Emmy Tweaks Baffle Observers

Jul 10, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Changes in how the Primetime Emmy nominations were selected this year could make the 2006 awards the year of the asterisk.

Following a revamp of the nomination process for six major series categories, the nominations for the 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards left some industry observers scratching their heads last Thursday. Several potential nominees considered shoo-ins were left off the nomination list, and others who were well off the industry awards radar made the Emmy cut.

“It’s completely crazed,” said Matt Roush, senior TV critic for TV Guide. “I’m still looking at the list in disbelief. It’s baffling to me.”

While the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the organization that presents the Primetime Emmys, can change its nomination process back to the way it was, it’s more likely the organization will just tweak the new system going forward, said John Leverence, senior VP of ATAS.

For now, the academy will let the final votes play out and see who wins Emmys in August, said ATAS Chairman and CEO Dick Askin.

“We’re going to do a critical analysis of the process this year to see if there are ways to improve it,” Mr. Askin said. “We’ll look at final decisions and compare them to the popular vote to see if there are correlations.”

The contrast between the 2006 nominees list and that of 2005 was striking.

Last year’s outstanding drama series winner, ABC’s “Lost,” for example, was almost completely shut out of major categories, as was high-profile actor Hugh Laurie on Fox’s “House” and the five lead actresses from ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.” HBO’s “The Sopranos” received a drama series nomination, but its lead actors, Emmy favorites James Gandolfini and Edie Falco, failed to get nods.

In the meantime, Kevin James, who has starred in CBS’s “King of Queens” for eight seasons, scored his first outstanding actor in a comedy series nod, while critical favorite Jason Lee from NBC’s “My Name Is Earl” was left on the sidelines with no Emmy love.

The shift in nominations was not spontaneous, Mr. Askin said.

In the six most high-profile categories, the academy added a step in the nominee selection process. After the eligible submissions were narrowed by a popular vote among academy members to a list of 10 to 15 potential nominees (depending on the category) a panel was formed for each category to determine the five nominees.

This year, in the outstanding comedy and drama series categories, hundreds of TV academy members came to the organization’s headquarters in North Hollywood, Calif., on the weekend of June 24-25 to participate in the nomination panels.

Broken up into groups, panelists viewed single episodes of the top 10 series culled from a popular vote of the entire membership that had been sent out weeks before.

In the four lead actor and actress in a comedy and drama series categories, panelists were asked to judge from the top 15 vote-getters.

In addition, the lead acting categories were expanded to include panelists from the casting and directing ranks. In the past, acting nominations came solely from academy members who were actors. This dynamic made the single episodes submitted by the potential nominees crucial, Mr. Askin said.

“The people who were doing the judging were tasked with sitting down and watching the tapes that were submitted,” Mr. Askin said. “It really depends on the judges’ viewing of that episode compared to the other episodes they saw. It is not a body of work comparison. Some of this comes down to the episodes that were submitted.”

That explains why a show like last year’s drama winner “Lost” made the top 15 but didn’t make the final cut, said Tom O’Neil, author of “The Emmys” and a columnist for awards Web site TheEnvelope.com.

“Lost,” a complex, mysterious serialized drama, could have easily confused panelists who don’t watch the show regularly, Mr. O’Neil said.

“Taking a serialized show out of context to judges who must react immediately puts the show at a disadvantage,” he said.

Conversely, Mr. James’ submission from “King of Queens” helped the actor secure a nomination for best lead actor in a comedy, Mr. O’Neil said, noting the plus-size Mr. James presented an episode that featured scenes of him grappling with a stripper’s pole.

“It was a great classic comic turn that won over these TV professionals,” Mr. O’Neil said.

Deserving Over Popular?

The academy started incorporating panels in the guest actor in a series categories in the late 1990s, Mr. Leverence said. Big-name stars doing guest stints were crowding out lesser-known actors delivering strong performances.

“The assumption was there is so much television it is difficult for the voters to watch everything, so they cast their vote based on the general sense of a performer’s abilities,” he said.

With the incorporation of panels into the series and lead acting categories, “The whole system has radically changed,” Mr. Leverence said.

The system has shaken up who gets nominated.

In 2004, Mr. Leverence noted, 80 percent of nominees in the lead acting categories also had been nominated the year before. In 2005, a year Mr. Leverence described as an outlier because of the debut of “Desperate Housewives” and the retirement of several big Emmy veteran shows, the repeat of nominations was at 57 percent.

For 2006, the number of returning nominees dropped to 50 percent.

Whether the right nominees were dropped and added is being debated by critics of the new system. Mr. Roush was pleased that newcomer Denis Leary got a lead actor in a drama nod for FX’s “Rescue Me,” but was frustrated to see Lauren Graham once again ignored for her work in The WB’s “Gilmore Girls.”

“This almost fixed something that was broken, but they made it worse,” Mr. Roush said.

And for Emmy telecast viewers, Mr. Roush is predicting a disappointing awards show on Aug. 27, since so many nominees are from series that have completed production or been canceled. In the lead actress in a comedy category, only one nominee — Julia Louis-Dreyfus — is on a show that will still be in production for the 2006-07 season.

“The Emmys are going to look like a funeral,” he said.

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