The Emmy Awards, which recognize excellence in television, are all about disappointment. But this year they hit a new low, registering just 11.9 million viewers (I know that sounds like a lot, but there are a lot of us staring at screens every night, and that number is less impressive than it sounds) while getting more or less eviscerated by a Sunday Night Football game (that ended before the telecast even started). Let me put that in perspective for you. Less people watched this supposedly grand once-a-year event than watch just an average episode of Big Bang Theory which is on every week.
But then the real disappointment sinks in the next day as entertainment media is awash in jibber-jabber about what went on at the show. Let’s see… Andy Samberg gave out his HBO GO password live on the air, Jon Hamm finally won for Mad Men, Viola Davis won a historic first award, and Veep won its first best comedy award, breaking a five-year Modern Family win streak.
Wait, hang on a second, Modern Family won best comedy at this award show five years in a row?
Here’s the evidence of the lack of seriousness this type of ridiculous awards show represents in a nut shell: Modern Family, a show that even if you love it you have to admit is in no way groundbreaking or terribly original, that in the golden age of scripted television, wins its category five years in a row. There can’t be a serious critic or appreciator of TV who really believes that makes any sense.
Therein lies the problem of an award show like this for a medium as vast as television.
If you think it’s unrealistic and sort of pointless to expect the Academy of Motion Pictures to have seen every movie in contention, or at least most of them—and it is unrealistic, none of them really do see all or even most of the movies that should get consideration—then you must recognize how much more acute that problem is with television. The truth is that even if the people who actually decide these awards did nothing else but watch television, they wouldn’t be seeing even a tiny fraction of what there is on TV. And so they rely on what they hear and what they sort of see. “Is anyone talking about a new show as being better than Modern Family? Uh, I don’t know, f*ck it. The Office and 30 Rock are both cancelled, let’s just vote for Modern Family again.”
And don’t get me started on the cottage industry of selling Emmy’s “disappointment.” Who remembers the annual circus surrounding Susan Lucci and whether or not she would once again be overlooked for best whatever in a daytime whatever? Glossing over the fact that nobody really cares about the awards fates of soap opera stars, there is this other problem about people thinking they’re owed something. Now in place of Lucci we have Jon Hamm and Amy Poehler, whose air of entitlement is only half as charming as they think, at best. Hamm and Poehler have both long been critical darlings (and with good reason, they’re both great) but have both been long overlooked for their respective shows, Mad Men and Parks and Recreation, which both ended their runs this year. Hamm “finally” won this year, as if his excellence was so self-evident it’s preposterous he wouldn’t be recognized for it before now, which is of course ridiculous. Poehler was overlooked again in a move that is being decried as all sorts of things, and of course is also ridiculous. It’s ridiculous because this is not a measurable sport, like basketball for instance. I can use statistics and other hard data to explain why Michael Jordan was the greatest ever. Every year when crowning the MVP there are metrics that need to be thought of and can be concretely argued. In TV and movies, not to mention music, there is no such measurement. It’s all subjective, which is why we rightly cringe when Kanye West throws a pity party for not getting an award. Even if you love him, you have to admit whoever beat him probably “deserved it” just as much. Just to someone else. Strange, though, that when the (white) TV stars cry for an award we find it endearing. Disappointment theater at its finest.
The only part of the evening that wasn’t cringe-inducing and proof of why the awards show and its whole system of self-congratulation needs to go, was the victory for Viola Davis, the first black woman to ever win the dramatic category for acting in a series. It was a moving and important milesto—wait a second. The first black woman to win the drama series category? And it took until 2015? Nevermind, maybe there wasn’t a non-cringe-inducing moment. CCH Pounder and Nichelle Nichols were robbed.
Next year, I’m just going to keep watching the football postgame show instead.
By Ygal Kaufman