It’s that time of year again, when people start talking about television awards and nominations. Well, actually, that’s misleading — these days, you could throw a dart at a calendar and hit an awards show.
But this is different. These are the Emmys. And despite the proliferation of trophies, plaques and statuettes being dished out, none comes close to the Emmys in terms of prestige, both with the public and the industry.
“Most award shows tend to run together; it’s difficult to differentiate,” says Dave Hamilton, supervising producer for “The Awful Truth With Michael Moore.” “Only the Emmy has that cachet. Winning an Emmy bestows a certain credibility.”
“Absolutely, the Emmy is the one,” says Steven Bochco, whose shows have won countless awards of every stripe. “It is an industry validation. It is the only one that is a peer-group award, and when you get that recognition it is significant.”
Although some observers have tried to pinpoint trends to help predict Emmy patterns, in the way that the Golden Globes and others serve as semireliable Oscar forecasters, it doesn’t appear that the Golden Globe, the People’s Choice, Screen Actors Guild or Television Critics Assn. awards offer reliable Emmy predictions.
Sure, “Mad About You’s” Helen Hunt and Gillian Anderson of “The X-Files” won Globes before Emmys, but the steppingstone works in both directions, since the Globes only paid heed to “The Practice” after it won the drama Emmy.
“Everybody Loves Raymond” star Ray Romano says it is only common sense that if a popular actor or show is nominated for a Golden Globe or a SAG award, it also might be recognized by the Emmys — after all, they’re all supposed to be recognizing quality.
This year, the WB will be pinning its hopes on “Felicity” sliding into a nomination after star Keri Russell nabbed an actress win at the Golden Globes; the series was nominated in the drama category. However, executive producer Matt Reeves says, although the win helped establish the show as a player, working the Emmys is a whole new ballgame.
“It’s an entirely different group of people, but at least they are aware that Keri did win the award,” Reeves says. “I think the biggest change in the way people perceive our show is that the audiences and the voters know that it’s OK to watch our show, because it’s a quality program.”
Meryl Marshall, chairman of the board and CEO of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, says, “Winning a Golden Globe is not at all a prediction of (an Emmy) win, but it can help move a show out of the flood of product toward getting a nomination.”
But even if a candidate makes the cut as a nominee, the selection process remains a rough road to navigate. After being slimmed to a pool of five, the five nominees are seen by all the voters in a manner that minimizes the impact of outside influences, Marshall says.
Golden Globe Awards, which are handed out in January, can help a struggling show with an immediate ratings boost, possibly leading to renewal. Although the Emmy nominations are announced in the summer, after the networks have released their new skeds, they still can give a young series a boost with a win or even a nomination.
Perhaps the most famous example of an Emmy assist is Bochco’s heralded “Hill Street Blues.”
“We had awful ratings our rookie year,” he recalls. “Virtually no one knew who we were.” But then came the Emmys and “we won eight of the damn things. It had an extraordinary impact on our visibility. The awards and the subsequent press attention put us on the map.”
For Bravo’s “The Awful Truth,” an Emmy nomination or award wouldn’t bring as much attention — the nonfiction series award isn’t even part of the Emmycast — but “it certainly helps any series, especially a smaller operation like ours,” Hamilton says.
Snaring an award also can alter an individual’s career, Bochco says. “Someone we were working with won an Emmy, and the next thing we knew he came in with all sorts of contract demands made in the name of having won the Emmy.”
But Romano says that while winning an Emmy would still be an honor, “TV is in such a weird state — there are so many shows, so many channels and even so many awards,” that the award means less than it used to in terms of career advancement.
Still, Hamilton says, “If you’re looking for work, an Emmy says something about the level of work you’re doing. It may get you that second glance.”
And while the Emmys have critics — too many awards, conflicts over whether to include cable channels — the very nature of the pretenders to the throne ensure that none will ever truly challenge the Emmy.
The Golden Globe Awards are the most obvious challenger — after “Ally McBeal” won, the next episode jumped 41% in the ratings, a not uncommon occurrence of late.
Once publicly ridiculed, the Globes event is now not only considered an indicator and possibly a factor in the Oscar race, the show itself is second only to the Academy Awards in awardscast ratings and ad revenue.
However, for all its popularity with the public — which is helped by its combined presence of movie and TV stars –attacks on the integrity of the awards continue within the industry, where it is considered more a marketing phenomenon than a true honor.
“The Golden Globes is a big celebrity-filled event where every flack and mogul wants their player front and center,” Hamilton says.
Globes choices often are controversial — Bochco points out that virtually all the drama winners of the last five years have been Fox shows. The drama awards tend to go to trendy young shows such as “Party of Five,” while more mature series such as “Law & Order” are overlooked.
“I like the fact that the Golden Globes recognize innovative ideas, but it may not actually recognize the best show,” says ATAS’ Marshall.
Helmut Voss, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., whose 90 journalists award the Globes, acknowledges, “None of us are professional television critics. And I’m the first to admit that the volume of programming we can see does not compare to what Emmy voters watch. We’re doing the best we can under these constraints.”
“But there are always rumors about the voting process,” says Bob Curtright, president of the Television Critics Assn. According to some reports, only half the 90 HFPA members return their ballots.
And while Voss is proud of the Globes’ “party atmosphere,” Curtright says there is a sense that the HFPA sometimes prefers to give awards to someone who will come to their party and rub shoulders.
Romano, at the behest of his show’s publicists, wined and dined HFPA members on the “Raymond” set.
“They said, ‘That’s the way it’s done,’ ” says Romano, who did not get a nomination. “Well, I’m not doing it again.”
By contrast, SAG and TV Critics awards are virtually unknown to viewing audiences, although SAG has been growing after striking a deal to reach a national TV audience.
Curtright observes, “The audience doesn’t know the Television Critics Assn.” This isn’t surprising since the org doesn’t announce its nominees or televise its awards ceremony.
But while these two can’t compare to the Emmys in terms of public recognition, the SAG is another peer-validation award for actors and the critics’ award has an integrity some of the other awards lack.
TCA has given its drama trophy to ratings-challenged shows such as “EZ Streets,” and this focus on quality has garnered the honor influence in the industry.
Curtright says a TCA award, which he says has helped prolong shows like “Frank’s Place,” can make a difference because the network knows it will get public support for the show from the media around the country.
Also in contrast to the Emmys, SAG has introduced a new category, ensemble. And while Bochco knows it is unlikely that the Emmys would add yet another division, he thinks SAG is onto something.
“I would love to see an ensemble category in the Emmys. There are gifted actors who never get individual opportunity to shine,” he says.
While the Emmy remains the preeminent show, it is always open to changes, both on the awards side and in terms of the telecast.
“We certainly look at other programs,” Marshall says. “We are working closely with Fox on this year’s show. But it’s a little early to start talking about specifics.”