Having a solid pedigree in Emmyville carries the same merits as having famous parents in the real world. It will definitely open a lot of doors along the way, but once you’re in, you’d better have some impressive tricks up your sleeves to grab the brass ring.
“Emmy voters are human after all,” says Tom O’Neil, author of “The Emmys.” “They have their favorites. Invariably, whatever work a David E. Kelley or a Stephen Bochco does will be given more serious consideration than a show from lesser-known producers. This may sound unfair, but their work has been consistently deserving regardless of ratings.”
Producer Joshua Brand, who has a good track record with critically acclaimed dramas such as “St. Elsewhere,” “Northern Exposure” and “I’ll Fly Away” agrees. “When people are familiar with your previous work, it really can’t hurt,” he says. “Once you’ve won the Emmy, voters are more willing to give you a benefit of a doubt. I’ve never experienced any sort of backlash. I guess I’ve been lucky that way.”
One producer who says the cards are stacked against his shows is Aaron Spelling. “The Emmy voters look down on nighttime soaps,” notes the veteran producer. “We have a lot of actors who do a great job in our series, but they never get acknowledged.”
Spelling also mentions that come awards nomination time, people forget that his company has been behind such diverse products as “Day One” “And the Band Played On” and “Seventh Heaven.” “We’re doing this wonderful family show called ‘Seventh Heaven’ and people probably won’t give it a chance because it’s on the WB network. At any rate, when I die, my obituary is not going to mention any of the other shows I’ve done. It’s going to say that I produced ‘Love Boat’ and ‘Charlie’s Angels,’ and that I was Tori Spelling’s father!”
A good pedigree, however, doesn’t always guarantee an Emmy nod. Bochco’s “Cop Rock,” Joshua Brand and John Falsey’s “Going to Extremes” and Diane English’s “Love and War” are definite proofs that you can glide on a good name for only so long.
“A solid background can definitely get you a pilot and on a network’s fall schedule, but getting nominated for an Emmy is another thing,” says Max Robins, senior editor at TV Guide. “More than anything else, critical accolade for shows such as “Homicide” and “Picket Fences” can help create a buzz around a series, even if the show doesn’t attract big ratings.”
Healthy reviews have certainly helped Rebecca Eaton, executive producer for the much-praised PBS drama showcases “Mobil Masterpiece Theatre” and “Mystery!” “A history of excellence never hurts,” claims Eaton. “What we have to go against is the fact that British drama is slightly outside the Hollywood arena.”
Eaton also notes that Hollywood companies spend a lot of money lobbying for their shows and actors, while the always cash-hungry public TV has few dollars to spare and ends up submitting their absolute favorites. She says, “This year, we hope to repeat Helen Mirren’s win for ‘Prime Suspect’ and are also entering the highly watched ‘Moll Flanders’ (starring Alex Kingston) and ‘Broken Glass’ (with Mandy Patinkin and Elizabeth McGovern).”
Observers have noticed certain signs of change in the past couple of years. The nominations received by quirky, left-of-center shows such as “Third Rock from the Sun” and “The X Files” indicates a change in the voting patterns of the Academy members. “They are certainly more open to offbeat series these days,” opines Thomas O’Neil. “However, they still have their prejudices. One of the greatest sitcoms of the past decade, ‘The Simpsons’ wasn’t taken seriously until the last couple of years because it was animated. Heavyweights like Roseanne and Tim Allen were also initially snubbed by the Academy, and the Emmy has never been given to the Jackie Gleason and Angela Lansbury either.”
O’Neil also points out to another Achille’s heel of the TV Academy members. “They fall into a repeat voting patterns. ‘Picket Fences’ kept winning in the drama category year after year . If ‘Frasier’ wins best comedy this year, it will be the 4th year in a row for the show. It will be a real shame if relatively new comedies like “News Radio” and “The Drew Carey Show” get snubbed because they’re new players in the field, regardless of who produced them.”
Basically, the conventional wisdom for bagging an Emmy nomination boils down to this. If your last name is Bochco or Kelley, and you enter the game with a solid, critically acclaimed drama, a nomination is pretty much guaranteed. If you’re a lesser known producer, and still manage to produce a gem of a show for the networks, make sure there’s enough buzz in the air about your handiwork. Of course, if you end up without an Emmy on your mantelpiece, you’re still in good company: Susan Lucci feels your pain.