Longform thesps get too much of a squeeze

Maggie Smith Kate W

The TV Academy’s news that lead and supporting actors in miniseries and movies will compete against each other — as will lead and supporting actresses in longform — in one category apiece at the Primetime Emmys beginning in 2013 is at once shocking and completely unsurprising. But most of all, it seems regrettable.

The rationale for the change is clear. By creating more awards to accomodate the expansion and diversification of unscripted programming, the Emmys were becoming bigger than ever. And at a certain point, it’s fair to wonder how much is too much.

“There’s always the concern that awards inflations will degrade the currency and the value of the Emmy,” Academy awards guru John Leverence said in an interview today. “The Academy is ever vigilant in terms of proliferation. It wasn’t something that came out of the blue.”

Deciding where to set the limit is a gray area, but count me on the other side of the Academy on this one.

While minis and movies aren’t the presence they used to be in primetime TV, they’ve hardly disappeared — and they frequently offer the most memorable programming of the year. Is it really going to devalue the Emmys to continue to recognize four longform performers instead of two? I don’t suspect Kate Winslet cherishes her 2011 “Mildred Pierce” lead miniseries actress Emmy any less because Maggie Smith won the corresponding supporting Emmy for “Downton Abbey.”

RosarioIt’s going to be hard enough to choose between such performers as Romola Garai of BBC America miniseries entry “The Hour” and Julianne Moore of HBO film “Game Change” this year in their lead actress race.  Now imagine you had to throw in Jessica Lange of “American Horror Story” or any number of supporting actresses from Lifetime’s “Five,” as would be the case if the 2013 rules were in place this year.

A separate issue is the Emmy telecast itself. By eliminating two awards, the kudocast can either shrink in size, shift two other awards from the Creative Arts ceremony in their place, or bet that audiences will find more non-awards material more appealing. It’s certainly possible that the Emmys will emerge with a more satisfying broadcast, though I’d say that’s debatable. Either way, the broadcast lasts only one night, but the legacy of winning an award lasts a lifetime, and that’s the guiding principle in my eyes.

No one’s arguing that there isn’t such a thing as awards overload, and some might argue that consolidation in the longform acting Emmys is coming too slow, not too fast. I get it — I’m just not on board with it. The quality and quantity of the work is still too strong to get this kind of squeeze.

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