The Television Academy implemented several Emmy rule changes this year, among them splitting the honor for top reality program into structured and unstructured. The distinction creates an admittedly arbitrary break between programs that “mostly adhere to a recurring structured template” and those “driven by the actions of characters.”
Still, the academy has yet to go the extra step, which is to acknowledge the performances that make these “characters” compelling — namely, by expanding to include an award for cast members in a reality show.
As it stands, the sole performing award tied to reality involves hosts. Floated suggestions about expanding recognition of the genre to include reality performers have largely been shot down or laughed off, with insiders noting that members of the academy’s actors branch wouldn’t relish adding such contenders to their ranks, no doubt bearing some measure of ill will to lost employment opportunities.
While such resistance is understandable, the acknowledgement that much of reality TV is “structured” makes a reasonable case for the notion that the “stars” of these shows are delivering a performance, one that clearly captivates a significant number of TV viewers. That argument is buttressed, moreover, by the fairly common practice of staging, plotting and reshooting scenes.
Why broach this now? Because as dividing the categories implies, the TV industry appears somewhat more open about the crafting that goes on within these shows, mostly because the public isn’t scandalized by it. People still suspend disbelief long enough to embrace “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” as “real,” but they’re less likely to be shocked if someone reports they shot several takes or staged a moment, which was once considered a revelation vis-à-vis something like “The Hills” but today engenders scant attention.
Moreover, the long runs of certain series have highlighted the performance qualities they entail, from the “Duck Dynasty” clan to the Kardashians, who have essentially committed to living their lives in the public eye. In addition, an increase in celebrity-oriented docu-series has thrown more actors — with a clear knack for performing — into the role of playing themselves.
As with most issues pertaining to the Emmys, this one doesn’t provide perfect harmony, and an actual reality-performer category would inevitably give rise to some strange bedfellows. For starters, the roster of celeb-reality shows would invite debate about whether someone with an existing resume (think Leah Remini, Lindsay Lohan, Gene Simmons, the Wahlberg brothers) has an unfair advantage over novices.
Another solution might be to create an award for ensembles as opposed to individuals — a strategy that already has precedent in the overall series honors bestowed by the Screen Actors Guild Awards. That would yield the rather juicy prospect of “Duck Dynasty” versus “Honey Boo Boo,” the Kardashians against one or another edition of “Real Housewives.”
Whatever the details, a “reality performer” award would serve various objectives. Advantages include recognizing the changes taking place in primetime, potentially admitting some new and popular shows to the mix, and introducing a potential enticement for the younger demos the presenting networks covet to watch the Emmycast in greater numbers.
Purists will naturally wince at the notion of expanding reality’s Emmy footprint, but the academy has already exhibited a pragmatic streak when it comes to tinkering to mollify its network partners.
So don’t be surprised if actors have to resign themselves to providing reality more seats at the Emmy table, even if that leaves some muttering about what happened to the neighborhood.