There has to be a better way to decide who will get an Emmy Award, and we have a solution that might do it.
Clearly, something should be done. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS) set out this year to refresh the Emmys to ensure that fresh faces and different shows would get nominated. Good idea. The awards and the awards show seem stale, and the academy is prone to praising the same handful of programs and stars year after year. So this year, “Blue Ribbon Panels” were added to whittle down the list of nominees, presumably to reshape the playing field.
Unfortunately, good intentions often have unintended consequences. We're not here to slime the nominees. There isn't as much wrong with who will win as with those who didn't get a chance to play.
Emmy snubbed the actors of Desperate Housewives, Hugh Laurie of House, and the creators and stars of Entourage and My Name Is Earl, to name a few. But number one on the list of quality series that were forgotten is Lost, which won an Emmy as the best drama last season, won the Golden Globe this season, and topped the recent B&C Critics' Poll as the best drama and the best show. But this year, Lost didn't even get nominated for best drama by the Academy. The Emmy Awards ought not become a popularity contest (that's what the People's Choice Awards are for), but Lost mesmerizes critics, producers, writers and the folks in Peoria.
That's precisely the mix ATAS and Emmy should be looking for, systematically. In time for next year's awards, ATAS should rethink the process in a way we believe would make the Emmys truly exciting for viewers—because they'd be a part of it.
For major awards, let viewers help choose the nominees and the winners by voting online, using the interactivity that helps make American Idol such a hit. Let ATAS also select a group of television critics to vote, and let academy members vote as they always have. Weight the results so critics and viewers' tastes represent a combined total of 50% of the vote and that of academy members represents the other 50%.
ATAS would still control the awards, but the arrangement we propose would likely produce a better crop of nominees and winners. It also would give viewers a sense of empowerment. Television viewers vote every day with their remotes. Letting them vote for the awards would lift audience engagement throughout primetime. That would also help viewership, which after this Emmy telecast, could be a real concern. The Emmys this year air in August, not September, and, as noted, the nominations don't include many fan favorites that might draw a crowd.
ATAS should be thinking about next year now. Our suggestion is a creative way to make sure series like Lost don't get lost in the Emmy process.