Saturday, August 17, 2019

PROPOSITION FOR A NEW EMMY VOTING SYSTEM: MEMO TO THE ACADEMY OF TELEVISION ARTS AND SCIENCES

Well, there you go, 32 nominations for “Game Of Thrones” final season. A season that, pretty unanimously is considered at best, a disappointment and at worst, a critical failure. That’s not me talking either, I haven’t seen the damn thing, that’s the fans of the show talking. I’ve never thought the show was as good as everybody else said it was, and I suspect once I finally do watch this final season, I’ll probably consider it…, well, okay. I probably will find it okay. I probably will prefer earlier seasons, but I’ve never loved the show to begin with and frankly it’s hard for me to determine/delineate the big differences between one season or another anyway. Always respected it, but…-, yeah, as somebody who admired “Game of Thrones” but always thought it was overrated, I will probably think similar things about the final season, ‘cause I’ve never really been able to literally map out the damn narrative all the way through to begin with, so…, but,- that said, considering how many people who I deeply respect and who love the show are saying that it’s particularly bad this season, it does make me wonder and question, how exactly does it continue to get so many Emmy nominations?

Especially for its finale season; believe it or not, that’s not a normal thing, the Emmys historically were notoriously unsentimental and have rarely given out praise to major series in their final seasons. It’s not unprecedented, and it’s happened a lot more recently, but it’s definitely raising some questionable eyebrows. And not the first time either; and not even the first time with regard to “Game of Thrones”, which won it’s first Best Drama Series Emmy in its 5th season, a year that most considered one of it’s weaker seasons at that point, but I always contended that it won that year because the previous winner, “Breaking Bad”, had ended. (Which in of itself performed the rare winning in its finale season feat.)

In fact, what used to be the rarity has become the common trend now, shows that keep on winning and winning, particularly for the Series categories. You can judge whether or not this is good or bad, and this isn’t something that’s inherently happening cause of this popular voting system they’ve had occurrence for a few years now; the Emmys are filled to the brim with several repeat winners over the years. (Although I didn’t complained then ‘cause I, and much of the public either agreed with them, or at least they were reasonable winners most of the time) In fact, it’s been a bit of a joke. One of the reasons why Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s record seven consecutive Emmys for “Veep” should have a huge asterisk next to it, is because she’s breaking a big tradition. Now, she’s won in both the old voting system and the current, so she probably would’ve won anyway most of those years, but usually, people who win that much in the same category would eventually take their name out of consideration at a certain point. John Larroquette famously took his name out after winning four times in a row for Supporting Actor for “Night Court”, Candice Bergen won four Emmys in five years for “Murphy Brown”, before she took her name out, even as recently as a decade ago, Jeremy Piven, won three times for “Entourage” and then took his name out of further consideration. Even Oprah has done this on the Daytime side, and she didn’t even win every year. (Although, yeah she won enough)

Now that’s not a rule and she doesn’t have to follow it, but still, it’s a bit weird, especially considering she continuously had some of the best competition of all-time television history in her category, that she kept winning. But looking at the nominations as a whole, it’s beginning to get clear that this is turning way too much into a popularity contest. Okay, it’s always been a popularity contest, bad choice of words, but the Emmys used to also have more of a slant towards critical acclaim. They honored “Arrested Development” when nobody watched it; they honored “Cheers” and “Hill Street Blues” when less people were watching them; they were the first to put HBO series on the map honoring “The Larry Sanders Show”, “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” before anybody else took the network seriously with regard to series,… they were never afraid to go with an odd choice here and there. Sometimes, I agreed with them, other times I didn’t, but what I do need is something that indicates there are people voting who have watched all the shows….

That’s something…-, tsk…- well, let’s not go down that path yet. Let’s play Devil’s Advocate, is it possible for Emmy voters to watch all the shows anymore? No, it’s not. I’ve seen the long lists of names submitted for nomination in every category, remember, if you want to get an Emmy nomination, you have to pay and submit your series and pay a consideration, something that is unique to these awards, and there are generally tons of shows and names submitted in each and category, every goddamn year now. Maybe back in the days when there was four or five channels, a decent numbers voters could get to screenings and run through them all like they use to, but no, not now, even assuming Emmy voters and genuinely trying to watch all the screeners they received, they simply cannot get through them all. The Emmys did used to try to mitigate this though.

Traditionally, for each category, there’d be eligible voters who would select their categories that they’d be eligible for, and those groups would then have screenings of one or two episodes of each series that submitted; they’d each submit an episode for each category/nominee. So you’d get a voting pool that was generally smaller, a much, much smaller sample size of the Academy itself, but you can be damn sure they’d seen everything. Was/Is this a better system? Um,- well,- hmm..., maybe. It's got it's drawbacks and problems too.

