The Emmys have a problem. Well actually, they have a bunch of problems: long, boring, out of touch with what people are actually watching…but none of that is new. The TV awards’ most recent problem is cable – and more specifically, everything on cable being too damn good. Let me explain…
Everything that it takes to make a show good: artistic freedom, creative integrity, extended production time, ability not to sell out for a bigger audience — they’re all possible on cable. If you want to make a challenging, original, complex show you don’t bring it to NBC, you bring it HBO. Or Showtime. Or AMC. If you brought Breaking Bad or Mad Men, two of the best shows on television, to a major network they’d nod politely, congratulate your artistic vision, then have you thrown out of the building. The networks play by different rules. Their shows need to be fast, efficient, and general enough to appeal to a ton of people. Sometimes that results in quality television (House and The Good Wife jump to mind), but more often it results in crap (see the careers of Charlie Sheen and James Belushi). So when it comes time to hand out awards, cable is usually left holding a lot of statues and the networks are left holding, well, Charlie Sheen and James Belushi. Which is a problem when you realize that the Emmys are on network television, they pay a great deal of money for the pleasure of that experience, and that they’re getting increasingly pissed off about the whole thing. Recently a network executive said ““How can we be expected to pony up money for what continues to be, with few exceptions, a show that celebrates cable TV?”. Can’t argue with that.
Here’s my suggestion: give networks and cable separate awards. It’s an uneven playing field, so why pretend like it’s equal at trophy time? Programs like Dexter and True Blood are like the Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire of TV – they have an unfair advantage. Except instead of getting theirs from syringes, they get them from producers and channels that say “no, it’s OK. Be dark and weird, audiences will figure it out eventually. And if they don’t, who cares?! We only need a few million of ‘em anyway!” Sure they’re brilliant shows, but if they had to play by the rules they do at networks they wouldn’t be as strong. Because no matter how wonderful Mad Men is, three million people watch it. You know what that gets you on NBC? It gets you canceled. They’d have to adjust to stay on the air, and then the product might not stay so wonderful.
So let’s divide up the awards. Best Drama Cable, Best Drama Network. Best Actress Cable, Best Actress Network. All the way down the line. Give network shows a shot, because making artistic TV under those circumstances is pretty darn hard. Which is not to say it’s easy to make a show like Dexter, but if we’re gonna give out awards shouldn’t the shows which succeed under the toughest circumstances get recognized too? Shows that have to fight with their bosses every week to be allowed to make a good show, and then struggle to get noticed? Because getting viewers is part of the job of making a really good TV show, isn’t it? Making genius that no one sees is one thing, but creating a genius so compelling that the world can’t stop watching — that’s quite another. So let’s give everyone a shot at an award. Sure it’ll make the Emmys 6 hours every year, but hey, it’s on a major network – it’ll get plenty of viewers.