The Politics of Voting

Aug 16, 2004  •  Post A Comment

By Lee Alan Hill

Every year there are a few Emmy nominations that raise eyebrows because of some perceived favoritism or bias. This year media pundits have cited the nominations of several productions as evidence of Hollywood’s alleged liberal bias.

Start with the most nominated miniseries of the year, “Angels in America,” which deals with AIDS in the Reagan era. It makes Joseph McCarthy’s ideological hit man Roy Cohn its villain. Then there are the annual complaints about “The West Wing,” with its liberal President Josiah Bartlet. Even more scrutiny has been focused on the seven nominations received by the TV movie “The Reagans,” and by the nominations not received by the TV movie “Ike: Countdown to D-Day.”

“The nominations for `The Reagans’ are a statement by the Emmy voters about perceived censorship,” said film critic and radio talk show host Michael Medved, who is well known for his conservative views about Hollywood. “It received seven nominations, and you can’t tell me that if it had aired on CBS as originally planned it would have gotten such attention.”

Poppycock, said Craig Zadan, “The Reagans”‘ executive producer. “To say our nominations come from a bias of any kind is just to fuel a controversy,” he said. “James Brolin did a magnificent job as Reagan, and Judy Davis [also nominated] was incredible as Nancy.

“People attacked the movie before they had even seen it,” Mr. Zadan said. “I still don’t know if they have. We were not telling a political story. We were telling the story of the relationship between these two people, and their supportive love.”

“The Reagans” was developed as a TV movie for CBS, but after harsh criticism from some of the late president’s supporters, it was passed to CBS’s sister network Showtime, which aired it numerous times. Screeners of the show were sent to Academy of Television Arts & Sciences members.

Now some feel the movie’s nominations were intended by academy voters as an anti-censorship message aimed at the networks.

Mr. Medved compared “The Reagans”‘ showing with that of “Ike: Countdown to D-Day,” an A&E project, which received six nominations, including one for outstanding made for television movie. But “Ike’s ” star, Tom Selleck, did not get nominated, nor did its writer, Lionel Chetwynd. Both are known in Hollywood for their relatively conservative politics.

“The Reagans,” on the other hand, received nominations for writers Jane Marchwood, Tom Rickman and Elizabeth Egloff and for star James Brolin, who has not been vocal about his own politics but who is married to Barbra Streisand, a liberal activist.

“Selleck is known particularly for his connections to the National Rifle Association,” Mr. Medved said. “He did an incredible job in the movie. Political bias had to have played a part in the voting.”

Mr. Chetwynd was nominated for producing “Ike,” though not for writing it. His ties to the administration of President George W. Bush are well known and include a position on The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Among writers, he carries other baggage: During the Writers Guild of America strikes of 1985 and 1988 he was an organizer of the Union Blues, a group of members who vocally opposed the strikes.

Mr. Medved said he has not seen the TV version of “Angels in America” and did not dispute the prevailing sentiment that it was “a quality, artistic achievement.” Nevertheless, he said, “It is a hugely political show. And it keeps with the prevailing Hollywood depictions: liberals, good; homosexual liberals, very good. Conservatives, bad; religious conservatives, very bad.”

As for politics entering into the voting for “The West Wing,” media critics of all political stripes have questioned whether it is still as good as it was in its heyday. But Tom O’Neil, author of “The Emmys: The Ultimate, Unofficial Guide to the Battle of TV’s Best Shows and Greatest Stars,” a history and compendium of the awards and its winners, said the series is still special.

“Sure, it may be that Hollywood liberals vote for it out of politics, but come on-it feels so important. Each week the survival of the free world hangs in the balance,” Mr. O’Neil said. “And Martin Sheen is John Kennedy.”