Predictable, peculiar Emmy picks

New rules to help make awards inclusive have little effect on nominations

July 07, 2006|By DAVID ZURAWIK | DAVID ZURAWIK,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Despite new rules aimed at making the Emmy Awards more inclusive and less predictable, this year's nominations, for the most part, represent business as usual in Hollywood. Though the nominations, which were announced yesterday, include a few surprises, they are unlikely to improve the credibility or enhance the prestige of the awards.

Unexpected contenders for the 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, scheduled to be broadcast Aug. 27, include Christopher Meloni of NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for best lead actor in a drama series - though James Gandolfini of HBO's The Sopranos and Hugh Laurie of Fox's House did not make the cut.

Kevin James of CBS' The King of Queens was nominated as best lead actor in a comedy series, while Jason Bateman of Fox's Arrested Development was overlooked.

"The revamp flopped," said Tom O'Neil, author of The Emmys, a definitive book on the history of television's top award.

"The goal was to give those alternative, lower-rated networks and cable channels more nominations in the top categories, and look what happened - they only received three of 20 for lead actresses and actors in comedies and dramas," he said, referring to nominations for Kyra Segdwick in The Closer (TNT), Tony Shalhoub in Monk (USA) and Denis Leary in Rescue Me (FX).

"All the other nominees are from HBO or the mainstream networks. It's the same with every contender for best drama and comedy series - there's not one FX or UPN show in there. In that respect, the rule changes are a failure. Just look at the numbers."

Last year, the smaller cable channels and networks also received three of 20 nominations in the major acting categories - Shalhoub, Glenn Close in The Shield (FX) and Hank Azaria in Huff (Showtime) - and none for best comedy or drama series.

For the sixth straight year, HBO led in nominations with 95. ABC was second with 64, followed by CBS (47), NBC (46) and Fox (41).

Under the old rules, nominees were determined by votes cast by all 14,000 members of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, a group of industry professionals. The five contenders receiving the most votes become the nominees.

The new rules added an extra layer to the process. The top 10 contenders in the categories of best drama and comedy series, along with the top 15 vote-getters for best actors and actresses in comedy and drama, were sent to a panel of academy members who chose the nominees.

The hope was that the committee would add some new and surprising faces to the finalists. They did that, but not in a good way, adding mainly newcomers of questionable talent while excluding performers such as Edie Falco of The Sopranos (HBO) and Ellen Pompeo of ABC's Grey's Anatomy in the best dramatic actress category.

"They brought in some real shockeroos," O'Neil said. "I'm not sure anybody is likely to call a system that nominates Kevin James as best actor in a comedy a great success."

Not all the choices announced yesterday are as controversial. The nominees for best drama seem consensus picks: The Sopranos (HBO), 24 (Fox), Grey's Anatomy (ABC), House (Fox) and The West Wing (NBC). Still, Lost, last year's best drama, was left out.

Ironically, the outstanding miniseries category - whose nominees still are determined by the old method - proved to the most inclusive. Its nominees included cable channel TNT's Into the West, a multicultural western from Steven Spielberg, which also led all programs with 16 nominations. Showtime's Sleeper Cell, which features a Muslim undercover agent, was also nominated as top miniseries.

The Emmys consistently have been buffeted by morning-after debates about who did and didn't get selected. The reason for that, according to analysts, is a mistaken perception that the awards are a direct reflection of excellence.

"We forget that the Emmys are not awards for the highest quality shows as determined by some critical community of dramaturgs, critics, professors or historians - they are awards for those shows determined to be the best by those working in the TV industry," said Robert J. Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University.

"Once you accept the fact that these are representative of nothing but industry thinking, you're not so surprised or upset when a 3rd Rock From the Sun gets nominated," as it did 31 times. "You're at peace with Kevin James instead of Jason Bateman."

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

Emmy nominees

For a complete list of Emmy nominees, go to baltimoresun.com/emmy.

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series:

Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO; Kevin James, The King of Queens, CBS; Tony Shalhoub, Monk, USA; Steve Carell, The Office, NBC; Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men, CBS.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series:

Christopher Meloni, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, NBC; Denis Leary, Rescue Me, FX; Peter Krause, Six Feet Under, HBO; Kiefer Sutherland, 24, Fox; Martin Sheen, The West Wing, NBC.

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series:

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