Friday, September 19, 2008

"Emmys - The Oddest Award of All"

Of all the awards – and there certainly are a lot of them – the Emmys are by far the strangest. No other award I’m aware of gives out multiple recognitions for the same performance.

Peter Falk won four Emmys (1972, 1975, 1976 and 1990) for portraying the supershlep-sleuth Columbo. John Larroquette also took home four (1985, 1986, 1987, 1988) playing the sleazebag attorney, Dan Fielding, on Night Court.

Don Knotts won five Emmys (1961, 1962, 1963, 1966 and 1967) as Andy Griffith’s jumpy deputy, Barney Fife. Candice Bergen garnered five (1989, 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1995) playing “Murphy Brown.”

I can’t explain it, but there feels, to me, something disturbingly wrong about that. It’s like the actors are cashing the same check multiple times. Not to brag, or complain – and then proceeding to do both at the same time – I won two Emmys (Lily Tomlin, 1975, and The Cosby Show, 1984) and was nominated for four others.

Six nominations in all. But the thing to notice is, every time I was nominated, I had to write a different thing! These guys do the same job over again, and they give ‘em another prize!

Of course, there is the discomfiting “flip side.” The one that keeps actors up at night.

In 1992, an actor named Craig T. Nelson won an Emmy Award for playing the role of “Hayden Fox”, Head Coach of the “Minnesota State University Screaming Eagles” on the long-running ABC comedy, Coach.

The next season, 1993, Craig T. Nelson, continuing to in the role as “Hayden Fox” in the long-running ABC comedy, Coach, was not nominated at all.

What exactly can that mean?

Actors, by nature, are sensitive people. And when something jostles their delicate temperaments, like, for example, winning an Emmy Award one year and not even being nominated the next – for playing the exact same part – it can really eat them up.

“Let’s see, now. Last season, I won the Emmy last year for my portrayal of “Hayden Fox”. This season, I play “Hayden Fox” exactly the way, I sincerely believe, I played “Hayden Fox” last season, but this season, I don’t even get nominated?”

“What the hell is going on!?”

“I’m an actor! I won an Emmy, for heaven’s sake. And what did I win it for? For playing the role of “Hayden Fox”, a role, which, according to the Emmy nominating committee, I no longer know how to play.”

“What do I need to do? Watch films of my performance as the Emmy-winning “Hayden Fox”, so I can pick out the flaws in my not even nominated “Hayden Fox?” Baseball players do that. They find a hitch in their swing. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find a hitch in my acting.”

We shouldn’t make fun. Therapists make a lot of money off such problems. And that’s not even the scariest example.

In 1990, Jerry Seinfeld was nominated for playing Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld, and he was not nominated the following year. How do you imagine Jerry felt?

“Could this possibly be true? Could I have actually gotten worse at playing myself?

“Lemme tell you something. I know how to play myself. I’ve got “myself” down. I practice the role constantly. I am myself all the time. 24/7. Day and night. I’m not myself for a few days, then I’m somebody else, then I’m myself again. I am always. Myself. And not partially myself. I am myself, head to toe.”

“And yet, for some mysterious and inexplicable reason, the people on the nominating committee are telling me, I’m wrong. They’re saying, ‘Jerry, sometimes – like the season when you were nominated – you were very much, and most hilariously, yourself. But this year, I’m sorry, it just wasn’t there.’”

“Something is terribly wrong with those people.”

On Emmy Night, the big story is, understandably, “Who will be the winner?” But I believe there’s another even more intriguing story going on. Somewhere in that audience Sunday night, earlier winners and nominees who didn’t get a nibble this year are sitting there, torturing themselves with the nagging, maybe unanswerable, question:

“How do I get it back?”


Rinaldo said...

"But the thing to notice is, every time I was nominated, I had to write a different thing! These guys do the same job over again, and they give ‘em another prize!"

But it's not the same job. If actors acted all the scripts from the previous season a second time, the complaint would be apt. But if they were given all new scripts, and fulfilled them memorably... then that's new work, isn't it? That's how it's always seemed to me. It's not the exact same challenge year after year.

As to why an actor would win in a category one year, and not be nominated the next... sure, there are all kinds of non-artistic reasons for that (people got tired of a certain show, someone else became the darling of the moment, they just overlooked it, whatever). But it's also true that the available choices influence what the top of the list looks like. Maybe a particular continuing performance seems just as good as before, but this year there are a lot of exciting new series to consider; so the actor who (maybe) squeaked into the top 5 a year ago, now doesn't.

Anonymous said...

But the obvious would be: Yes your performance was the same. The competition has changed.... If awards are what they want, they need to get hired on a cutting edge, newly popular show...

stella said...

You do such a good Jerry impersonation. Please, please develop a character or two for our dissecting pleasure. Does Uncle Grumpy have a wife?

Dimension Skipper said...

In today's Philadelphia Inquirer Jonatham Storm (their TV reviewer) has a column about Emmy voting...

Emmy voting is a mystery*

It might help if Emmy judges actually spent time watching TV.
Every year, they try and try to seem to know at least something about television, yet every year the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences makes goofy errors that drive not only the fans crazy.

Boston Legal's James Spader himself was astonished that he got the Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a drama last year, ahead of Hugh Laurie (House), Denis Leary (Rescue Me), Kiefer Sutherland (24), and, in the last season of The Sopranos, James Gandolfini.

Shaking his head in disbelief, Spader commented, "I still have no idea who votes for these things or how you even secure a ballot."

. . . .

Emmy voters don't care what an actor (or any other individual nominee) does week in and week out. All a person needs to win best actor or actress is one super episode. Supporting actors submit even less - only their scenes from one episode.

The judges are volunteers chosen from among the members of the academy, whose only function is to award the Emmys. To be a member, a person must have worked in the television business at some point, even if it was wrangling mules on Death Valley Days back in 1954.

Maybe the volunteers have nothing better to do. Maybe their network/studio encouraged all its employees to sign up and vote for homegrown product. Maybe they're all flaming liberals, and they just can't help themselves when they hear Spader deliver one of Boston Legal producer David E. Kelley's impassioned courtroom screeds.

. . . .


* Please note that Inquirer articles are only available free online for one week from the date of publication.