Crisis of the well-drawn laffs

Animated shows must choose between two categories

Animated laffers like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” find themselves caught in an Emmy Catch-22.

The debate: Are they animated shows first and foremost, or are they comedy series whose characters and settings happen to be animated?

That distinction makes a difference when it comes to Emmy nominations. The Academy of TV Arts & Sciences allows animated skeins to decide where to compete — but in choosing between the animated and comedy categories, someone’s going to get shafted.

Enter as an animated show, and its writers can’t compete for a statue against other comedy scribes. But place the shows in the comedy categories, and animators get short shrift.

“That’s the quandary,” says “American Dad” exec producer Mike Barker. “Especially with primetime animation, you feel you’re paying a lot of attention to story and craft, and the emphasis isn’t all on animation. At the same time, the things you do animationwise can be grand in scale.”

“Family Guy” exec producer David Goodman says it’s “frustrating” that their show can’t compete against live-action comedies like “The Office” or “My Name Is Earl.”

“We definitely considered (entering as a comedy), but if we go into the regular categories, our animators won’t win an Emmy,” he says. “In animation, it’s as important as the writing.”

Part of the problem stems from the apples-and-oranges way the Academy of TV Arts and Sciences treats animated skeins vs. their live-action comedy cousins.

In the live-action world, writers and directors get their own Emmy categories, where individual episodes are honored. In the “outstanding comedy series” category, at least six episodes are viewed and the show’s executive producers pick up the win if their show is deemed the best.

Animation, on the other hand, has been given what the TV Acad deems “hybrid eligibility.” For the “outstanding animated series” category, only one episode is submitted — and if a show wins, that episode’s writers and director, in addition to the exec producers, take home a statue.

TV Academy awards senior VP John Leverence notes that the rules were put in place before the modern explosion in primetime animation. Back then, everything from writing to animation was done by the same team.

Leverence explains: “When the category was set up, it was the opinion of the animation leadership that, unlike live-action series, in animation (writing, directing and producing) are such a collaboration that to subdivide them would do a disservice. This was set up prior to ‘The Simpsons’ or ‘King of the Hill,’ in which you have a new hybrid.”

Now that means writer-driven production teams on one side and animation houses on the other coming together in a new amalgam to produce shows. Those writers don’t hail from the animation world, having usually worked on live-action comedies before making the switch.

“It’s not like we suddenly take off our writing caps to do something different with animation,” Barker says. “We break our stories like we would any live-action show. It’s disappointing we can’t get recognized for that.”

Leverence admits that a change in how primetime animated shows are categorized may be long overdue.

“It raises the question as to whether or not the old way of doing this is appropriate,” he says.

But so far, the TV Academy’s awards committee hasn’t been approached about altering the rules, he adds.

That’s news to Goodman and Barker, both of whom say they thought the issue had been brought up to the TV Academy.

The solution could be simple: Split eligibility in two, allowing producers and directors (who include animators) to compete for the outstanding animation series award while allowing scribes to enter themselves in the comedy writing category.

“That definitely would be an advantage, for the various writers of various episodes to free themselves from the team cluster and get out there on their own,” Leverence says.

Goodman and Barker say they’d be interested in such a change as well.

“It’s got to be great to get a nomination against those (live-action) shows,” Goodman says. “We want to be considered a great comedy, not just a great cartoon.”

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