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Boston Legal? I Object! And Other Problems with the Emmys

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So, Boston Legal is a better drama than The Wire, Deadwood and Friday Night Lights. Battlestar Galactica and Lost are unworthy of recognition. Awesome! Seriously, thanks for clearing that up, Emmy! Glad we can move on now!

If you agree with those sentiments, you are welcome to move on and miss the annual installment of Another TV Critic Bitches About the Emmys. (Read the full Emmy nominations list here.) The problem with the Emmys is simple, and despite the regular changes to the voting rules and process, it’s essentially the same every year: Too many of the people making the choices don’t really watch TV.

The critique has already been laid out expertly by Tom O’Neil of the Envelope blog–I’ve disagreed with him in the past but am with him on this one–and EW’s Mark Harris, one of the best pop-culture critics out there. In short, the current nomination process combines the worst of popular voting with the worst of “expert” voting. The shortlist of 10 semifinalists in each category was picked by popular vote among the academy, working against shows like The Wire, which have small audiences and don’t get a lot of free media buzz. (Once again: there’s already a popular vote in the TV business, and they call it the Nielsen ratings.) Then the nominees are chosen by industry, ahem, “veterans” who watch one episode. This again works against serial shows like The Wire, and most of the best dramas on TV now (as well as some of the best comedies).

As out of touch as Oscar voters may be, when they pop in a nominee’s screener and watch it, at least they’ve done due diligence: they’ve seen the full work. That’s far from true when you see an isolated episode of a show with a long-running story arc. (“The Dharma who? What the hell? Dammit, I miss Magnum P.I.!”) So if the judges aren’t up to speed, or simply don’t like newfangled serial TV, they’re going to be at a loss. (Ironically, this also means that a serial show like Heroes has a better chance of getting nominated when it’s brand-new–because it can submit the pilot, which requires no prior knowledge–than when it’s established.) For this reason, the Emmys do a little better with comedy than drama: TV drama today is just too demanding for Emmy judges.

The Emmys as set up are perfectly positioned to honor the best of television–in 1975. If you want to honor what TV does well now, though, you need to have judges who watch TV as it is watched now, intensely and with commitment. That may mean bringing TV writers, bloggers or critics into the process (and if you think I’m trying to arrogate power to myself, believe me, I’d rather not have the hassle), or at least a more diverse group of industry people who are actually conversant with the most acclaimed and buzzed-about shows on TV.

Am I being elitist? Yes. So what? It’s an awards show. Awards are elitist by nature: you are judging one work or performance better than all others. As long as you’re going to do that, you might as well be familiar with what you’re judging.

* Let’s be generous to Emmy and say some nice things first: Nice job honoring 30 Rock. Even if the famous-name effect probably worked in Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey’s favor, I have no problem with the right show getting nominated for the wrong reasons. The nods for The Sopranos were obvious but no less well-deserved. As for the non-predictable, nice calls on Rainn Wilson, Jenna Fischer, Ricky Gervais and Minnie Driver.

* One well-deserved omission: at least Emmy didn’t nominate 24 as Best Drama, which would not have surprised me. (I don’t have a problem with the actor nomination for Kiefer Sutherland; there may have been more deserving choices this year, but he was practically in a deathmatch against season 6’s scripts, and held his own admirably.)

* Heroes over Lost? Biting tongue. Hard. I already went there. No point going again.

* Seriously–The Wire, nothing. FNL, two paltry casting and directing noms. Just let that sink in.

* On a Lost-positive note, Michael Emerson did get well-deserved props as supporting actor (along with Terry O’Quinn). That almost makes up for the Best Drama snub. Except that it doesn’t.

* Swap in How I Met Your Mother for Two and a Half Men and I’d be reasonably happy with the comedy nominees. (Although, not to dis Tony Shalhoub, but I’m starting to believe he will be nominated for years after Monk goes off the air. He’s the new David Hyde Pierce.)

* Colbert Report vs. Daily Show smackdown in the Writing category! Whose side are you on? (I have to give this season to Colbert Nation, but I suspect that inertia gives the award to TDS–unless there’s a split vote and Letterman walks home with the trophy.)

* Keep in mind–the Emmy eligibility season is summer through spring, meaning that, for starters, Big Love was not in the running. Otherwise, let the judging of the judges begin!

[Update: Also, Rome was zeroed out in all the major categories. Sorry–too many grievances, too little time. Also, Deadwood got a few token nods in technical categories, because, you know, it was the art direction and makeup that made the show, not those hacks Ian McShane and David Milch.]