On Sept. 20, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences will honor either "Cathy" or "Garfield Goes Hollywood" as the best animated program of the 1986-87 prime-time TV season. Regardless of which wins, the Emmy will go to the wrong show. The best animated program of 1986-87 was the "Family Dog" episode of "Amazing Stories," which wasn't even considered, due to a questionable interpretation of the Academy's regulations.
Because "Family Dog" was shown as part of the "Amazing Stories" anthology series, the academy ruled that it would only be eligible for consideration as best drama series, which would have pitted the off-the-wall cartoon against "L.A. Law," "Moonlighting" and "Murder, She Wrote."
"For a program to be eligible for the Emmy for animated program, it has to be either an animated special or an episode from an animated series," explained John Leverence, the TV academy's awards director. "We do not allow episodes of a series to be broken out as specials. If a program is broadcast under the aegis of a particular program, it's considered part of that family."
The definition of "animated program" given in the academy's "Rules and Procedures" booklet is decidedly vague. To qualify for Emmy consideration, an animated program must contain at least 65% new animation (which eliminates shows pieced together out of old cartoons), and at least 65% of an animation/live action combination must be animated. Nowhere does it state that the entire series must be animated.
The idea of "Family Dog"--or any animated program--competing with "Moonlighting" is absurd. Animation and live action are different media, and it's difficult to make valid comparisons between the two. That's why there's a separate category for "best animated program."
Written and directed by Brad Bird, "Family Dog" offered a bizarrely skewed look at sitcom suburbia. Unlike standard kidvid, the program used the medium of animation in imaginative ways: The long-suffering title character never spoke, but communicated his thoughts and feelings through his movements and expressions.
The program received favorable reviews, and was widely praised by other animators. Bill Melendez, who has won six Emmys and is nominated again for "Cathy," said, "I thought 'Family Dog' was a shoo-in. When it came on, I said, 'That's gonna be the Emmy winner this year!' I'm thunderstruck that it's not even being considered."
Commercial animator Bob Kurtz agreed: "When I saw it, I felt that for the first time, television animation had finally come of age; I finally saw a program that was adult and fully entertaining. It's about time."
"The Flintstones" and "The Bugs Bunny Show" earned high ratings when they were shown during prime time, but those days have long passed. The networks rarely broadcast animation in the evening, and when they do, viewers are given recycled comic strips ("Garfield"), license-product characters ("The Care Bears") and saccharine holiday specials. High-quality animation has become as rare on prime time as it is on Saturday mornings.
At a time when audience interest in the Emmys is declining, the television academy only weakens its credibility by honoring undistinguished work and ignoring excellence. This attitude in turn lessens the chances that viewers will be offered imaginative animated programs.