Don and Dennis : the Loss of Two TV Legends
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Awards Controversial, but Exciting
by Jim Longworth
the tragedy of September 11, 2001, the EMMY Awards show was postponed
and rescheduled twice before the relatively somber ceremony finally took
years later, there are some folks who think the 58th Annual EMMYS should
have been rescheduled, and the opening segment cancelled altogether. And
there was also controversy over the awards themselves. As a member of
the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, as a Judge for the awards,
and as someone who attended the festivities, I was a witness to both the
pomp and the process.
The first firestorm erupted when media critics accused rank and file Academy
members of not taking the awards seriously. Some industry insiders claimed
that most of the 13,000 membership had not watched the programs and performances
for which they were voting.
of making informed decisions, many members were said to have simply checked
off the most familiar names.
according to some journalists, explained why Ellen Burstyn garnered a
supporting actress nomination for her fourteen second cameo in the TV
movie Mrs. Harris. No one can be sure, but my guess is that the
critics are at least partially correct. For my part, I did take the process
seriously. If I was unfamiliar with entries in a particular category (such
as Children's Programming) I left that space blank, rather than voting
for a program I had only heard about, but had never seen.
Voting members were allowed to select their top ten choices in each category,
then a Blue Ribbon Panel came up with the final five nominees in Drama,
Comedy, Actor, etc...
such as myself then went to work screening DVDs of nominees, and subsequently
voted on who should win the EMMYS. I think the judges did a pretty good
job, but, in any event, we cannot be blamed for the nominees provided
to us, and that brings us to the second controversy.
Fans of Lost and Desperate Housewives took particular
exception to the voting process which left both of the popular shows without
so much as a nomination. ABC showed its disdain by coincidentally scheduling
the blockbuster film, Pirates of the Caribbean opposite the EMMY
telecast, thus diluting the Award ceremony's audience. No one at ABC will
admit to any foul play, but it has always been an unwritten rule that
networks do not competitively program against a fellow network who is
honoring our industry.
And speaking of network sabotage, NBC shot itself in the foot by forcing
the Academy to present the EMMYS two weeks early so as not to interrupt
the Peacock's new Sunday Night Football contract. Again, this
created two problems. First, ratings are lower in August than in September,
particularly the week leading up to Labor Day. Second, it was hot as hades
on the red carpet. My wife Pam and I were among the formally attired attendees
who, along with celebrities, were forced to snake our way through long
lines and several security checks before being allowed into the Shrine
Auditorium, which wasn't exactly a comfort zone itself.
Not surprisingly, the ratings for this year's event slipped by 15%, but
no one can prove if the decline was due to the time of the month, or because
of Johnny Depp's pirate antics over at ABC.
But the red carpet wasn't the only thing that heated up on EMMY night.
and viewers alike scolded NBC for airing Conan O'Brien's comedic pre-taped
segment which began with him crashing in a jet and being stranded on the
same island with the cast from Lost. Earlier that same day a
jetliner crashed in Kentucky, killing all but one lone survivor. The offended
parties wanted NBC to pull the segment, but instead had to settle for
an apology by the network the next day.
In the end, critics of the judging controversy had to eat a bit of crow
when the miniseries Elizabeth I, and the TV movie Girl in
the Café both raked in multiple awards, proving that some
of us were, in fact, paying attention to the screening process, and gave
a nod to two quality productions that each merited recognition.
Afterward at the Governors' Ball, I spoke with Elizabeth's Helen Mirren,
along with Oscar winners Donald Sutherland and Jon Voight. All three agreed
that the judging was fair and balanced, and that the British victories
Of course, there are always critics who say the EMMYS are boring, and
run too long. But even with stirring tributes to Dick Clark and Aaron
Spelling, the telecast came in on time, and, for the record, I wouldn't
have missed the special tributes for anything, the latter of which included
a rare reunion of Kate Jackson, Farah Fawcett, and Jaclyn Smith.
interviewed Spelling for volume two of TV
Creators, and I found him to be a warm and unassuming
man. I was moved by speeches from Stephen Collins (7th Heaven)
Joan Collins (Dynasty), and Jaclyn Smith (Charlie's Angels),
and we talked about Aaron during the Governors' Ball.
the way, the Ball, unlike the telecast, was not controversial. It provided
celebrities with an escape from reporters, paparazzi, and pundits, and
offered a perfect forum for celebration as well as in-depth conversations.
