Awards shows are all about peer acknowledgment, but there are plenty of shows for which no amount of critical acclaim or popularity seems able to earn a spot at the podium on Emmy night.
Whether it’s the popular but much-maligned sci-fi genre, the weblet-style dramedies popular with women and teens, or foulmouthed cowboys, Emmy voters still seem to prefer standard cops, docs, lawyers and sitcoms.
Sci-fi may be the most ignored genre. Though it’s been hugely popular for decades, even the most acclaimed skeins have had to go above and beyond to earn any attention outside the crafts categories.
“Sci-fi movies and novels have always been considered second-class material,” says Ronald D. Moore, exec producer of “Battlestar Galactica.” “You start with the premise that it’s science fiction, it’s called ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and it’s on Sci Fi Channel. It has a lot of obstacles to overcome before anyone’s even seen the show.”
Support for the series has been building, with critics increasingly taking notice of the show’s dramatic heft. Sci Fi is serious about its Emmy campaign, though it’s interesting that the promotional DVD booklet the cabler sent out goes through 14 pages of critics’ quotes before the show’s title appears.
Even the most beloved entries in the genre — from “Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek” to “The X-Files” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — have struggled for Emmy recognition. The genre’s track record has improved, Moore says, since his days on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” which received a drama series nom in its final year.
Shows that couch sci-fi elements in other genres, such as “The X-Files,” do better, which may help explain last year’s best drama series Emmy going to “Lost.”
Comedy contenders may seem to suffer in terms of prestige when compared with dramatic shows. “Desperate Housewives” could have gone into the dramatic categories, and more than a few cynics said it chose the comedy category because the competition was less fierce.
But that category-changing gambit doesn’t always pay off. “Gilmore Girls” has been entered in both comedy and drama — and neither have resulted in a nomination.
Co-star Lauren Graham thinks “Gilmore” has a more dramatic feel and that, even though it hasn’t had much luck with Emmys, feels that putting it into a comedy category is disingenuous and not where the series belongs.
“When someone makes you laugh, it doesn’t make you feel like when an actor makes you cry,” Graham says.
That the show airs on the WB network — soon to become the CW — also seems to tinge voters’ perceptions about content as well as quality. Geared toward the 18-34 crowd, the WB never had a show nominated for drama or comedy.
Procedurals also may suffer from Emmy stereotypes. Though there have been plenty of noms, the only procedural ever to win a best drama is “Law & Order” … and that was 14 years ago.
Procedurals also have seen an Emmy backlash against their actors. Of the three “CSI” skeins — all of which are ratings winners — only Marg Helgenberger of the mothership show has ever been nominated.
“Take a look at our lead, Billy Peterson. Here’s a guy who’s created a unique and interesting character on TV and he’s done a lot of it in silence,” says “CSI” exec producer Naren Shankar. “It’s so much easier when somebody is crying or screaming or dying to look at them and say, ‘What a great performance.’ ”
Other stereotypes seem to at least limit the chances of some shows. HBO’s “Deadwood” had an explosive debut and was one of the most critically acclaimed bows in that vaunted network’s history. While HBO has certainly had more than its share of Emmy noms and can in no way complain about how its shows are treated by voters, “Deadwood” has been shut out in the acting categories. Two actors were nominated but lost in the first season, and Ian McShane, a Golden Globe winner, was denied the Emmy in season two.
“Clearly, for whatever combination of reasons, it seems to me that some factor other than the quality of the material enters into whatever decisionmaking process the voters use,” says creator David Milch.
One theory is that both the Western genre and harsh language of “Deadwood,” which is not Emmy eligible this season, might make voters a bit uncomfortable and the show unrelatable. But Milch disagrees: “Nah, I don’t think that’s got anything to do with it.”
If language were a factor, “The Sopranos” would be hurting for Emmy cred, but Edie Falco and James Gandolfini have already won three times each.