Can Zombies Be Popular and Respected?
"The Walking Dead" executive producer Gale Anne Hurd, whose season finale on AMC drew 9 million viewers, argues why the Emmys should start embracing genre fare (hint: bigger awards show ratings!).
Who doesn't want to win an Emmy, raise your hands? OK, so maybe it's true that some of you already have received so many statuettes that you've run out of places to stow them. I understand. Having the admiration and respect of your peers year after year might just get boring after a while. If you happen to have one that is gathering dust in a closet, I'll take it on loan, since the odds of my actually winning one are probably between remote and zero.
You know in high school, there were the popular girls, the athletes and the cool kids? Right now, as an executive producer of The Walking Dead, I guess I'm one of the popular kids. God knows, that wasn't the case when I was in high school. And since they say Hollywood is like high school with money (Washington is apparently high school with power), I'm going to try to enjoy my moment in the sunshine of strong ratings. As we all know, these are ephemeral things, here today, possibly gone and out of reach tomorrow.
That's the great thing about awards: You get to keep them on your mantel and not just read about your ratings success in The Hollywood Reporter. Not only that, but an award victory isn't necessarily expected to be repeated next season. But ratings? Ah, cruel world that we live in, ratings are expected not only to be sustained from episode to episode, season to season, but they're supposed to keep building. Ha, now that's the trick for the popular girl: keeping her seat. I wonder if an Emmy victory allows one to drop off a bit in viewers and not fear cancellation?
Certainly, if you're an executive at a network whose show has won an Emmy (even if you didn't do much more than read the pilot script ages ago), you get to enjoy the afterglow and the handshakes from your envious peers and probably a better table at your favorite restaurant. How wonderful is that? Certainly it's worth picking up the series for a second season, even if it's on the bubble, ratings-wise.
Well, for the rest of us, we have to rely on being popular, hoping that no one hates us too much for being successful. I think there's a handicap for ratings success, much like a successful horse has to carry more weight (except perhaps in your first season, when all bets are off and you can be like that new girl on campus whom everyone likes until she steals your boyfriend). It's not enough to have your viewers like you. In fact, if anything, that probably works against you in the grand scheme of Emmy voting. After all, why reward a show that already has enough going for it that an Emmy would be like putting icing on top of the icing on a red velvet cupcake? (I apologize; I'm on a diet right now and have an incredible craving for red velvet cupcakes.)
Of course, Emmys should reward the best. But what the best actually is, well, that's a pretty subjective call, isn't it? The best drama on TV? Is that a reward for taking the most risks? For featuring the best cast? For having the most iconic showrunner? Or for simply telling the best damn stories, week after week? Or is it really a combination of all of the above? I'd wager it's the latter, and once you get into that groove, it's much like predicting how a hurricane will track. Dark shows with morally challenged leading characters will be at the head of the class, especially if they're period or on AMC or HBO. Genre shows? Popularity aside, they're likely to be left out of the party. There's a reason the Saturn Awards were created to honor science-fiction, fantasy and horror films and TV series. You have a better chance of winning the lottery or the Triple Crown than you do of winning an acting or best drama series Emmy for a genre TV series. Is that fair? Probably not. But what is? I'm sure there are Emmy voters who can't imagine themselves ever voting for a show in which a vampire or a zombie appears, much less one that features the undead week after week. But if you ask me, zombies, vampires, werewolves and superheroes need Emmy and Oscar love, too.
I've got a solution. Since I really do subscribe to the saying that "It's an honor to be nominated," why not expand the number of nominated series, actors, actresses, etc., for each significant award? Wouldn't that make it more fun for everyone? And translate into more viewers watching the Emmy telecast at home? Heaven knows, if you don't have a horse in the race, you might not watch it, so if popular series were to get nominated, it would be good for everyone. I give expanding the number of nominees per category a big thumbs-up.
Hurd produced The Terminator, Aliens and The Incredible Hulk (and won a Saturn Award).
GIVE THESE GENRE SHOWS A CHANCE!: How large an audience five current programs drew in their season finale.
- Game of Thrones (HBO): 4.2 million
- Grimm (NBC): 5.3 million
- Once Upon a Time (ABC): 9.45 million
- Touch (Fox): 4.6 million
- True Blood (HBO): 6.2 million (2011)