Full disclosures, I know a few Emmy voters, and I’ve heard a couple stories about why some things got nominated and others don’t based on these screening, back in the days when they had them, and I could share some of these, like I know why “Lost” didn’t get a Series nomination in 2007 and everybody was shocked and pissed off. (Well, everybody except me; I was annoyed every year when it got nominated, and no I’m not revealing sources and I’m not telling you what happened.) However, let’s use a more infamous secondhand example of what these screenings led to…



I think I might be the only one who actually  remembers “Picket Fences” anymore, which is really a shame ‘cause I actually really liked the show at the time, and seeking out some, hard-to-find episodes online, I actually think it's still surprisingly better then people remember and it's current reputation, but-eh admittedly, that said, it really hasn’t aged as well and has had very little influence anywhere on the modern television landscape. For those who don’t remember it, it was kinda like, if David Simon tried to write “Northern Exposure”, but somewhere along the way David E. Kelley took over it into, well, a David E. Kelley show. For the most part, it’s a good-but-weird and a sadly rightfully forgotten relic of a forgotten era of the TV Drama Series, except when it comes to Emmy historians.

The show was never really a hit, but it big enough and good enough to get a nomination for Best Drama Series in it's first, but not much else that would indicate. It was still basically a cult series at that point, and I suspect "Northern Exposure" was considered the overwhelming favorite one year and the second time, it was up against the juggernaut "NYPD Blue", which had swept the Writing category and had four of the five nominations in the Directing category. Until the voters screening of the nominees. You see, “Picket Fences” was generally on the lighter side of the Drama Series at the time, but, again it was actually a really good show, and they also had their really dramatic moments, and they tended to submit two episodes a year that were just overwhelming powerful Drama Series episodes. Not necessarily good examples of the show, but just incredibly powerful episodes that would blow people away. Like, there’s about 20 episodes a year, that were kinda okay, but they’d submit the two, “Holy Fuck”! episodes, and if you didn’t watch the series regularly, you’d probably be startled by them. And reminder, this was never a popular show; it actually struggled to stay on the air for four years it survived, so voters who were coming in blind to it, were more prone to react to them with amazement; it’s a new stimuli that’s essentially blinding their judgement. This is in all likelihood what happened, ‘cause it won a couple years of Drama Series Emmys doing this, sometimes with barely any other nominations of note; in fact, the show never once got a nomination for Writing or Directing, something that a Drama Series hasn't won with since, "The Practice" did it, and that was a surprise win too, both years they won. (I just realized, the writers and directors don't like David E. Kelley as much as we think they do, do they?) Now, I liked the show, so I was okay with it, but it always did seem odd, and in hindsight nowadays, it really does seem peculiar. (BTW, another weird stat, the show won the two years it was nominated for Drama Series, but it wasn't nominated in the last two years, so it went 2 for 2.)  Now, I liked the show, but no, it probably never should’ve won Drama Series, but they stumbled into a formula to manipulate the limited voters. They weren’t the only ones to pull this off either, the aforementioned “The Practice” famously did something similar in it’s first season, but that show eventually caught on and is still generally widely-acclaimed as a great show, and by the next couple years, it became a regular contender at the Emmys and would win in several categories, and became a confirmed part of the zeitgeist, “Picket Fences” never achieved anything close to that.

There’s been several responses and altering of the rules over the years, one time they increased from submitting two or one episode to submitting six episodes, or two hours worth, or some other weird thing where basically, you have a group of Emmy voters, most of whom, admittedly probably had little else to do ‘cause they were probably not working regularly much at the time, but and they’d spend a day or two and watch all these shows, a couple hours and from there they’d determine the nominees and then another group would come in and do it again for the winners.

However, they don’t have those groups much anymore. And there’s several reasons for that, not simply because the Emmys don’t want another “Picket Fences” or a Merritt Wever win or whatever, insert your own favorite weird Emmy anomaly here. For one thing, Emmy voters tend to get FYC screeners every year, so they don’t have to go into these groups. Also, technology has advanced, you can actually watch much/all the Emmy considered/nominated episodes, from their website or through other means. All you have to do though, is say that you’ve seen everything in the categories that you’re eligible to vote in, and then vote. You make a click, that you saw everything, and then you say, “Okay, let’s vote for all the “Game of Thrones” people; that’s the show everybody’s talking about, right?”



