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Editorial: Improving the Emmys Process

Sep 29, 2003  •  Post A Comment

This year there seems to be more grumbling than usual about a number of the recent Emmy winners. Some of the most notable grousing surrounded the supporting acting choices. Were Brad Garrett and Doris Roberts really Emmy-worthy again this year?
And what was up, the naysayers asked, with “The West Wing” winning its fourth consecutive Emmy in the drama series category? The show clearly had a creative decline this past season, so the argument goes, while “The Sopranos” had another strong season. Furthermore, the grumblers point out, “The Sopranos” has yet to nab the Emmy in that category.
First and foremost, it needs to be pointed out that in recent years, the body that administers the Emmys-the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences-has worked hard to improve the selection process for Emmy winners. The biggest change the academy made was switching to a system in which it sends voters tapes of the shows to watch at home. This change has gone a long way to ensure that the most deserving talent behind the scenes and in front of the cameras really do win Emmys.
We would remind those who complained about the awards Mr. Garrett and Ms. Roberts won how these awards were chosen. First, only their peers-other actors-were allowed to vote for these awards. Furthermore, the nominees in these supporting categories submitted tapes of two episodes they felt best showed off their work. And based on these tapes, and only on these tapes, these Emmy winners were selected. The problem is that most of the public, including people in our industry, are ignorant of how these winners are actually selected. These acting awards are not given based on popularity or on one’s perception of a performance over the course of an entire season.
However, the program awards are much more of a popularity contest. They are selected by anyone in the academy who elects to view two episodes of each nominee. But the question is, are all the tapes actually viewed? If not, are Emmy voters just voting for an old favorite out of habit?
But the biggest problem is how nominees are chosen. Tom O’Neil, the author of “The Emmys,” has proposed a change to that process. First, he would have academy members volunteer to screen five to 10 tapes a month and judge which programs are best. After the season is over, the five highest-scoring programs would be the nominees. For the final balloting, Mr. O’Neil proposes that voters need view only one tape per contender, with each contender sending in a variety of samples. This method would likely ensure that some quality programs on The WB, for example, would finally get nominated.
The academy is on the right track. We heartily suggest that it adopt Mr. O’Neil’s proposal and complete the process.