August 25, 2014 10:35pm PT by Scott Feinberg
Emmys: If the Results Indicate Anything, It's That the Voting System Is Broken
The 66th annual Primetime Emmy Awards were dished out at the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles on Monday night and, for the second year in a row, many of the TV Academy's choices left viewers in the audience and at home with their mouths hanging open in bafflement, with some even calling for a reevaluation of the voting process.
Several of the results were simply inexplicable.
The widely acclaimed and highly rated HBO film The Normal Heart was snubbed across the board — Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer and Julia Roberts' performances, Ryan Murphy's direction and, most shockingly, Larry Kramer's script all lost. But in the end, it was awarded best TV movie. Did none of the aforementioned individuals have anything to do with making the film special?
And Netflix's three formidable contenders — Derek, House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black — were completely shut out (apart from a few Creative Arts Emmys awarded to Orange last weekend), leading one to wonder if TV Academy members even subscribe to the service that has changed the way millions of Americans consume entertainment.
I'm not meaning to suggest that the shows and people that pulled off unexpected wins tonight aren't good — Sherlock and its stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, for instance, are great, as is American Horror Story: Coven's Kathy Bates, who prevailed over two co-stars and Fargo's impressive newcomer Allison Tolman — but there's a reason why virtually no avid TV watcher and Emmy predictor anticipated their victories.
Moreover, several past winners whom many feel are well past their sell-by date were essentially warmed over and honored again.
For the fifth year in a row, Modern Family won best comedy series, tying Frasier's category record — this at a time when Orange Is the New Black, which is essentially Modern Family on steroids and free from the restraints of broadcast TV, is on the air, or, more aptly, streaming through the wires.
Meanwhile, on the performance side of things, The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons won best actor in a comedy series for the fourth time in the last five years, this time over far edgier work by Derek's Ricky Gervais and Shameless' William H. Macy. For the second time in four years, Modern Family's Ty Burrell won best supporting actor in a comedy series, edging out, among others, his co-star Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who has never been recognized. For the second time in three years, Jessica Lange won for an installment of American Horror Story: Coven, this time in the best actress in a TV movie or miniseries category and over The Trip to Bountiful's Cicely Tyson and her own eminently worthy co-star and perennial bridesmaid Sarah Paulson.
And, as has been the case in all but two years since the establishment of the category in 2003, CBS's The Amazing Race won best reality competition series, this time over last year's winner, NBC's The Voice. (NBC hosted the show but failed to take home a single prize. Showtime was also shut out.)
As a colleague of mine put it right after the show ended, the cavalcade of people who accepted prizes tonight sometimes made it feel like we were watching an Emmys show from two or three years ago.
Of course there were a few winners whose victories are, more or less, beyond dispute. Veep's Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the all-time Emmy nominations queen, is simply in a league of her own and nobody can really argue with her third straight best actress in a comedy series win. Best actress in a drama series winner Julianna Margulies deserves all the credit in the world for her work on The Good Wife, which itself was screwed out of a nom for best drama series. It was nice to see the outstanding Fargo win best miniseries (the first time an FX program has ever been honored), Cary Fukunaga feted for his direction of the phenomenon that was True Detective and Louie C.K. recognized for his "So Did the Fat Lady" script for Louie. And, of course, Breaking Bad's final episodes were so damn good it would be silly to quibble with the recognition accorded the show, the performances of Bryan Cranston (who held off True Detective's equally worthy Matthew McConaughey), Aaron Paul (whose third supporting actor in a drama series win establishes a new record) and Anna Gunn or Moira Walley-Beckett's script for "Ozymandias," which many consider this century's finest episode of television.
But none of that negates the fact that the current voting process is broken. The Emmys should recognize the best and most important work on television, not the safest and most familiar.
The entire TV Academy membership, which numbers around 16,000, weighs in on Emmy nominations, with actors picking acting nominees, directors picking directing nominees, etc., and everyone weighing in on the program nominees. But, post-nominations, a variety of smaller panels of volunteers, each just a few dozen members, pick the winners. This is the exact opposite of the way the motion picture Academy goes about its business, and perhaps it is part of the problem.
While Emmy nominations generally are pretty reflective of the critical consensus (excepting a Tatiana Maslany snub here or a Good Wife snub there), the winners generally are not. I would argue that panels of so few people should not get to have such a loud voice. More members should be involved in picking winners. Besides, if everyone is sufficiently qualified to weigh in on the selection of nominees, then everyone should be sufficiently qualified to weigh in on the winners.
Furthermore, under the current system, the people who serve on the panels are asked to pick each category's winner on the basis of a single episode, and that may also skew the results. Some people who had great overall seasons lack a single episode that exemplifies that, while others who did not have great overall seasons can find one episode that suggests that they did. Most people who watch the Emmys assume that the award recognizes an entire season of work, not just one episode, and so I think that it makes sense to ask TV Academy members to pick winners based on any/all viewing they have been able to do, not specific episodes, while encouraging them to watch at least a single episode of each nominee.
In short, the TV Academy should just deregulate its voting process (as the motion picture Academy has done with a number of categories that it used to try to police) and trust its members to do their due diligence. I believe that, more often than not, reforms of these sorts would produce more just results.
Click here to see the best and worst moments from Monday night's ceremony.
A complete list of winners can be found here.