Just like the folks watching at home on TV, those who actually go to the Emmys spend a good deal of time whining about what’s wrong with the awards. Yes, the stars, producers, writers, agents and media types, plus senior network and studio executives, spend as much time complaining—about who does and doesn’t win, and why—as they do actually watching the show. Indeed, throughout the telecast, the lobby of the Shrine Auditorium is actually as packed as the auditorium, full of industry insiders offering instant analysis while the ceremony was still going on.
The top complaint I heard was grousing about the seemingly perennial winners in certain categories. For a moment, let’s not put a cork in that whine. Consider the four Emmys that Doris Roberts and the three that Brad Garrett, including their wins this year, have won for their co-starring roles in Everybody Loves Raymond. Don’t get me wrong. They’re both terrific comedic actors, part of a first-rate ensemble in a comedy that was consistently funny for nine years. But the fact is: Roberts and Garrett defined those roles years ago.
Likewise, it was great last year when James Spader and William Shatner won Emmys for best actor and supporting actor respectively in the drama category for their work on The Practice—the characters were so strong that they lived on in the successful spin-off, Boston Legal. Still, these two guys didn’t need to win again this year, with such worthy nominees in each category. Ian McShane in Deadwood or Jeremy Piven in Entourage come to mind.
One suggestion bandied about is to limit the number of gold statuettes that an individual can win for the same role or that a single show can win in a particular category. Personally, I’d like to see the limit set at one award, but I could live with two. Look, the Emmys are not like the Academy Awards, where each time someone gets an Oscar it’s for playing a different role. Besides, with an Emmy limit in place, more performers and shows would have the opportunity to shine and bring new energy into what should be a celebration of not only the best, but the best of what’s new and could actually derive some benefit from the kudofest. Granted, even though certain performers and shows often dominate categories, once in awhile a worthy newbie goes home a winner. The 2004 Emmy win for best comedy, Fox’s very funny Arrested Development, would have never made it to a second season without that award. It’s undeniable that with an awards limit in place, more creatively strong, but ratings-challenged shows would get an Emmy boost.
I know the counter-argument. For all the faults we might find with the Emmy results, the Academy of Television Arts and Science (ATAS) voting members are a relatively democratic organization. If Everybody Loves Raymond gets more votes than any other sitcom from Academy members, then why shouldn’t the judgment of this peer group stand, even if the show has won multiple awards? It’s a fair question. Outgoing ATAS President Todd Leavitt adds that enacting limits might run counter to the organization’s “mission to celebrate excellence in the industry.”
But term limits aren’t a novel idea in a democracy—they exist to create more openness and opportunity. In recent years, the ATAS board has made welcome changes to its voting procedures. Once upon a time, for example, members could only vote to nominate five programs in a given category. Currently that number is 10. As the prime time landscape has evolved, the Emmys have embraced new categories, such as reality TV. Still, more change is needed. Move the debate about instituting a cap on awards from the corridors of the Shrine Auditorium on Emmy nights to the ATAS membership.
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