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Poor Emmy, only silver to Oscar's gold

July 25, 2006|James Bates | Times Staff Writer

A half-century or so from now it's a safe bet Helen Hunt's obituary won't start by describing how she once dominated the Emmy Awards when she starred in "Mad About You."

Her Oscar for "As Good as It Gets" already has that first sentence locked up.

As nice as an Emmy may look on a mantel, it's second-class hardware in Hollywood. Which isn't exactly fair.

Still, one would hope the cachet of an Emmy could better mirror the prestige television had earned, thanks to HBO and such quality shows as "The Sopranos," "24" and "Into the West."

Alas, an Emmy simply doesn't even come close to converting to Hollywood currency in the same way an Academy Award does.

Put an Oscar into the hands of a Harvey Weinstein and the next morning he's figured out how to squeeze another $10 million out of the box office. Give "Arrested Development" an Emmy, and it's still that quirky Fox show that died because nobody watched it.

An elite club

An Oscar-winning actor enters an elite club the moment the name is announced, unleashing agents to ask for a bigger trailer and, maybe, a piece of the gross. If an Emmy had the same heat, we'd all remember who Kathy Baker and William Daniels are, along with the shows that earned them their honors ("Picket Fences" and "St. Elsewhere," respectively).

As a cultural touchstone, the Emmy remains a very distant second to its movie cousin. The last Emmy viewing party you attended was ... when?

No aspiring high school actor practices a future Emmy acceptance speech in front of the bedroom mirror. Many of us know at least someone who can roll off every Oscar winner dating back to the Irving Thalberg era. But few of us know anyone who can even remember more than one of last year's Emmy winners.

Nonetheless, there are some things that can be done to at least close the prestige gap, even if it's just a little.

Start with the scourge of awards proliferation. If the upcoming Emmy broadcast starts to sound familiar, it's probably because you watched a lot of the same actors thanking agents and publicists at the Golden Globes a few months ago.

Or maybe it was the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Or those People's Choice ones.

Emmy shows are as common as a Subway franchise. There's Primetime Emmys, Daytime Emmys and local Emmys in all sorts of markets.

There's an Emmy for art direction in a single-camera show, not to be confused with the one they give art directors in multi-camera shows and the other one they give for art direction for a miniseries or TV movie.

Don't forget the sports Emmy awards. Even the biggest fans of Bob Costas probably don't realize he has won in the outstanding sports personality, studio host category more times than Lance Armstrong has won the Tour de France. Someone needs to retire the guy's blazer, and give someone else a shot.

The Emmy folks should take a cue from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in working to restrict the use of the name and image.

Nobody guards a trademark like the Oscar police. Back in the 1990s, a candy maker was sued for making chocolate Oscars for a studio party. To call off the legal attack dogs, he had to promise never to make candy again that looked like a naked male figurine holding its hands or any object in front of its chest.

Then there's the timing of the Emmy show, which doesn't do squat now for either the value of the award or the programs and actors it honors.

Bad timing

Broadcasting the Emmy show in September on the eve of the new TV season once made sense when there was a new TV season to debut then.

Now, broadcast and cable shows are launched in such a scattershot way throughout the year that it's impossible to draft off an Emmy victory.

This year it's even more absurd with the show airing at the end of August, when half of the industry is still on Martha's Vineyard or in the Hamptons. By Labor Day, nobody will remember what happened.

Here's one suggestion: Try holding the Emmy Awards after the November sweeps when programs start taking a holiday breather. Think of it as a halftime show.

Another proposal: Do something about the rules that too often result in scores of shows and actors being honored for programs that have long since died.

This year's Emmys are shaping up to resemble a posthumous awards ceremony. We're all going to be on pins and needles waiting to see if "The West Wing," "Will & Grace" or "Arrested Development" take home the most honors.

This isn't to suggest the Emmy has any hope of ever coming close to being in the same league with Oscar. It can't, and never will. As good as TV gets, and as bad as movies often are, the Emmy will always be Sears to Oscar's Bloomingdale's.

But TV is a lot better than it used to be. If you don't believe it, consider that 40 years ago the Emmy nominees included "The Monkees," "The Dean Martin Show" and "Hogan's Heroes."

Now that the shows are classier, a little spiffing up of the award wouldn't hurt. It might even get Helen Hunt's Emmys an earlier mention in her obit.

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