And again, most years, I wouldn’t question this. Even with the other voting system, there were several years with some of the major categories where one or two shows seemed to be the only shows that got nominated or had any chance to win. Usually though, like say, those years when the main battle was “The West Wing” vs. “The Sopranos”, both those shows were both wildly critically acclaimed and popular with the public and were major influences on the cultural zeitgeist. Nobody blinked an eye when the only people nominated for Drama acting awards were people from those two shows, maybe a swing vote for a “Six Feet Under” actor, whoever was guest starring on “Law & Order” and “ER” that week and whatever show Tyne Daly was on at the time. (I think it was “Judging Amy” back then). This year of “Game of Thrones” has been heavily criticized. Heavily criticized, even by and perhaps especially by the fans of the show. I know very few people who liked this season; I’m predicting that I will have the most positive response to it. And you know, perhaps they do deserve some of these awards; and without “The Handmaid’s Tale” being eligible this year, I might even see an argument for the series getting into Best Drama Series and arguably winning, despite all the criticism; this feels like a weaker year in general with little serious major traditional competition unless something changes in the wind very quickly. (I wouldn’t mind this being the year they finally honor “This Is Us”, myself)

Yet, I’m predicting Game of Thrones” will win again, basically because of name recognition alone. The Emmy voters are overloaded; there’s more television than ever, they’re working more than ever and they can’t also be asked to sit down and watch every single possible nominee or potential nominee on their own time; it’s just not possible, even for the voters who haven’t worked in television lately, they’re probably doing something that takes up a great deal of their time

There’s issues with both these systems; I’m not advocating that nobody vote except for those who sit in a dark room for a week and watch everything, and I don’t think everybody voting by the merit system works either. There isn’t an easy solution, and no matter what the voting system is, somebody is gonna to be annoyed at the results; and many times, it will be me. I’ve been frustrated and pissed at both systems equally; there is no perfect fix here, and lord knows, television is way too big these days anyway.

But-, there’s one thing they haven’t tried and after this year, I hope they try it.

So, here’s my Emmy voting proposal: They should have a two-prong slanted voting system. Voters should have both the options to go online and vote on the honors system that way, assuming that the voters have been given all the necessary screeners and whatnot of course, and there should also be an option to vote as apart of a voting body that goes to the approved screenings for all the eligible nominees and those voters should count more. They saw everything, it’s confirmed, so their votes should count as,-, I don’t know, 3 votes or something. something more than one vote that everyone else vote counts as. I know, people aren’t gonna love this, but let’s say there’s 75 people in each voting group that sees the Academy-approved screenings of the nominees,- which, btw, might be high from what I’ve heard about these group, like twice what it used to be, for all the major categories, those categories, often have 1000+ eligible voters, and everybody gets votes for Series. I doubt one will negate the other; hell, I wouldn’t be totally surprised if this happened this year and “Game of Thrones” still got most of their nominations and probably would still win. But perhaps those extra few votes from this Committee might sway a nomination or two in a closer race to a  different direction. Would that be so bad? I don’t think so. I like it when the Emmys surprise us,- okay, that’s not true; I normally hate it, but it lets us know that somebody has to be watching these shows or else, someone Toni Collette winning for “United States of Tara” doesn’t happen. Evidence that they’re not just checking the show they’ve all heard of, or just vote for the shows they’re all watching, even if they know it's not as good or deserving, it might just be the only shows they saw or heard of, so, it gets the checkmark. I bet most of the “Game of Thrones” voters who watched the show, hated it too, but are they watching everything else to know what’s the best? Probably not; in fact I know they're not, 'cause it's just not possible unless you plan for it; so guess what, you vote with and for what you know, even if you know it to be subpar or outright crap.

Remember how everybody got pissed off, myself included, when the Oscars thought about adding a Popular Film Category last year? Well, what good is the Emmys if they just do the same thing, just vote based on where the eyes are looking without looking deeper then just what’s popular. When they do go against the grain, it can bring up a show that wasn’t being watched and give it some much-needed and deserved attention, or when they do go and honor the most popular and prolific series of the time, it makes that win mean more, because it’s not just popular, it’s also good.

So, why not a two-prong voting system? It gives everybody a vote, and for those who actually took the time and have it proven that they did indeed watch everything for their categories, their votes can have the weight that it does, without necessarily overtaking the vote of the rest of the Academy? They’d be superdelegates essentially, and they’re not gonna have the entire sway; I mean, Julia has won no matter what the system, but in a close race, it’s nice to know that a deciding factor was probably based on people who actually know for a fact that so-and-so was the best, because they saw all the submitted episodes. I think that’s all we really want and hope for our Award shows, that the people voting saw everything and that they’re honoring who they think are the best, and since it’s the Emmys, it’s the peers and people who work in the industry, so if anybody knows what great multi-cam cinematography looks like, it’s other multi-camera cinematographers.

That’s my recommendation for the Emmys future. It will not be perfect, there will be disagreements and there will still be some people annoyed and outraged at what won and what didn’t, but I think it’s the best idea so far, as to how to mitigate some of these voting trends.



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