×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Is it Time for Gender-Neutral Awards at the Emmys?

The idea actually came to mind in April, watching a college all-star basketball event. After the men and women’s three-point shooting contests, Portland’s Cassandra Brown edged Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos in a gender-neutral faceoff.

Like sports, acting awards remain almost entirely stratified by men and women. But as that showdown suggests, the reason for that is mostly arbitrary. So why not let male and females compete by designating, say, a “performance of the year,” without regard to gender?

If that sounds wacky, actually, a trip through the TV Academy’s archives provides an ancient bit of precedent for precisely that. The very first Emmys anointed a Most Outstanding Television Personality, a category that consisted of three women and two men. The next year, there were awards for Most Outstanding Kinescoped Personality (one woman, two men) and Outstanding Live Personality (as it turned out, an all-male sweep).

In 1951, the gender split began with the introduction of awards for lead actor and actress. Yet while entertainment in general and TV in particular have in some ways looped back to their infancy — such as the greater influence of advertisers in presenting branded and wholly sponsored programs — in many ways the growing complexity of the medium provides a logical foundation for exploring ways to erase the division.

Actually, there’s history for that, too. In the mid-1970s, the academy tried introducing a “super Emmy,” honoring over-arching achievement in various genres. Yet the conclusion was made that the award not only provided double kudos to the winners for the same work (Alan Alda and Telly Savalas, for “MASH” and “Kojak,” respectively), but also risked diminishing victories in other acting categories.

Obviously, the academy doesn’t want to do anything that would reduce the number of performers on the screen ratings-wise, and there’s legitimate concern about a further proliferation of statuettes. Still, the other challenge plaguing TV awards has been how “comedy” and drama” no longer adequately define the breadth of programming, with a term coined in the ‘80s, “dramedy,” rather awkwardly seeking to plug the gap.

So just to float one intriguing scenario, without adding to the award tally, there could be gender-neutral categories for comedy, drama and dramedy, with a fourth for procedural drama, a genre that once dominated the awards but that, understandably, has been chased into retreat by the more elaborate character arcs created by serialized fare. (As a bonus, the major broadcasters who have chafed at being largely shut out of the drama balloting would have a category that plays to one of their strengths.)

Put another way: In tone, at least, the title character in “Louie” has a lot more in common with the women of “Girls” or “Nurse Jackie” than he does with the guys on “The Big Bang Theory.”

For that matter, wouldn’t it be interesting if the Oscars anointed a “performance of the year,” male or female, lead or supporting — letting people chew over whether Meryl Streep or Julianne Moore were better than Benedict Cumberbatch or David Oyelowo? And in TV, could anyone or anything this year, episodic or longform, hold a candle to Queen Latifah’s work in the HBO movie “Bessie?”

As those early “super” categories indicate, women were almost surely at a disadvantage in decades past. Yet the range of work being done today would hopefully obliterate such distinctions. And if it hasn’t, frankly — if men were to conspicuously dominate gender-neutral voting — that would tell us something too, not just in regard to where we’ve been but how much farther we have to go, especially in the context of actresses still receiving unequal pay.

At this point, with such an explosion of options available, there’s no such thing as an awards category that doesn’t risk producing strange bedfellows and apples-to-oranges comparisons. When presented with such ingredients, though, why not try to make a fruit salad?

Besides, given all the self-importance and seriousness that tends to surround awards, letting men and women shoot it out against each other might bring one flavor to the process that too often seems to be in short supply: Fun.

More Voices

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    WGA, Agents Face Tough Issues on New Franchise Pact (Column)

    The Writers Guild of America and the major talent agencies are seven weeks away from a deadline that could force film and TV writers to choose between their agents and their union. This is a battle that has been brewing for a year but few in the industry saw coming until a few weeks ago. [...]

  • FX Confronts Streaming Thanks to Disney

    Kicking and Screaming, FX Is Forced to Confront Future in the Stream (Column)

    During his network’s presentation at the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour, FX chief John Landgraf made waves — and headlines — by mounting perhaps his most direct criticism yet of Netflix. Landgraf, whose briefings to the press tend to rely heavily on data about the volume of shows with which FX’s competitors flood the [...]

  • Longtime TV Editor Recalls Working for

    How a Bad Director Can Spoil the Show (Guest Column)

    I have been blessed with editing some of TV’s greatest shows, working with some of the industry’s greatest minds. “The Wonder Years,” “Arrested Development,” “The Office,” “Scrubs,” “Pushing Daisies” and, most recently, “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” I have earned an Emmy, ACE Eddie Awards, and many nominations. But whatever kudos I’ve received, over my [...]

  • Stock market Stock buyback

    Stock Buybacks Leave Firms Without Funds to Invest in Future (Column)

    Corporate giants on the S&P 500 have spent more than $720 billion during the past year on stock buybacks. Media and entertainment firms account for only a fraction of that spending, but even $1 million spent on share repurchases seems a foolhardy expenditure at this transformational moment for the industry. The record level of spending [...]

  • Hollywood Has Come Far With Diversity

    An Insider's Look at Hollywood's Diversity Efforts and How Far It Still Needs to Go

    I am a white man working in Hollywood. I grew up in Beverlywood, an all-white, predominantly Jewish, Los Angeles neighborhood sandwiched between 20th Century Fox Studios and MGM, where my elementary school had only one black student. I am compelled to write about diversity in Hollywood because “diversity” — in front of and behind the camera [...]

  • Venice Film Festival A Star is

    How Venice, Toronto and Telluride Festivals Stole Cannes' Luster (Column)

    In all the years I’ve been attending film festivals, I have never seen a lineup that looked as good on paper as Venice’s did this fall, boasting new films by Alfonso Cuarón (“Roma”), Damien Chazelle (“First Man”), Paul Greengrass (“22 July”), Mike Leigh (“Peterloo”) and the Coen brothers (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”) in competition, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content