If the ubiquitous Stanislavsky adage “Remember, there are no small parts, only small actors” holds true, then some acclaimed players in the biz are wondering why one particular Emmy is awarded at a smaller cable-broadcast-only show and not saved for the big primetime reveal.
“Across the board the performers have never been happy with it,” declares thesp Kathryn Joosten (“Desperate Housewives,” “The West Wing”) of the contractual network deal to honor the recipients of the guest star accolades at the low-key Creative Arts Emmys a week prior to the festooned Hollywood fiesta. “It’s an honor and always a delight to be awarded any award by your peers,” she humbly consents, “but, frankly, in terms of equality with other actors, a guest star Emmy gets you a doorstop.”
When Joosten first nabbed the Emmy for guest actress in a comedy series for her recurring role as Karen McCluskey on “Housewives,” (she took the category in both 2005 and 2008), the network didn’t even know it. While ABC sent gifts to Emmy-winning series regulars, series nonregulars got nada.
“The publicist that was there never bothered to tell anybody,” Joosten claims. (Later, show execs were properly notified.) “People from outside of L.A. don’t even bother to come to it. So a lot of people agree that it should be changed to the primetime.”
John Shaffner, chairman-CEO of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, stands a more practical ground.
“The document was created at the beginning of this eight-year wheel that set aside what particular awards would be given out,” he explains of the stipulated arrangement between the TV Academy and the broadcast networks that carry the Emmy program. “Both parties understood that the number of awards you can give out on air is, unfortunately, finite. With a limit of 27 to 28 on primetime broadcast, we have to put (some categories) over into the other program. We have a situation kind of like our state budget. We have to take care of many parties. In the end we all felt it was something that worked for us.”
Not so for Conrad Bachmann, veteran character actor (“Matlock,” “thirtysomething”) and senior governor of the Performers Peer Support Group for the TV Academy.
“I strongly feel that the guest star category should be on the primetime show,” he defiantly counters. “The guest star category of any series is a very important, integral part of the show. Otherwise, why would they invite guest stars on the show? I’ve had a lot of people ask me why it’s not on primetime.”
But as a recipient of several Emmys for his work in art direction, Shaffner remains pragmatic in his perspective.
“An Emmy is as good wherever you get it,” he pronounces. “To suggest otherwise is really demeaning to all parties. To attend the Creative Arts Awards is to enjoy a remarkable evening across the board.”
He further contends that the opportunity to appear on the primetime broadcast is largely self-promotional.
“I think it’s a personal issue as opposed to an intended issue,” he suggests of certain actors feeling slighted. “Perhaps it touches upon some area of insecurity. Obviously, some of these performers’ work is truly incredible. They certainly deserve the recognition when they receive their Emmy. I’ve met people that are delighted with their award. People that are feeling secure with themselves are happy to get their Emmy wherever they get it.”
Additionally, Shaffner points out that guest star award winners are invited and recognized as presenters at the primetime show.
“I was a presenter this year,” Joosten notes of the 2008 Emmys, “but they cut my bit. As I walked onstage to do a little shtick, I was told, ‘We cut your shtick. Just give your award.'”
Nevertheless, Joosten appreciates how difficult it is to work within the parameters of televised network time constraints and indulge all parties involved.
“You’ve got eighty-some categories, so even if you took one minute a piece to put them all on the same show, it’s just highly unrealistic,” she admits. “It’s not going to happen. We’ve wrestled with that at the Academy over and over again. How do we achieve both ends at the same time? It’s between a rock and a hard place. It’s something we struggle with all the time.”