Warren Beatty and Annette Benning held court in one corner, and I spoke
with them about the real life Dr. Herman Tarnower on whose murder the
TV film Mrs. Harris was based, and for which Ms. Benning was
My wife Pam suggested to three time EMMY winner Tony Shalhoub (Monk)
that his alter ego spend an episode going to a Southern flea market, but
The Dead Zone's Anthony Michael Hall told us that putting Adrian
Monk in a germ filled flea market would take up an entire season.
speaking of the South, Kyra Sedgwick and her Executive producer
Greer Shephard spoke with us about how The Closer celebrates strong
I had a chance to talk with EMMY winner Mariska Hargitay and her Law
& Order SVU partner Chris Meloni about our friend Dick Wolf who
created the Law & Order franchise, and later, Blythe Danner
and I discussed the influence that her late husband Bruce Paltrow had
on today's television creators. Danner, the mother of Gwenyth Paltrow,
won an EMMY for her supporting role in Huff.
in all, the evening was a great celebration of great television. 24
won for best drama, and Keifer Sutherland finally picked up his first
EMMY (at the Governors Ball, Dad Donald beamed when he proudly showed
me the formerly sealed Best Actor card which Keifer gave him as a memento
of the evening). And, The Office proved that an off-beat comedy
could be successful on two continents. Still, there was room for improvement.
Years ago in my first volume of TV Creators I suggested that
the Academy create sub headings for drama and comedy to allow for a more
fair nominating process. For example, I think there should be awards given
for Best Science Fiction Drama, Best Family Drama, Best Police/Crime Drama,
and so on. This would guarantee that Academy members could compare apples
to apples, rather than pitting a show like Lost against Grey's
Anatomy, when all they have in common is their running time. Expanding
the categories would also generate more awards and more excitement. And,
in order to maintain tradition, you could still have a Blue Ribbon Panel
award Best Overall Drama (and Comedy) at the end of the evening.
The Academy should also never again allow any network to hold its ceremony
hostage by demanding a summer air date. In fact, I believe that a deal
could be made in which the EMMYS would be simulcast by all major networks,
with each sharing equally in the long term commercial revenues. It is
a far fetched concept, but certainly achievable if the right person makes
the right kind of approach to the network brass.
But whether it's sub categories or simulcasts, the Academy must answer
its critics who say the EMMYS have become irrelevant. We must take steps
to engage viewers year round, and create a mystique about the winged statue
that her motion picture counterpart has enjoyed for so many years.
into any gift shop in Los Angeles or Orlando, and you can purchase toy
OSCAR statues that say "Best Mom", or Best Grandmother",
but EMMY replicas are no where to be found. Tune into any number of cable
channels and watch behind the scenes documentaries of various big screen
films, but no such recognition exists for TV shows unless you purchase
a DVD. The Academy might even consider creating an EMMY channel in which
past awards programs can air, as well as archival interviews with TV legends,
and "making of" documentaries for shows past and present. So
what if such presentations might help promote DVD sales for the studios
and networks, it's still the kind of synergy we need to start making the
Academy matter to the masses.
God's sake, we must stop honoring reality programs at the prime time EMMY
show. If we must recognize these trashy time fillers, then do it at a
separate ceremony instead of denigrating real creative television professionals
by honoring people who encourage contestants to eat worms and kill wild
The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is supposed to represent excellence
in the creative art of broadcasting, but that doesn't mean we can't expand
that mission to create more awareness and appreciation of our industry.
The Board of Governors has a golden opportunity to make sweeping changes,
but time is running out. If they are unwilling to think outside the box,
then we need a Board who will.
O'Brien joked that this year's EMMY telecast will be the last. Truth is,
if changes aren't made, then the time is coming when a single, three hour
ceremony won't be enough to sustain the Academy. And when that happens,
then the world's most powerful medium will have lost it's only conduit
for meaningful recognition.
Longworth is President of Longworth Productions,and author of TV
Creators: Conversations With America's Top Producers of Television Drama,
(volumes one and two). He is a thirty year veteran broadcaster
specializing in production of public affairs programming. Longworth is
a voting member of the ATAS for whom he produces and moderates special
events such as the recent "Women in Prime".