Whoever said “good things come in threes” never tried winning a drama series Emmy.
Venerable “Law & Order,” which has taken home the gold only once (in 1997) for drama during its 17-year run, and ratings hit “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” which has been nominated three times in its seven-year history, are both well-acted, efficiently produced and suspense-filled. The past few years, however, these two programs can’t get arrested in the drama series category — and tripartite franchise runners Dick Wolf and Anthony E. Zuiker might have no one better to blame than themselves.
“Law & Order” and “CSI” lose crucial votes to their own respective spinoffs — “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “CSI: Miami” and “CSI: NY.” That has contributed to all six series going without an Emmy nomination since the original “CSI” nabbed its last in 2004.
A franchise like “Law & Order” or “CSI” having three versions “can result in making each of those shows seem less special, because they do all blur together,” according to TV Guide critic Matt Roush.
“I’m sure it’s a puzzlement to many as to why these shows don’t do better at the Emmys,” Roush continues. “There may be a sense that they seem ordinary because there are so many of them — even when they do extraordinary work.”
The spinoffs have accomplices when it comes to keeping their motherships off the ballot. Disdain for the procedural format in general might play a role (though “House,” which typically wraps up its medical crisis in an hour, managed to land a drama nom last year).
Another factor is that today’s network procedurals are up against grittier cable entries like “The Sopranos” (which won in 2004) that winners in the ’70s such as “Police Story” and “The Rockford Files” never had to compete against.
“How do you compare ‘CSI’ to ‘The Shield?'” Roush rhetorically asks.
Roush adds that Emmy voters often tend to go with shows that generate the most “watercooler buzz … the shows that made you cry.” The critic cites “Friday Night Lights” as an example of a show that’s captured viewers’ hearts (at least those who watch it). “I don’t know if procedurals really do that.”
In addition, says Eva La Rue, who joined “CSI: Miami” in its fourth season as Natalia Boa Vista: “When a show is in season five or six, (Emmy voters) aren’t necessarily paying attention to it anymore. (A voter) may think, ‘Oh, it’s been on for so long, I’m sure it’s the same work they’ve always been doing.”
One network/studio publicist, noting that DVDs of some eligible shows are sent to roughly 12,000 Emmy voters in the hopes its programs will be given consideration, says those efforts can be a gamble because TV Academy members are often creatures of habit.
“It’s not a reflection of quality” if a procedural isn’t nominated, Roush says. “They’re all really well produced.”
Since a network or a studio can’t get “L&O’s” Jack McCoy to argue on behalf of its procedurals for Emmy consideration, Roush theorizes decisionmakers might consider heavily marketing a single series.
“It would be hard to play favorites, but if you see something that stands out of the pack — like ‘CSI’s’ knockout ‘miniature serial killer’ storyline — you could emphasize that,” Roush says. “Those episodes were amazing.”