Pondering an Emmy youth movement

Younger performers easily lost in kudo shuffle

The Primetime Emmys have no shortage of awards categories, yet young performers might not be getting the recognition they deserve — or that the Emmys themselves could benefit from.

There’s nothing preventing young talent from receiving supporting or even lead noms for primetime dramas and comedies, but no existing category specifically guarantees such kudos. That may not have mattered so much in the past, but with young viewership a priority for nets and cablers, some would argue it’s time to consider modifying Emmy rules to acknowledge this increasingly powerful demographic.

Thesps once referred to as juveniles and ingenues are acknowledged by the Daytime Emmys, which hands out statuettes for best younger actor and actress. On primetime, actors seemingly worthy of such recognition include Mark Indelicato (Justin, the flamboyant nephew on ABC’s “Ugly Betty”), Rico Rodriguez (Manny, Ed O’Neill’s deadpan stepson on ABC’s “Modern Family”) and Keir Gilchrist (Toni Collette’s gay son on Showtime’s “United States of Tara”). Even quite a few cast members of “Glee” would qualify if the Daytime Emmys’ cutoff age of 25 were applied.

Some argue that the main reason not to add youth categories to the Emmys is the main reason not to add anything to the Emmys — the broadcast is too overstuffed as it is.

“It would be nice if younger performers were recognized for their fine work on a regular basis by the television academy,” says Maureen Ryan, television critic for the Chicago Tribune. “But I don’t think it justifies the creation of a new category — the Emmys already have too many categories.”

Time media and TV critic James Poniewozik echoes that view: “I would not argue for a juvenile Emmy category,” he says. “First, there may be plenty of things the Emmys need, but more categories does not top the list. Second, I’m not really sure there are sufficient candidates to argue for it.”

According to John Leverence, senior veep of awards for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which awards the Primetime Emmys, there is no serious discussion concerning the creation of categories for younger performers.

“With the longstanding tradition of lead, supporting and guest-performance awards,” Leverence says, “we feel we’ve got it covered when it comes to how an ensemble in a scripted drama or comedy plays out.”

And though the examples are few and far between, Leverence notes that the Primetime Emmys have long honored younger talent, including a 25-year-old Michael J. Fox for “Family Ties” in the mid-1980s and a 23-year-old Barbra Streisand for her variety program “My Name Is Barbra” in the mid-1960s. The youngest winner remains Roxana Zal, who was 14 when she won a supporting actress honor for limited series or special in 1984 for the TV movie “Something About Amelia.”

Still, the presence of young talent lifts Emmy broadcasts, says Brent Stanton, now in his fifth year helming the daytime kudocast.

“If you’re ever around the fan zone when the younger actors and actresses come along, you see that they really get a lot of attention,” he says. “And advertisers and promotion people are looking for the hot, young star. So I think it’s good for the show.”

Leverence concurs, up to a point. “I think there’s a distinction between how you structure your awards program and how you draw a mass audience,” he says. “But I certainly would agree that if you had the cast of ‘Gossip Girl’ and ’10 Things I Hate About You’ and ‘Lincoln Heights’ and ‘Glee,’ there’s no doubt that people like to be around those who look like them and whom they Twitter-follow. There are any number of opportunities to embellish the attractiveness of a primetime broadcast by having young people on the show.”

Whether what results is enough to draw young viewers to the Primetime Emmys broadcast is another matter.

“The key is not simply nominating younger actors, but recognizing deserving shows that young people watch,” says Poniewozik. “Once you tamper with your nominations for the sake of demographics, your authenticity is compromised. And I’m told the kids today are all about authenticity.”

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