While the Emmys often like to acknowledge the hip, hot and ratings-happy, this year the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has said thank you to several shows and individuals who have been canceled or have announced they’re heading for other pastures.
Perennial Emmy contenders and winners on the order of Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser from “Mad About You,” which went off the NBC airwaves this spring, received noms in the lead actress and actor categories for a comedy series. ABC’s 1990s institution “Home Improvement,” which also has left the airwaves, garnered four noms.
In addition, Jimmy Smits and Christine Lahti left their continuing drama series this past season — “NYPD Blue” and “Chicago Hope,” respectively — but found favor with the Academy, receiving noms as lead actor and actress in a drama series.
“Having won an Emmy last year (for ‘Chicago Hope’), I feel pretty satisfied,” Lahti says. “But the nominations have always meant a shot in the arm to me and the rest of the cast and the crew. It renews your enthusiasm.
“You can fall into a routine and the Emmys come along to pat you on the back, to keep you trying to stretch and do good work,” she says.
“Obviously, all of us are thrilled that Jimmy got the nomination and would be thrilled if he won,” says Steven Bochco — whose namesake company produces “NYPD Blue” for ABC. “His work on the show was Emmy-caliber, not only the work he did at the beginning of this season but throughout his time on the show. Everybody who worked on the show takes personal and professional satisfaction at this.”
In one of the more unusual sidebars in Emmy history, one director is nominated for a two-part drama that played on different series. Ed Sherin directed the crime saga “Sideshow,” which began on “Law & Order” and culminated on NBC’s now-canceled “Homicide: Life on the Street.”
“I’m happy and overjoyed,” Sherin says. “I’m glad that the Academy voted on quality instead of ratings or what could have been conceived as what should have been boosted. It’s great that the Academy viewed it for its impact as drama.
“It was about governmental excess, and we took the special council role over the coals — appropriately, I might add.
“In my opinion, the most talented actors and the most exciting shows are usually overlooked,” he continues. “It was my time apparently that the spin of the wheel … of fortune got me a nomination. I’m just glad it was me.”
Noms for long-gone shows and individuals are a by-product of the networks’ programming roulette, which seemingly has become institutionalized on the noncable airwaves.
“In general, the management of the networks have lost the ability to nurture programming,” says Thomas A. Walsh, a production designer up for an Emmy for CBS’ short-lived “Buddy Faro.” “It’s a casino. They’re all quick to drop a show because of ratings. They don’t stop to think that a lot of these shows go through birthing pains and are meant to be on a creative curve that they need to go through. There’s no guts, for want of a better word, to make the magic happen. It’s a waste.
“There’s no one villain, either. It’s just that management is so young right now,” Walsh says. “They don’t have the experience behind them. And because of that they don’t trust their own judgment.”
Lahti feels she completed her creative curve with the character of Kate Austin on “Hope.”
“I’m still shocked that I stayed with anything for four years,” says Lahti, who is gathering funding to direct an independent feature called “My First Mister.” “But the character was so complex and multidimensional and the writing so good that I got to explore all of her layers. When you become safe with the character, the challenge is gone.”
Bochco, who has fought more crime on TV than anyone except Jack Webb, feels the same way after great success with “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law” and “NYPD Blue.”
” ‘Hill Street’ kind of ran out of gas, and they fired me after five years,” Bochco says. “My guess is that when it went off the air, that was the right time for the show to finish. In years six and seven of ‘L.A. Law,’ it was tough sledding.
“By then the audience had gotten bored,” he says. “We’re in the seventh year of ‘NYPD Blue’ and the ratings are down a bit, but we feel that’s a function of having no lead-in series to grab the audience. But … winning the Emmy is a signal to the audience that this still is a valid show.”