That “Glee” star Cory Monteith will be among an exclusive group of actors getting a special memorial tribute at the Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday was to be expected given the industry and its fans are still reeling from his recent loss.
But it is questionable whether the TV Academy is doing the right thing with this tribute.
When Monteith’s name is elevated alongside the other four people who are being elevated from the usual In Memoriam reel — actors James Gandolfini, Jean Stapleton and Jonathan Winters and writer-producer Gary David Goldberg — his inclusion risks coming across ill-considered. The unspoken, uncomfortable truth of the matter is that while the work he did on “Glee” showed great promise, it was not equal to the incredible careers the other four amassed.
That doesn’t make the loss of Monteith any less tragic. Nor should questioning his exclusion be misinterpreted as a judgment being made about the circumstances of his death. To the contrary, the Emmy recognition will put deserved focus on the perils of drug addiction.
But to merit special treatment like what the Academy is doing here, an actor should have a body of work that puts him head and shoulders above his peers. There will surely be disagreement from his ardent fans, but if Monteith had really achieved that status, those accolades would have been coming even before his death. Unlike many of his co-stars, Monteith never received an Emmy nomination.
Does a distinctive role on a TV show does automatically merit the kind of memorial Monteith is getting here? You could argue that Gandolfini is in essentially the same category, but that only brings the difference between Monteith and someone of Gandolfini’s caliber into sharper relief. What Gandolfini did on “The Sopranos” inarguably transformed the medium of television; can we really say the same about Monteith on “Glee?”
By putting Monteith in this elite group, the Academy is risking having its honorable intentions misconstrued as using the actor’s memory to cater to the younger audiences that are in decreasingly short supply for award shows these days. The Emmy Awards is a business that requires generating TV ratings to maximize advertising dollars, but that needs to be balanced with the need for the Academy to maintain appropriate perspective in recognizing excellence and influence in television.
Then there is delicate matter of considering how elevating Monteith has an impact on the perception of both the other actors who he is being grouped alongside as well as the dozens of others who are being relegated to the standard In Memoriam tribute. Monteith could have gone on to a tremendous career, but Larry Hagman, for instance, already had a tremendous career, and putting Monteith on a pedestal casts a shadow over the memory of this iconic “Dallas” star.
Questioning Monteith’s place in this special memorial cuts to the heart of what the Emmys are all about. If the event’s primary function is to give a sense of the emotional state of the audience at a given time, then Monteith certainly belongs where the Academy has put him.
But the Emmys should be held to a higher standard. The event should be first and foremost about recognizing a body of work. In that respect, the Emmys needs to aspire to timelessness, demonstrating its relevancy whether being watched on the night of the telecast or 20 years later. The way to ensure it resonates both now and in the future is to stick to the accomplishments of the talent or the production.
It’s about what has been achieved — not what could have been.
If you agree or disagree, let us know in the comments section below.