September 25, 2003

The Emmy Awards

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Award ceremonies blow unless you take home a trophy. Since the Academy does not yet recognize the “Best Fake Orgasm in a Collegiate Situation,” I had few expectations for the 55th Annual Primetime Emmys. Even so, the show disappointed me in a way that only the latest Steve Martin movie could hope to emulate. From the depths of my heart, I thank Fox for insisting on airing the “news” at 11 o’clock. Were it not for their undeserved self-confidence, I might still be on the couch.

After two stale hours of watching what I thought was the re-broadcast of last year’s awards, I realized that this particular suckfest was the 2003 Emmys. I suppose I should have known when Henry Winkler eulogized John Ritter, praising his “remarkable versatility.” I was too busy wondering whether the Fonz was referring to his “versatility” in playing the distressed father in Problem Child or as the anxious dad in 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. It must have been about the 103rd California recall quip that finally clued me in. Or maybe it was the 62nd allusion to the recent Benifer breakup.

The 55th Emmy winners were nearly identical to the 54th Emmy winners, only a year older and less deserving. Everybody Loves Raymond took home its first award for Best Comedy Series and Best Writing for a Comedy despite its waning quality and popularity. Raymond is a simple, safe choice by the Academy, but not as innovative and strong as its competitors. The West Wing, once again, dominated the Academy. The series won Best Drama and Best Directing for a Drama. However, this season lost the energy and creativity of prior years along with executive producers Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme. The Academy voters have slighted these series in the past by shying away from them during their most fruitful and exciting years.

Unfortunately, late recognition of successful series comes at the expense of newer shows that produce solid, but inventive work now. After receiving 16 nominations, the most out of any show, nobody from Six Feet Under came home with the Emmy. With its uniformly powerful acting, tightly-written scripts, and fresh approach, this show deserved to win Best Drama. Instead, Six Feet Under was conspicuously ignored, perhaps a casualty of the Emmy’s reluctance to recognize cable shows.

Curb Your Enthusiasm, another HBO series, lost the Best Comedy award despite incredible performances by Larry David and his team. Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon lost the Best Supporting Actress award to Tyne Daly of Judging Amy. Strictly in terms of acting, Daly’s work as a tough-love social worker cannot hold a candle to Nixon’s cynical and nuanced portrayal of Miranda. Clearly, the Academy voters resist awarding cable network shows that are held to different standards than those on national networks. If such a bias did not exist, there would be no stopping these HBO series come Emmy season.

Even the hindbound academy, however, could not ignore the braveura turn by Edie Falco in The Sopranos season finale. Although James Gandolfini did his usual amazing job and took home his second Emmy, the kick ass Peter Krause was robbed. Krause’s depiction of Nate Fisher’s long day’s journey into night was a highlight of a strong Six Feet Under season.

Even worse off than cable shows at the Emmys were the shows that did not neatly fit into any category. The Academy has taken recent strides by creating a reality/competition category, but many shows still remain out in the cold. For years genre television, such as crime or sci-fi programming, has suffered because it does not conform to proper comedy or drama. With a crime/cop show category, shows like CSI and Law & Order could compete and actually have a shot at winning. Known as the miscellaneous column of the Emmys, the Variety, Music, or Comedy category, included both The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Cher: The Reunion Tour. How can the Academy voters possibly gauge incisive political commentary against the singular inspiration for drag queens everywhere? This category should be broken up to reflect the incompatibility of it competitors. Furthermore increased divisions would recognize more specialized, but excellent television.

Despite my dissatisfaction at the results of the 2003 Emmys, the program contained some redeeming qualities. Without a master of ceremonies, the Emmys were hosted by all the comedians money and cocaine can buy. As a result, the bits were actually amusing, if not downright hilarious. More seriously, the night made me reflect on the creativity and talent of all the writers, actors, and directors honored. Many of these celebrated programs have managed to captivate and intrigue me, which is not such an easy task. I am also reminded of the limitless crap on television; the Anna Nicole Show, Everwood, My Big Fat Greek Life. If the people who brought us Western civilization, John Stamos, and gyros can’t put together a decent sitcom, how much more should we appreciate those who can and do.

Archived article by Jaffa Panken