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It's open to debate

Did the Emmys get it right? Yes. And no. Everyone has an opinion, but only the academy's view counts.

July 18, 2008|Robert Lloyd | Times Television Critic

LIKE ALL show business awards, like all exclusive lists -- the 10 best films of 1942, the 100 greatest songs about dogs -- whether created by individual fiat or by a voting body, the Emmy nominations are a machine for starting arguments. That there are generally only five nominees in each category out of a vast array of possibilities means that these arguments usually revolve around who has been left out. (Or who has been included as a function of who's been left out: "How could X be nominated when Y wasn't?")

It's often said that the academy has "snubbed" those it doesn't recognize, as if it were actively expressing some displeasure, or trying to send a message that it is better not to get involved with science fiction or teenage soap operas or "The Wire." There are those on both sides of the screen who take these things personally. And it is true that certain genres traditionally get little respect. But there is also no way around the fact that there are more losers than winners, and that as near as always the voters reward good work. Just as they always ignore good work. Subtlety is not always prized -- but sometimes it is.

That isn't to say that the voters can't be as lazy, or as subject to manipulation and hype as, say, the people who vote for president of the United States. (And last season's new shows may not have been helped by a year shredded into patches by the writers strike: “Pushing Daisies” did well for itself, but under normal circumstances "Dirty Sexy Money" might have, too.)

Nominations tend to concentrate in a relatively few series, and there are always the reflexive fallbacks: Nowadays, it's "Boston Legal" (with recurring nods for Candice Bergen, the always-nominated William Shatner and the almost-always nominated James Spader, who has always won his category) and "Two and a Half Men," with Charlie Sheen, Jon Cryer, Holland Taylor and the show itself all back for another crack. As in years past, the nominees for guest actor and actress in comedies and dramas favor the already famous, short-shrift the merely gifted.

This year for the first time, the academy cleverly pre-released the 10 semifinalists in each major category, giving the handicappers more time to speculate, prognosticate, second-guess and give additional publicity to the end-of-summer Emmys broadcast. (Those semifinalists were then winnowed to a final five by a "blue ribbon panel.") The extra nominees in each category gave an indication how far that mass mind was willing to travel: HBO's quirky musical “Flight of the Conchords” made that early cut, and there were nods to "Friday Night Lights" (shut out from the final prestige nominations) and Fred Willard ("Back to You"). But many were just extra nods to shows that did survive into the finals -- Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski for "The Office," for example, and Jane Krakowski, Tracy Morgan and Jack McBrayer for "30 Rock."

That there is a growing love for basic cable -- AMC's “Mad Men” and FX's “Damages” are the first such series to be nominated as best drama -- is not really a surprise: More such channels are getting in the game, and they have the luxury to sell their comparatively few series as events. "Mad Men" and "Damages" were beloved by editors and critics and were promoted by their networks and covered in the media out of proportion to the size of their audience.

But the Emmys don't reflect the viewing patterns of the wider public: They express the opinions of people who work in television, and reflect that community's own ideas of what's good, and what kind of job they'd like next.

I am here in the capacity of a person with an "expert" opinion. But in matters like this every opinion carries equal weight, since in sizing up the Emmys we are ultimately only talking about what we like -- what has moved us in some way or another. To the extent that the nominees reflect our own internal lists, we would say that they got it wrong, or they got it right. Among the nominees this year are shows and actors for whom I care little, and some I love a lot. Would I like to have seen Ana Ortiz, Katee Sackhoff, Leighton Meester, Cynthia Stevenson, Rick Gonzalez, Tyler Labine or Amy Pietz among the nominated? Sure. But that's just me. I didn't come here to argue.


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