Categorical denial

ATAS says ensemble award is tough to justify

In January, the Screen Actors Guild handed its ensemble awards to “CSI” and “Desperate Housewives” — two shows that share the same philosophy when it comes to their respective casts: teamwork.

It’s a “more is more” philosophy that dominated several skeins this season including but not limited to “Lost,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Arrested Development,” “Deadwood” and “Entourage.” All of which beg the question: Should the TV Academy follow SAG’s lead and hand out an ensemble kudo?

Some critics say yes, as do more than a few actors. But no such proposal has ever made its way before the Acad’s awards committee or board of governors, and it’s unlikely that it ever will.

“It’s virtually an alien concept,” according to ATAS senior awards VP John Leverence, who says the award would introduce an unwelcome element of competition between ensemble and individual acting races.

As an example, Leverence references Teri Hatcher, who this year won the SAG kudo for actress in a comedy series and an ensemble trophy for “Desperate Housewives.” “So now Teri has to look at those two SAG awards on her mantle, and (think), ‘You know, the one I got by myself, I kind of think that’s the bigger one,’ ” he says, only half-joking. “Whether or not there is an explicit tiering, there is an implicit tiering, which would bring tears to our board.”

Besides, adds USA Today TV critic Robert Bianco, “The last thing the Emmys need is another category.”

Predictably, the actors feel differently.

Jason Bateman, who toplines Fox’s Emmy darling “Arrested Development,” might be in line to earn his first nomination for lead actor in a comedy series this year. That hasn’t stopped him from speaking out on his co-stars’ behalf.

“I’m a big fan of the ensemble award that SAG has. We were all really honored and excited to get that nomination last year,” he says. “The show really is a true ensemble in its concept and definition. If you don’t have an ensemble that functions well, the show’s concept would fail.”

Robin Weigert, who was nominated for a supporting actress Emmy last year for HBO’s “Deadwood,” also supports a group kudo.

“We’re in a business that puts a lot of emphasis on star-making,” Weigert says. The “Deadwood” cast, by contrast, is characterized by “lack of selfishness and generosity of spirit. … Every single player, even someone who ends up with two to three lines in every other episode, makes a major contribution.”

It’s interesting to speculate what Emmy history would have looked like had there always been an ensemble honor. Given the Academy’s tastes, it’s likely that some of the most Emmy-showered casts in recent years — think “Cheers,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The West Wing” and “The Sopranos” — simply would have repeated their victories in the ensemble races.

That’s another reason, says Bianco, why the award is a bad idea. “If the ensemble is strong enough, members of the ensemble will get Emmy nominations,” he says. “You look at ‘Frasier,’ ‘Will & Grace,’ ‘NYPD Blue’ and ‘Hill Street Blues.’ The leaders with strong ensembles are generally recognized.”

But as “CSI’s” SAG win attests, an ensemble Emmy would present an opportunity to salute shows with less-showy lead roles. A prime example is ABC’s “Lost,” which centers around a large group of diverse castaways played by relatively unknown actors. Despite the show’s rookie status, its success with viewers and critics mark it as an Emmy contender.

Josh Holloway, who portrays “Lost” heartthrob Sawyer, is all in favor of an ensemble prize. “All of them really stepped up this year. … Matt (Fox), Emilie (de Ravin) and Terry (O’Quinn),” he says. “We all really care about our work. We’re not phoning shit in.”

” ‘Lost’ has a fabulous ensemble,” Bianco says. “The individual actors are unlikely to be frontrunners for the individual Emmys. You solve that by giving the show the best series Emmy, and all the actors can justifiably feel that they’ve been rewarded for their fine work.”

According to Leverence, the Academy isn’t opposed to the idea of honoring group achievements in principle — it’s opposed to the discrepancies and invalidations that might occur as a result. For an ensemble Emmy to exist without any conflicts, the individual statuettes for lead and supporting acting would have to be eliminated entirely.

“It would be one in, one out,” he says. “Ensemble in, individual performances out — and there just isn’t that kind of culture around here.”

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