Academy dumps old series to boost new ones

Emmy voters have suddenly decided it’s fun to play the field.

Not long ago, TV’s kudo club seemed to operate like the Mob, at least when it came to the drama and comedy categories. Once you were in, it seemed, you were in for life — or at least until you were canceled.

The last two years have proven that’s no longer the case.

In 2005, ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” burst onto the scene as instant commercial and critical successes, snagging noms for comedy and drama, respectively. “Lost” even took home the best drama statuette.

A year later, both shows were missing from the best show categories. Emmy voters repeated the snub this year.

Likewise, “Scrubs” broke through in 2005, finally landing a nom for best comedy that many crix thought was long overdue. But despite continued buzz, the show’s been AWOL from Emmy’s best-of list ever since. HBO’s “Deadwood” also turned out to be an Emmy one-night stand.

Emmy’s new-found fickleness has an upside: More new blood has been allowed to flow into the best show categories, quieting crix who had rightly moaned that the Academy wasn’t keeping current. What’s bad for “Lost” and “Housewives” has been good for “Two and a Half Men,” “Entourage,” “30 Rock,” “Ugly Betty,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Heroes.”

“Over the years it seemed as if it was always the same shows that got nominated,” “Ugly Betty” exec producer Silvio Horta said the day this year’s noms were announced. “It’s good to see there are new shows that are breaking through.”

Horta’s hunch about recent noms is dead on, according to TV Academy senior VP for awards John Leverence.

During the eight years between 2000 and 2007, there were 40 nominations each in the best comedy and drama categories (five each year). But largely because voters repeated their choices from previous years for most of that period, only four new shows broke into the drama category from 2001 to 2004.

In each of the past three years, however, there have been two newcomers to the drama noms: “Lost” and “Deadwood” (2005), “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House” (2006) and “Boston Legal” and “Heroes” (2007).

Similarly, on the comedy side, three shows — “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Sex and the City” and “Will & Grace” — were nominated every single year from 2000 through 2004. “Raymond” and “Will & Grace” were nommed again in 2005, with “Sex” missing only because it had wrapped its run the year before.

None of the current comedy contenders received their first nomination until either this year or last year.

“In those eight years, two years (2006 and 2007) accounted for one-third of the (new) nominations,” Leverence says.

Leverence and other TV Academy honchos believe Emmy’s new-found flirtatiousness is no accident.

“About two years ago, we were constantly criticized (for the) sameness of the nominations — either we had the same winners, the same shows or the same stars,” Academy chairman Dick Askin admits. “It had been that way for 30 years. (So) we decided to see what we could do to shake up the process.”

Solution was to implement a system whereby blue-ribbon panels would screen episodes of shows. In years past, when a simple majority of the Academy voting body determined the noms, it was possible for shows to get by on reputation alone. Now, potential nominees had to make it past the panels.

“You’re no longer having the nominees determined by a general sense of how a show did over a year,” Leverence says. “Now (voting selection includes) a specific sense of what’s up there on the screen.”

In 2006, the blue-ribbon panels had the final say on noms. That system was deemed too elitist, so this year’s noms were determined by combining results of the panel voting with the votes of the general Academy.

Askin thinks the results have been positive.

“Nothing’s perfect. I’m not going to say that every nomination would be my personal choice,” he says. “But I do think we made remarkable strides.”

While the voting changes have made a big difference, other factors might be contributing to Emmy’s decision to dump shows more easily and sleep around with newcomers more quickly.

In the Internet era, it’s easier for shows to break through onto the pop culture landscape. A decade ago, “Heroes,” for example, might have had to go through a period of being a cult hit before going mainstream (think “The X-Files”). An army of bloggers — and mainstream media types desperately trying to remain current — allowed the show to explode on impact.

And yet, the same Net hype that can create a hit can just as easily destroy it. Geeks turned against ABC’s “Lost” when they felt they weren’t getting enough answers to the show’s mysteries (and then hooked up with the show again in May following its kick-ass finale).

“New shows come on the air now and generate a lot of heat and hype,” Horta says. “Maybe we’re getting into a place where a new show comes in every year and is the new darling.”

In other words, the cast and producers of “Betty,” “Heroes” and “30 Rock” might want to stay out very late this Emmy night. Odds are, Emmy’s already working on pickup lines for some of this year’s new fall shows (“Hey, ‘Pushing Daisies’– how you doin’?”).

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