Friday, October 22, 2010

"Emmy" TV Shows. Not Unlike "Oscar" Movies.

Sorry for the long absence. I'm a busy student/employee/television addict/etc.

But as I catch up on last night's television shows, I started to wonder to myself about "the Academy." See, lots of people complain, whine, and moan over both the Academy that decides the Emmys and the Oscars. The thing is, though, I haven't seen many people spend all year discussing the Emmys, declaring this show an Emmy show and that show not an Emmy show, whereas even everyday movie-goers will easily be talking about the Oscar chances for The Social Network or Toy Story 3.

At first glance, this might indicate that the selectivity for the Emmys is not so severe as it is for the Oscars. You'd think an Academy that would nominate True Blood might actually have its marbles in a way an Academy that shut out The Dark Knight doesn't. I think though that you'd be wrong. True Blood, for example, has certain things going for it, including an Academy Award-winning main actress, a respected premium cable channel, and a "message" (y'know, how vampire rights in the show parallel modern day LGBT rights).

Don't fool yourself; the Emmys like the same things the Oscars do. Pedigree isn't everything though, as former Academy Award nominees Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos will tell you, having worked for years on a never-nominated critically-acclaimed little series called Battlestar Galactica everyone who knows me knows that I adore. It takes a certain class that comes, especially these days, with being on a premium cable network, which is why even though I haven't seen an episode of Boardwalk Empire, I'm convinced it will land several nominations next year. Because it's on HBO, it's classy like Mad Men, and it takes itself seriously.

As I'm sure the Buffy fans have lamented for ages, taking yourself seriously can be a big thing. I feel like one of the more common complaints about Mad Men would be a sort of "stuffiness" about it, coming from its slow, melodious pace and seriously fragmented (and often disliked) characters.

But the comedy category, you declare! Comedic shows are appreciated for irony! Just look at Glee? Though I decry Glee and watch it, such a contradiction as I am, Glee is actually something of an interesting anomaly in my opinion. It's a high school show, it's a musical, its pedigree is really not that impressive (Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele are the main show there - I won't count Jane Lynch, despite loving her more, because an unfortunate amount of not-young people don't realize how much she did pre-Glee). Glee's popularity comes from a more modern High School Musical approach - but you didn't see High School Musical get nominated for Best TV Movie, did you? Despite whatever sucks about Glee, it is kind of impressive for it to have gotten the formal recognition it has.

Besides Glee, however, the comedy area remains pretty locked for sitcoms and serious premium cable comedies (i.e. Weeds, Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm). And, to be honest, the only reason Glee might get nominated again next year is because the current freshmen sitcoms are rather slim pickings, so I'd be prepared for a full-on repeat in the comedy series category.

Sitcoms are cute and quaint. They're very old-fashioned. Even Modern Family, which I watch and like and is lauded for its advancement, follows your old-school format of following a family around and seeing all their funny, morally-inclined hi-jinks in a short half hour. If there was a movie equivalent to sitcoms, actually, which there really isn't anymore, I'd be surprised if it got nominated for the Oscars, actually, because that area is even too backwater for them. When people talk about potential Oscar comedies, they think of raucous shit like The Hangover, which is more of a premium cable type show than a typical network sitcom.

But back to the drama category, where this all started for me as I thought longingly of The Vampire Diaries, the shockingly good show I have fallen in love with despite not being a big vampire fan and aware enough of trends to usually not be susceptible without my consent. The Vampire Diaries is a good show, hands down. Interesting characters, good plots, amazing pacing, problems are rectified, everything is reasonable, and as a bonus, the cast is gorgeous (and, so far as I'm aware, come across as respectable and scandal-free). The problems? The show doesn't take itself so seriously. Not in the same way, say, my beloved Chuck does, becoming a little bit too much of a self-parody at times, but there is an air of fun and danger that comes from a show willing to take risks, kill off a main character pretty quickly, and do a lot of things most shows aren't really willing to do. Second, the show doesn't have pedigree. It's highest pedigree right now is probably Ian Somerhalder, best known otherwise for his season-long and small recurring bit as Boone on Lost. Nina Dobrev did Degrassi. Matt Davis might be most recognizable for Legally Blonde. Seriously, this is not your A-list cast. But they're not just pretty, they're good. And, finally, The Vampire Diaries is on The CW. The CW may technically be a network station, but it is essentially trash to the bigwigs. The CW is home of Smallville and Gossip Girl, not a show that's better than Emmy-nominated True Blood (sorry, TB fans, I'm with you, but did you see the third season compared to TVD? Just, no).

Everything that might make a series worthy of Emmy recognition is simply not in this show, which is probably derided by people who've never seen it as part of the Twilight craze, as a teen drama with lots of skimpy clothes and scandal. I'm sorry, but this is neither True Blood nor Gossip Girl; there are few if none unnecessary shenanigans. High school is a setting, not a defining characteristic of the show (especially as of late; Mystic Falls is more the setting anyway, one of the coolest, cult-like towns ever). Skimpy clothes? Are you kidding me? Besides the car wash episode, there have been so few scantily clad moments. I can remember all of one legitimate sex scene in the entirety of this series. There are some sexy flashbacks, but it is nothing compared to the wild orgies of True Blood season 2, or even the least sexy of True Blood episodes. Scandals? I bet there are about five thousand more scandals in a single episode of Desperate Housewives than a full season of The Vampire Diaries. Vampire Diaries is more concerned with drama and action and zigzagging plots and surprises than with the kind of ~drama that fuels shows like Gossip Girl or One Tree Hill or Gilmore Girls (which I loved, but was soapy as hell sometimes).

Essentially, every stigma that The Vampire Diaries would attract is false. But that's true about a lot of shows that would never qualify for an Emmy nomination. There is no "Blind Side" slot in the Emmy nominees. The Emmys are probably even more out of touch with popular culture than the Oscars. Sci-fi has been at the Oscars for ages, from Star Wars to Avatar (more of a crowd-pleaser than it's-all-about-the-analogy District 9). Battlestar Galactica, despite being declared by many as one of the best DRAMA television shows ever, or at least a very good one in general, never got more than a technical nod at the Emmys.

So we bitch and moan and complain a lot about the Oscars, about the Academy Awards being old and how certain great movies will never be Oscar movies, but the Emmys are no better, if they're not even worse, especially since they can repeat old favorites in place of strong up-comers. While movies year after year can emulate and imitate older films, keeping that certain "old Hollywood" or "period movie" place in the Best Picture nominee line-up, Emmys can literally keep the same show in the running, even past its prime (I mean really? House? That show has been good at best, horrendous at worst, and meh most of the time for a couple seasons now).

And yet, few shows are looked at, saying, "this show was made for the Emmys" when one could look at, say, The King's Speech, and declare immediately "it's an Oscar movie!" There isn't a lot different between what makes television and movies appeal for "bigwig" Academies. If anything, audience size and critics matter more for the Oscars - I doubt you'll find many champions of House's last season (praise the mental institute episode all you want, there are over twenty other episodes in the season), but even The Blind Side was well-received by many, though certainly not everyone. House's audience has dwindled (and it was probably the most-watched series nominated for Best Comedy/Drama last year; remember, Glee's audience was pretty modest for most of the first season), but Avatar, District 9, The Blind Side, and Up were huge money-makers.

My point has been made clear by this point. Just like with the Oscars and movies, there will be brilliant shows that will never win an Emmy, that never won an Emmy, and probably were never seen by those who vote on the Emmys. And that's disappointing, sure, but that's life, and tastes change, though slowly, and one day all the types of shows we champion now will be detested by future generations as backwards and unworthy of admiration and we'll be clinging on.

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