Emmys 2017: TV Academy’s Slate Rewards Buzz Over Critical Acclaim

House of Cards
Courtesy of House of Cards

The nominations follow buzz over critical acclaim, with mixed results

The reign of buzzy audience favorites is so pronounced in this year’s Emmy nominations that it’s almost a convincing imitation of the Golden Globes. With a few bright exceptions, the 2017 Emmy nods are a testament to the familiar, the chattered-about, and the already seen, at the expense of critical favorites. Of course, this is not new for the Television Academy, which has always tended to reward the known over what’s risky. But for an Academy that introduced five new shows into its drama category, risk-taking comes with a hefty side of audience satisfaction. The nominees are mostly Hollywood comfort food: A-list names, established brands, and the meme-worthy. Especially on the comedy side, this left several brilliant shows in the dust.

Consider the drama race as a litmus test: The category had more submissions than ever — 180 series, for just seven or so slots. So as encouraging as it is for the Academy to be taking chances on genre shows, including the brilliant debut nominee “The Handmaid’s Tale” and nostalgic Netflix series “Stranger Things,” the Academy also settled for the familiar in “House of Cards,” Netflix’s long-running bleak take of Washington politics — which just delivered a pretty lackluster fifth season. Edged out in its place were far more worthies like last year’s first-time nominee “The Americans,” cult gem “Penny Dreadful,” and one of the most critically acclaimed shows of the year, “The Leftovers.” 

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It’s not exactly bad that the Emmys is rewarding audience engagement, whether that’s through Netflix’s successful dramas (including debut “The Crown”) or “This Is Us”’ ratings success. The TV business needs those big breakout successes, and “This Is Us” and “Stranger Things” in particular are shows that exceeded expectations to net a broad audience. But in this era of more television than ever, the Academy could and arguably should be focusing more on highlighting those shows that do extraordinary work, instead of rewarding where the audience already is.

If it’s a noticeable handicap in drama, it’s maddening in comedy, where only one new show broke into the category. “Atlanta” is a worthy show that deserves all the recognition the Academy has to give it. But otherwise the slate feels a little blind to how many new comedies surprised us this year, and how familiar favorites have fallen off. “Modern Family,” bless it, has been awarded enough for two lifetimes. But Academy voters clung to it over critically lauded “Catastrophe,” “Insecure,” “Fleabag,” “The Good Place,” “One Day at a Time,” and “BoJack Horseman,” which was also snubbed in the animated programming categories. Even the final season of “Girls” was overlooked. It’s disappointing to see all of them overlooked, all the way through to performances; Rita Moreno, from “One Day at a Time,” should have been a shoo-in.

For Emmy observers, it’s an especially odd state of affairs given that just last year, “The Americans” broke through the pack to get Academy attention; ditto “Transparent” two years ago. We’re witnessing the effect of a deluge of television — more than 450 scripted series, as we know all too well — on a voting body that may well reflect the struggle that most audiences are facing.

But it seems as if when the viewing public needs the Emmys’ discernment more than ever, the Academy is opting to favor those that do not need the extra cachet of an award to get recognized. It would do the Television Academy well to remember that Emmys don’t have to chase glory — just like the Oscars, the Emmys can grant glory, too. But in order to do that, the Academy will need to widen its lens just a bit more, to see what gems are languishing outside the spotlight.

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  1. Ilan says:

    It is certainly awful that the TV Academy chose to reward shows that the audience actually likes. What a terrible outcome, and especially for a mass-audience medium such as television. Better that we ignore the ‘little people’ and listen only to critics. Since after all, no artist ever sits down to write or steps onto a stage with the goal of entertaining an audience.

  2. Michael Anthony says:

    Or maybe the noms reflect current attitude and feeling. Almost every show you laud and complain about being overlooked, costs more to watch. And their ratings ain’t setting no house on fire.

    Why is it a bad thing when shows that people actually like and watch get nominated, but those that critics and a few people love, don’t? Its not.

  3. Brandon says:

    Another elitist sounding critic. Eventually, churches broke away from Rome and eventually, empires fall. This column represents what all snooty critics are saying today: What about this show that NO ONE saw but was sooooo good. Let’s hold an awards show for a genre called TV and celebrate shows that no one sees and no one probably even streams excepts a few mothers of the actors. What other Americans–all of us true TV folk who (you know) watch television every night live… Like most people…said today: “Where was Empire? I loved that writing in How to Get Away with Murder” and “So glad Modern Family was nominated but where is Fresh Off the Boat.” THEY want the Academy to say “the only reason the guy who plays Rumplestiltskin on Once Upon A Time never got nominated for an Emmy is he’s not on Game of Thrones. Acting-wise, he steals every scene and can out act the game of thrones cast But god forbid critics say that because the show is on ABC and not HBO. You see, The schism is too great now to be resolved. We need a non-streaming Emmys for people who watch TV and love the genre and a critic Emmys that no one will watch where they can wax poetic about shows no one away from the coasts could even find let alone want to watch. The Critics have “The Critics Choice Awards” and “The Broadcast Critics Awards” yet continue to whine about how the Emmys nominate things. Amazing. But please spare us the Emmys are supposed to reward unwatched show elitist junk argument, Variety. They are not. Under that hypothesis none of the shows we cheer on during all the nostalgic clips during the Emmys would even have been recognized with Emmys in the past. TV is for the masses, not the elitists.

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