We’ve talked a lot about the nominations for the 2013 Primetime Emmys over
the past few weeks. And we’ve also talked a lot about the state of
television in general at this point in history. What we have not talked
about at all is the ceremony itself.
This year, the Emmys will be hosted by
Neil Patrick Harris, the go-to host in the second decade of the 21st
century. Harris has earned that spot with great performances as host of the Tony Awards in 2009 and from 2011-13, and of the 2009 Emmys.
(Seriously: look at this. Again. The number of times until you can
rewatch it until you’re sick of it is “never”.)
But is Harris the magic balm that will miraculously turn this year’s
Emmys into an entertaining, must-see showcase for the industry? Hardly.
For starters, most hosts make their presence felt early then disappear
into oblivion by the show’s second hour. So even if executive producer
Ken Ehrlich and his crew manage to concoct an opening number that
exceeds that of Harris’ performance earlier this year, that still leaves
an achingly long stretch of time in which it will be business as usual.
Because let’s face it: Even for die-hard television fans, the Emmys
themselves can be something of a chore when attention shifts away from
the host or the major categories.
There’s no time to alter what’s
already in place for this year’s awards. But we still think there’s
time to think outside the box when it comes to future ceremonies.
Television has evolved as a medium over the past few decades — why can’t
the Emmys evolve as well? The death of any show is predictability, and
awards shows excel at being unable to escape from the predetermined
formats that have dominated past shows. Our proposal is simple: The best
way to honor television is to craft an awards ceremony that rewards the
process that goes into making an episode of television. By crafting an
awards ceremony that uses real-world, pre-recorded, and pre-produced
examples of the steps that go into producing the television we love, the
Emmys will do a much better job of honoring the industry as a whole,
not simply the single winner in each category.
Anyone reading an
article about the Emmys online has at least a rudimentary sense of how
the “sausage” is made, especially now that showrunners are as well-known
as the actors themselves. But that hard-core fan makes up only a small
overall percentage of those tuning in to watch the Emmys. As such,
there’s a chance to inform, educate, and entertain during this three-and-a-half-hour ceremony. And yes: “informing” and “educating” can indeed
lead to “entertaining,” provided the instruction is dynamically
presented. In fact, if it’s done correctly, it will hardly feel didactic
To be fair, trying to lump all the different types of
programming up for awards this year would yield a big, huge mess. So
let’s ease our pain, and increase overall clarification, by creating a
narrative throughout the ceremony that takes scripted programming
(drama, comedy, miniseries/movie) from its nascent stages through final
product. Following those steps inherently creates a natural flow of
awards: we start with the scripted pages, give a nod to casting, move
into production design/art direction, highlight the directors, look at
those responsible for post-production tasks, and finally, honor the
actors and shows themselves. With this, we have the spine of the show.
sounds like a ridiculous amount to get through, but here’s where we can
save time: the emphasis on future Emmy telecasts lies in getting as much
documented time with the talent as possible over the course of the runs
of nominated shows. The Emmys don’t have to police or enforce this
internal coverage: Most shows already have behind-the-scenes crews
capturing moments for DVD or promotional material already, so it’s
mostly about leveraging this content for use the night of the awards.
It’s all fine and dandy to put five writers smiling nervously onscreen
as someone reads their names off a teleprompter. But we would get to
know these people much better by getting a brief insight into how they
work, not by how many agents they thank onstage. We hear all the time
about how much fun certain writers’ rooms are: Why not see for ourselves
a brief snippet of how those rooms function? The Emmys award separate
cinematography categories for single-cam and multi-cam comedies: Why not
have those nominated help educate the audience on how to achieve the
best results in both scenarios?
The bottom line is this: A heavy
emphasis on pre-production doesn’t rob the awards show of its
personality, but rather places all those up for awards in the best light
possible while deepening the audience’s understanding of what each of
these artists do. There will always be Emmy viewers that only watch to
see their favorite stars in tuxedos and fancy dresses. But those people
only enjoy 10 percent of the awards as is. So we can’t worry about
annoying them with this deep behind-the-scenes dive.
In this fragmented
entertainment age, the Emmys are one of the few chances for the
television industry to get this many eyeballs on a single product.
Celebrating those that are deemed best in many different fields is a
fine way to showcase the depth and breadth of the talent currently
working in the medium. But creating smarter viewers should be an equal
priority, especially given how many in and out of Hollywood bemoan how
“quality” rarely translates into high ratings. If mass audiences aren’t
trained in what decisions help transform a show from merely good to
phenomenally great, how can they be expected to separate the wheat from
the chaff on their overly packed DVR queues?
professionals of different fields either introduce or comment upon
fields that are not their expertise, the Emmys could emphasize the
intensely collaborative nature of television far better than simply
racing through a series of awards and playing off anyone who speaks for
longer than 30 seconds. Time spent introducing the nominees would be
poured into the pre-produced segments, where we would not only see the
nominee’s face and name, but watch them perform the craft that earned
them the respect of their peers. Rather than simply banish many winners
to the Creative Arts Emmy Awards the week before, have them
also revealed onstage one by one as a pre-produced segment takes us
through the various stages of an episode’s production. They still won’t
get to make a nationally televised speech, but the Emmys will have put a
personality onto a no-longer anonymous face.
If the point of these
awards were only to celebrate the faces we see on billboards, the Emmys
could be a half-hour long. Since the Emmys are not the length of an
episode of “Parks and Recreation,” it can do much better than it
currently does to achieve its nominal goals.
Even while moving to
this method, we won’t abandon a few core aspects of the Emmys that
should remain intact, even if they don’t fit well within this proposed
structure. The reality categories should not be shuttled off the
program, but rather treated as their own discrete subset of programming
with its own start-to-finish progression. (Sure, Cat Deeley makes
hosting “So You Think You Can Dance” look easy, but what goes into
prepping each episode?) Special awards, such as the Governors Award and
the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award, could stay as stand-alone segments. And
naturally, the “In Memoriam” sequence stays as is, since the Emmys are about honoring television’s past as well as its future.
Emmys should exist to stoke interest in television as a medium, and the
best way to do that is to highlight the incredible amount of work that
goes into producing the entertainment many viewers of this ceremony take
for granted. This approach de-emphasizes the winners and losers and
refocuses attention on the vast library of shows currently available for
consumption. Rather than confirming existing audience interest, the
awards should provoke curiosity about shows previously ignored or simply
overlooked. Giving an award to an underwatched show is certainly a good
way to do that. But revealing the passion that goes into making all
shows is a healthier, more sustainable method for converting casual fans
into rabid viewers.
As the number of eyeballs on each show dwindles,
each pair counts more than ever. If the Emmys helps train those eyes to
understand what television has to offer, the medium as a whole will
flourish rather than implode in the decade to come.