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The Water Cooler: Other shows deserve an Emmy chance too

The TV academy needs to look beyond the 'Mad Men' and 'Modern Family' usual and reward other fabulous shows out there.

June 02, 2011|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times television critic
  • John Noble is the secretary of Defense in the other universe.
John Noble is the secretary of Defense in the other universe. (Liane Hentscher / FOX )

Far too often, the Emmy nominations for any given year look alarmingly familiar, as if the voters simply copied and pasted previous years' lists, made a few minor tweaks ("Oh, heck, that 'Big Bang Theory' really is pretty good") and hit send. Which is not only boring, it's also more than a bit unfair.

While there is no denying that such usual suspects as "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad" and "30 Rock" are exemplary, there are a lot of terrific shows and performances out there, some of which appear to have little signs taped to their backs that read, "Please don't nominate me for an Emmy, and if you do, don't let me win." Indeed, in all the hoopla surrounding "Glee," the television academy seems to have missed its major message: It isn't just the cheerleaders and football stars who deserve to win stuff.

Some past omissions can be chalked up to genre — too often, sci-fi and fantasy have the same sort of status within the award community as they do in high school, which is to say, none at all. It will be interesting to see whether HBO's remarkable drama "Game of Thrones" or AMC's hit "The Walking Dead" can dissolve those prejudices — the performances of "Thrones'" Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage certainly deserve recognition. And would it kill voters to give Fox's "Fringe" a little credit where credit is due? This has been an amazing season, with an alternative-universe construct requiring two discreet stories criss-crossing and pulling apart with admirable consistency and the performers doing double duty in many cases — this year, John Noble delivered not just one of the best dramatic performances on TV, he delivered two.

Likewise, the personality procedural — such shows as "The Mentalist," "Bones," "Castle," "White Collar" and even "House" — though increasingly the backbone of the network lineups, are too often overlooked, as if they weren't "serious" enough. (The exception being "House's" Hugh Laurie, who is in danger of becoming prime-time's Susan Lucci — though even she finally won one — and "Monk's" Tony Shalhoub, who, for the first time in years, is not eligible for a nomination, though he has been such a fixture, he may show up anyway.)

In comedy, voters have favored the brash — "Glee," "Modern Family" — the rash — "Nurse Jackie," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" — and the bizarre — "United States of Tara." Mavericks and oddities are certainly laudable and worth encouraging, but so is the solid citizenry of such shows as "The Middle," "Parks and Recreation" and "Community."

Then there's the whole new-versus-old issue — do we honor those shows/writers/actors that have miraculously maintained quality season after season or should Emmy be used to encourage risk-takers and new talent? Even if you go with new, it's difficult to choose between this year's "The Killing" and "The Walking Dead," and that's just AMC.

Big picture-wise, Emmy surplus is the best problem television can have. One way to solve it is by expanding the nomination lists even more — shows such as "The Good Wife" and "Modern Family" could fill the acting rosters single-handedly. But a more significant expansion would be one of imagination — Emmys are not the kind of "good job" trophies handed out to everyone on the team, but they should reflect the wildly diverse excellence of this new Golden Age of television in a way that acknowledges all its aspects.

Which, of course, is much easier to suggest than to do — one of the many reasons critics are not part of the academy. But if the members of the television industry can figure out a way to make such a far-reaching spectrum of fabulous shows, surely, it can find a way to honor them as well.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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