It’s an annual rite, television’s equivalent to the running of the bulls in Pamplona. The Emmy nominations are announced and everyone bellies up to play the game of what shows were overlooked, who was undeserving, who or what show is likely to win in September and, most of all, the near universal agreement that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is woefully out of touch.
Once the dust clears, though, you might consider what the serendipity of the academy’s nominating process means for the medium itself. And you can do this by taking a serious look at some of the wallflowers.
It is disappointing that “Justified” was completely shut out in its final season, and it was wrong, but then again, it was “Justified’s” final season, so it’s too late for Emmy’s indifference to harm the show. If you subscribe to the notion that an Emmy nomination (not to mention a win) has value in attracting viewers to keep a show on the air, a nomination for “Justified” would have been merely decorative.
The same goes for shows like “Parenthood,” which was also overlooked and just ended. “Mad Men” wasn’t overlooked at all, but nonetheless, whatever awards it wins in September will have only a slight impact on its DVD sales.
“Parenthood” survived for six seasons on NBC despite only a single Emmy nomination and no wins. “The Middle” has survived as a key part of ABC’s killer Wednesday comedy lineup for six seasons with only a single nomination and no wins.
Obviously, those shows don’t need statuary to attract viewers. But other shows do, and getting overlooked by the TV academy may not be the only reason they get canceled, but it’s certainly one of them.
“The Americans,” which a whole lot of viewers think is the best thing on TV, was completely shut out this year, but at least it will survive.
The outlook for another FX show isn’t as certain, however. That would be the exquisitely crafted “Comedians,” starring Billy Crystal and Josh Gad as hilarious mismatched TV comics forced to work together.
Sources tell me that the future of the show is hanging by a thread, and the fact that the show garnered just two Emmy nominations — one for best music and lyrics, another for best guest actor — doesn’t help its chances for a second season.
Yes, you can talk about the court of public opinion — a.k.a. ratings — being the ultimate arbiter, but there are a lot of reasons why a young show gets in trouble — the time slot, tepid network support, even the obvious fact that there’s a lot of stuff on TV these days.
But none of that obviates the fact that in a medium that seems to think that fat jokes, or two airheads making cupcakes, or copious uses of the words “vagina” and “penis” should pass as comedy, there is a beautifully conceived, written and performed classic like “The Comedians” that is getting overlooked.
I don’t know if a fully merited nomination for Crystal or Gad would have made a huge impact on the fate of the show. But I do know FX should support “The Comedians” at least with a second season, regardless of how nice the music and lyrics are. The guest actor nomination, by the way, went to Mel Brooks, and if Mel Brooks thinks “The Comedians” is worth his time, who are we to argue?
Other shows have been snubbed in the past but were supported by their networks against what many knew were insurmountable odds.
“Southland,” one of the best cop shows of the last decade, is the example that comes to mind. It started out on NBC, which didn’t handle it very well. Then it moved to TNT, where it was up against some stiff competition on Tuesday nights: “Person of Interest” on CBS and “Justified” on FX. To TNT’s credit, the network kept it going until 2013.
One can’t help wondering if an Emmy nomination in a major category might have made a difference for the show. Michael Cudlitz never got the nod for playing John Cooper, despite etching a shattering performance as a middle-aged cop trying to come to terms with prescription drug addiction and his sexuality. Shawn Hatosy and Regina King were also more than deserving of attention. During its bumpy run, the show did win two Emmys: for stunt coordination. Needless to say, they didn’t draw viewers’ attention to the show.
Meanwhile, the rest of us would do well to consider that the TV academy’s annual exercise in silliness may reward true quality on TV, but it does irreparable damage to it as well.
The Emmys are a lot of things, but they are only accidentally about merit. If you want further proof, consider that the absolutely odious film “Grace of Monaco,” starring a near-comatose Nicole Kidman with Tim Roth as the badly miscast Prince Rainier, was nominated for two awards, including best TV film.
To its partial credit, the TV academy tries to improve its nominating process every year, usually by redefining categories. But deciding that an hour-long show is a drama and a half-hour show is comedy is equivalent to rearranging deck chairs. It doesn’t address the issue of rewarding creativity and quality in a medium that’s drowning in its own mediocrity.
David Wiegand is the TV critic and an assistant managing editor of The San Francisco Chronicle. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @WaitWhat_TV
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