Emmy-winning yuks don’t always translate into big bucks, but that doesn’t mean statuettes are meaningless for the folks who churn out small-screen sitcoms.
To be sure, TV’s highest honor can’t touch Oscar or Grammy in terms of direct impact on the bottom line. Winning a best picture Academy Award almost always adds to a pic’s B.O. (if still in release), while simply performing on a Grammycast usually means a bump in record sales.
But “Yes, Dear” co-creator Alan Kirschenbaum, who hasn’t been nommed yet for an Emmy, believes comedy scribes in particular long for the respect and recognition that comes with being honored by one’s peers. It’s almost like therapy — with a gift bag.
“We’re insecure people to begin with. That’s why we work in comedy,” he says. “Certainly, anything that makes us feel more secure — like a lovely gold statuette for our mantel — is important.”
Ego boost aside, Emmy noms and wins can impact a laffer in numerous positive ways. One oft-cited example is the case of “Cheers.”
Now firmly established in the tube pantheon as one of the all-time classics, the little laffer about the denizens of a Beantown bar was barely a blip on the aud radar after its first season (1982-83). NBC nearly killed the show, but ultimately phoned in a reprieve.
Peacock’s patience paid off. In its first at bat in 1983, “Cheers” walked away with the comedy Emmy, while Shelley Long snagged a statuette for actress and James Burrows won for directing.
” ‘Cheers’ was iffy after that first year, and winning the Emmy lent a certain creditability to it,” Burrows says. “Suddenly, everyone has more faith in a show (after winning an Emmy). The network and studio think, ‘Wow, maybe the show is good. Somebody else likes the show, too.'”
Burrows says he’s not sure the actual Emmy win has any real ramifications for the people who watch the show. But he agrees with former NBC Entertainment prexy Warren Littlefield, who believes an Emmy win provides an invaluable promo boost.
“It gives the show a patina,” Burrows says. “It allows on-air bragging rights. You can stick that statuette up on the air in a promo and tell the world, ‘This is the best comedy on the air.’
“In a world where you’re trying harder than ever to get your message out, it’s a great way to break through the clutter.”
The same goes for writers associated with an Emmy-winning series. Even though he hasn’t won one himself, prolific showrunner-creator Bruce Helford takes notice of wins when talking to writers about coming onboard one of his skeins.
“I don’t think I’ve paid an Emmy winner more, but when those guys come in, they’re held in higher esteem,” he says.
Of course, Emmy wins don’t guarantee complete respect, or even job security. Larry Wilmore won a writing Emmy (not to mention a Peabody), but was dumped as exec producer of “The Bernie Mac Show” — which he created.
On the flip side, Tim Allen never won an Emmy during his entire run on ABC’s “Home Improvement,” one of the most popular sitcoms of the 1990s. It didn’t stop Allen from reaping tens of millions of dollars.
Ditto Helford, who’s written or created huge comedy hits like “Roseanne” and “The Drew Carey Show.” He’s now exec producing young laffers “The George Lopez Show” and “Wanda at Large.”
Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ love, however, has eluded the scribe — perhaps because he tends to write shows about people living somewhere between New York and Los Angeles.
“There’s a bit of a bias against blue-collar shows,” Helford says. “People tend to attach themselves to what looks cool.”
Still he adds, “I’d love to win an Emmy.”
Despite the slew of Emmys to his credit, Burrows notes that voters and critics don’t always get it right.
“The guy who directed ‘Three’s Company’ did a heck of a job,” he says of the critically reviled but hugely popular 1970s sitcom. “He might not have won an Emmy, but he sure as hell got the best out of those actors.”
For many in Hollywood, Emmy’s impact on the financial bottom line or its ability to help a younger show find an audience takes a back seat to something more enigmatic: the glow associated with being a winner.
Some solid shows can go on for years without getting a tip of the hat from ATAS. Producers like “Yes, Dear’s” Kirschenbaum are happy about their skeins’ successes — but winning an Emmy would be icing on the cake.
“It’s a very emotional thing,” says Mara Brock Akil, whose “Girlfriends” is a success for netlet UPN. “I really feel I have a great show, and we all know that shows usually hit in your second and third (seasons) if you’re going to get any attention at all (from) awards shows. I would hate to see this show never get acknowledged.”
By contrast, “Yes, Dear” has attracted an amazing amount of critical disdain despite its huge popularity on the Eye’s Monday night laffer lineup.
“But this year, we feel confident to say we feel we have one of the best comedies on TV,” he says. “We’re proud of it. Will we likely win a boatload of Emmy nominations? No, but we’re going to act like we deserve it, because we think we do.”
Kirschenbaum isn’t complaining, though. He’s got a hit sitcom that’s going to make it into syndication, not to mention a steady gig that pays well.
And in Hollywood, money and employment security always trump respect.
“If you gave most people in this town a choice between high ratings and Emmys, they’d take the ratings,” he says. “Having the ratings means you’re going to be employed next year.”
(Alan Sepinwall contributed to this report.)