Emmy taps some quality shows, slights others

July 17, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Los Angeles -- "Roseanne" finally got her Emmy nomination. The writing team of Joshua Brand and John Falsey picked up a whopping 24 nominations between two of their shows, "Northern Exposure" and "I'll Fly Away." "Seinfeld" got nine nominations.

Quality was rewarded, right? What kind of controversy could critics possibly stir up this year about the 1992 Emmys nominations, which were announced here yesterday?

Plenty. There's still the fact that "The Cosby Show," which changed the face of television for the better, came up empty again even in this its valedictory year. There's still the issue of the archaic Emmy rule that precludes "The Simpsons" from being considered for best comedy series because the characters are animated.

More importantly, each of those snubs suggests the possibility of bias against youth and shows featuring African-American talent in the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' nominating process.

Let's start with the shows featuring black performers. How about "Roc" and Charles Dutton? Neither the show nor the star were honored yesterday in the category of Best Comedy.

At the expense of being accused of hometown boosting -- because Dutton is from Baltimore and the show is about a Baltimore garbage man -- let me make the modest suggestion that Dutton is a slightly better actor than Kelsey Grammer of "Cheers."

At the risk of being called a total homer, Dutton is better than anybody in the category: Ted Danson ("Cheers"), Burt Reynolds ("Evening Shade"), Craig T. Nelson ("Coach"), Jerry Seinfeld ("Seinfeld") or John Goodman ("Roseanne"). Dutton is one of the country's most honored stage actors and he's done terrific work in "Roc." Do you really think Seinfeld -- whose idea of acting is looking into the camera and saying, "Did ya ever notice how hard it is to find a parking space?" -- is more deserving?

And what about "A Different World" on NBC, the most popular show with black viewers and a Top 20 shows for years with all viewers? Zero nominations for a "A Different World," too. Kadeem Hardison's consistently solid work just might be as worthy of a supporting actor nomination as, say, Jay Thomas for a couple of overacted guest shots as Jerry Gold in "Murphy Brown." But Thomas, not Hardison, was the one honored yesterday.

The matter of Cosby and "The Cosby Show" is enough to make your blood boil. OK, Cosby made enemies by not submitting himself for nomination in recent years. But either your awards are based on worthiness or politics. The show should not be ignored because Cosby opts not to compete. There are four new shows with predominantly black casts getting a network shot this fall, and each of them credits their existence to the quality and financial success of "The Cosby Show."

And don't tell me about "I'll Fly Away" getting nominated as Best Drama Series and Regina Taylor as Best Actress in a Drama Series. That's different. "I'll Fly Away," great as it is in many respects, is a white show -- produced by whites and promulgating a white revisionist view of black civil rights history. This takes nothing away from Taylor's excellent work, but her character is a black in the white world of the South of the 1950s. It's easy for the white majority to like her.

The only black show that got any nominations yesterday was "In Living Color." But it is in the category of Variety or Music Program, where it would be hard to overlook, because there is so little regular music or variety on network TV.

And, then, there's youth. When we are talking the academy, anybody under 30 is considered youth. It skews old both in membership and thinking.

Fox Broadcasting had the most successful year of any network and has changed the programming dynamics of both NBC and ABC. Its audience grew trememdously. It brought young people to broadcast TV like no other network.

Yet, while NBC got 100 nominations; CBS, 70; ABC, 63; and PBS, 19, Fox got only 12. Seven of those were for "In Living Color."

Nothing for "Beverly Hills, 90210," a show that young people connect with in an almost religious way? Nickelodeon and MTV, the two best youth networks going, each only got one nomination. "Magic Johnson Talks About AIDS" on Nickelodeon didn't make it and MTV's news specials on racism were ignored. Let's not even start talking about the academy's bias against cable especially the more cutting edge channels.

Instead of the Nickelodeon's AIDS special or MTV's reports on racism, shows like "The Barbara Walters Special With Michelle Pfieffer, Anthony Hopkins and Tom Cruise" on ABC, were nominated as Outstanding Informational Special. Do you

think we're a more informed nation because Walters gave us the chance to hear Cruise promote "Far and Away" in prime time?

Winners in the top 30 categories will be announced Aug. 30 in ceremonies at the Pasadena (Calif.) Civic Auditorium that will be broadcast nationally on Fox. Other winners -- primarily the technical areas -- will be announced in non-televised ceremonies Aug. 29.

Emmy nominations

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