How do they do it? Who knows?

Complex voting rules, single-episode judging determine noms

The sparkling success of “30 Rock,” a nominee in 10 Emmy categories, might have been a big surprise. The dismal showing of critical favorite “The Shield” might have been a big disappointment. But only if you haven’t being paying attention.


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Weeks ago, leaks from Academy of Television Arts & Sciences voters resulted in lists of finalists that, as it turned out, were exactly right. The Emmys aren’t exactly chock-full of surprises to begin with, and the leak, reported on, eliminated most of them.

For instance, did anyone think for even a second that, having secured spots among the finalists, Tony Shalhoub of “Monk” or James Gandolfini of “The Sopranos” or James Spader of “Boston Legal” wouldn’t be among the Emmy nominees?

To make things even more anticlimactic, four of the top eight acting categories had six nominees instead of the usual five. That meant that even more of the leaked finalists would become nominees. David Caruso creates more suspense when he takes off his sunglasses on “CSI: Miami.”

Lost in all of this is the impact, if any, of changes in the voting rules this year (though, with voting rules changing more frequently than outfits on “America’s Top Model,” it’s almost impossible to divine any cause-and-effect relationships).

In recent years, ATAS fiddled with the number of finalists that members can nominate and how that number gets reduced to form the pool of five nominees. Complicated? It could drive the guy with the Beautiful Mind absolutely bonkers.

This year, the nominees in the 14 leading series categories were derived by giving equal weight to the popular vote and the blue-ribbon panels. Next year, look for the introduction of an electoral college.

In addition, The TV academy this year gave out printed booklets of potential nominees only to members who specifically asked for them. Everyone else had to go on the Internet and scroll through what seemed like a phone directory to find the programs they wanted to nominate. Some reports said this cut significantly into voting totals, though the academy insists it didn’t.

Who knows? Changes or no changes, strong similarities persist from year to year.

Among this year’s major nominees, nearly 20% are rookie shows. In particular, Emmy voters flipped for “Ugly Betty” (11 nominations), “30 Rock” (10) and “Heroes” (eight).

Typically but unfortunately, Emmy voters overlook a new series that should have been a shoo-in for several major noms. This year, that dubious honor goes to “Friday Night Lights,” already deemed one of TV’s 10 best series of 2006 by the AFI and a likely winner at Saturday’s Television Critics Assn. Awards. (Take heart, NBC. It took a few years for the academy to discover “The Sopranos.” But, once discovered, only David Chase’s odd work pattern could keep it from being nominated.)

There are other omissions and commissions that should fuel debates about the academy’s collective wisdom. Why “Boston Legal” and not “Dexter”? Why “House” and not “The Riches”?

The irony is that, even when academy voters get it right, they often get it wrong, at least in the eyes of viewers.

This is because judging often is based on a single episode. Just one out of 13 or 22 or whatever number were broadcast during the season.

But that’s not how it is presented on TV, and that’s not what viewers expect. When the presenter opens the envelope for outstanding actor (or actress or whatever), nearly every viewer takes it to mean the body of work done for a series that year. There is a world of difference between an episode and a season, but the academy has done nothing to clarify this for the public.

Then again, given the way it explains its voting procedures, it might be best not to try.