Watch til you drop

Voters play catch up to offer fair assessment

For Emmy voters, it’s that time of year again.

Time frantically to program the TiVo and struggle with the deluge of “For Your Consideration” tapes. With the announcement of the final nominees only two months away, the countdown to catching up has begun.

“It’s always a mixed joy when those crates of tapes begin arriving,” says Eric Horsted, an Emmy winner last year as co-exec producer on the animated series “Futurama.” “I was excited because I got two boxes from Amazon and then I noticed they were tapes from Showtime and HBO and I was sort of filled with dread.

“I actually just got rid of this whole one wall, an accumulation of three years of Emmy tapes,” he admits. “I just cleared them out and gave them to a friend of mine to sell at a garage sale. And now they’re arriving again.”

Emmy voting has had to change with the times. Prior to 2000, select Academy of Television Arts & Sciences members formed a so-called blue ribbon panel and would gather at an L.A. hotel over a weekend in August to make the final choices after the first go-round of nominations had been decided by Emmy voters at large.

These selected members sat together in a room and viewed videotapes of the five nominees in each category, thereby ensuring that votes were based on firsthand knowledge of the contenders rather than just a popularity contest.

But with shows prepping for a new season and people either finishing summer feature film work or coming back from last-minute vacations, only roughly 10% of the 12,000-plus members had the inclination or time to hunker down and watch all the submitted tapes. The voting process is often further complicated by some Emmy voters also being nominees.

“For the first go-around of nominating, there’s no restrictions,” says a network executive and Emmy voter who wishes to remain anonymous due to conflict of interest. “You’re looking at a ballot that has 40 different dramas and 35 different comedies. And you have to narrow it down to five.

“People are inevitably going to pick the ones they know most about or the ones that have the most buzz — even if they haven’t seen them.”

Actor Conrad Bachmann, who’s been an Emmy voter for the last 17 years and also serves as co-chair of the TV Academy’s activities committee, mourns the loss of the panels.

“We still do the blue ribbon panel but only in the guest star category,” Bachmann says. “I think that’s still a pretty good process because people are exposed to performances they otherwise might’ve missed.

“Let’s assume you had a star like Brad Pitt who comes on ‘Friends’ as a guest star. I try to remove myself from the popularity of the actor and look at the character. How has the actor brought that character to life? How much do I relate to it?”

Voters also have much more to choose from now, in terms of riskier and more provocative content.

In 2002, there were first-timers such as Fox’s “24,” which won writing and editing for a drama series, and FX’s edgy cop show “The Shield,” for which Michael Chiklis won — suggesting that voters can think outside the box rather than merely relying on old standby choices.

“After Michael Chiklis won, the buzz was really good on that show,” says Horsted. “People went racing home to see it. I think ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ (a 2002 nominee for comedy) is also a great show and it’s questionable whether there’s even written dialogue.

“So clearly, the Emmys are bucking tradition and honoring new types of storytelling.”

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