viewers with a unanimous thirst for the perverse could vote a mere seven nominations to ABC's magnificent "Roots: The Next Generations," while lavishing twice as many on the "Lou Grant" series and giving no less than 10 to M*A*S*H." James Earl Jones was not cited for his wholehearted, riveting portrayal of Alex Haley in "Roots," but Marion Ross got a nomination just by showing up for another 24 miserable episodes of "Happy Days."
The central problem is this: Very little of what's packaged in Hollywood really is television. "Saturday Night Live" is television, produced in a television studio, transmitted the night of its creation and electric with contagious immediacy.But that show got only three nominations, which ties it, oddly enough, with the telecast of the 51st annual Oscar Awards. About the worst thing you could say for the Oscars, and maybe for anybody, is that they deserve to win an Emmy.