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TeeVee Awards '03: Whose Meaningless Trinket Is It, Anyway?

Search through the deepest recesses of TeeVee's archive -- past all the reviews, the belated Dead Pool wrap-ups, the gratuitous laughs at the expense of Tony Danza -- and you still won't find much of anything written about the Emmy Awards. Oh, there'll be a brief mention here or there -- an offhanded reference, a minuscule footnote, the unfortunate use of the word "Emmy-rific!" -- but certainly not the sort of round-the-clock, all-hands-on-deck, someone-go-tell-Michaels-he's-getting-pre-empted-this-week coverage befitting the television industry's marquee event. In TeeVee's just-under seven years of existence, we've wasted minimal virtual ink forecasting the awards, debating the nominations or covering the big night itself. Rely on TeeVee.org as your sole source of television industry happenings -- and we don't advise that you do -- and you might not even know the Emmy Awards even exist.

Why the cold shoulder, vis-a-vis the Emmys? Is the reason our questionable competence? Our insidious unprofessionalism? Our profound laziness? Our fear of any event where Joan and Melissa Rivers are around to pester people about their clothing?

Those are all pretty good explanations, actually. But the real, honest-to-goodness reason is that we think the Emmy Awards are kind of stupid.

Hey, it's not like we're against the idea of honoring the best that television has to offer. All other forms of popular entertainment -- movies, music, Broadway musicals, adult videos -- boast their own award ceremonies; why should TV get left out in the cold? Besides, you can't open up the New York Times Arts section or go to a cocktail party without having to endure a self-important monologue from some black-clad, chardonnay-sipping culture snob on the artistic achievement displayed in a 90-minute indie film with shaky camera work about gay, narcoleptic drug addicts on a journey of self-discovery or the timeless poetry contained in some sunken-eyed street thug's bawdy rap songs. Yet simply argue that television -- a medium seen by more people in a single evening than have sat through the entire canon of dreary Billy Crudup movies -- is just as capable as any other entertainment venue of telling a powerful, affecting story and telling it with supreme artistry, and that same artsy-fartsy crowd will look at you as if you just recently discovered the wonders of indoor plumbing. If an overly long award show can lend television the same patina of high art enjoyed by derivative movie directors and barely sentient rock musicians and convince people that maybe -- just maybe, now -- television can produce innovative, engaging stuff, then roll out the red carpet and summon the Rivers kin.

Unfortunately, the Emmy Awards do nothing of the sort. Instead of honoring the best television of the past year, the award ceremony has long settled for being a repetitive exercise in self-congratulation, offering the same pat on the back to the usual roundup of suspects.

As the Emmy folks assemble next month at the Shrine Auditorium to hand out gaudy statuettes, nominees in two of the major categories -- Best Comedy Series and Best Actress in a Comedy -- are the exact same people nominated last year. The Best Drama category would have been the same too, had The Sopranos not returned from a lengthy hiatus to bump Law & Order out of the running (and thus, deny L&O its 12th -- 12th! -- consecutive nomination for the award). All but one of the same nominees for Best Actor in a Drama return, with James Gandolfini bumping off Six Feet Under's Michael C. Hall. The Best Actress, Drama category has two different nominees from last year -- Marg Helgenberger of CSI and Edie Falco of The Sopranos. Of course, since both actresses already sport Emmy hardware on their respective mantelpieces, it's not like they're exactly newcomers to the big show. The Best Actor, Comedy category enjoyed the largest turnover -- three new nominees -- although one, Eric McCormack, took home the prize two years ago.

That's not an award show -- that's a roll call.

Look, we're not about to declare the 2002-2003 season a landmark year in television. Truth be told, it's been a rather lackluster 12 months, with the bad outweighing the good and the forgettably mediocre vastly outweighing the bad. We saw shows that were either top-notch or solid enough a year ago -- 24 and CSI, for those of you scoring at home -- take creative pratfalls this past season. We saw other shows that were busy taking their own creative pratfalls a year ago -- we're looking at your mangled body, West Wing -- fail to get up off the floor. And we saw shows so old you'd need to turn to carbon dating in order to determine the Sell-By date -- we'll speak louder if your hearing is shot, Friends -- continue to limp on for so long that we're almost nostalgic for those heady days when they were merely a little past their prime.

24, CSI, West Wing and Friends are all up for Best Series Emmys in their respective genres, incidentally.

But surely something new and different must have emerged during the past year. While the good programs may have been badly outnumbered by the Hidden Hillses, the CSI: Miamis and the Oliver Beenes of the world, there was still just enough to keep us from writing the past season off as a total loss. The Shield returned for a strong sophomore year, Tony Shalhoub was a revelation (as was his series Monk), and Malcolm in the Middle came back strong after a so-so outing in 2001-02. Though it was delayed, pre-empted and unceremoniously yanked off the air, Futurama went out at the top of its game. The Simpsons continues to bring the funny, and looks like it will do so long after we're all dead and gone and our sons and daughters are mailing out crummy T-shirts to the winners of Dead Pool 2040. Though this wasn't the strongest year for new shows, Boomtown and Without a Trace can hold their own with anything on the air these days. And anytime ABC's slate of bland, interchangeable sitcoms about wisecracking dads wears us down, we can simply turn the channel to BBC America and watch a pair of shows -- Coupling and The Office -- that remind us that every 30-minute comedy isn't rendered lifeless and grim by the chilling touch of Jim Belushi.

And yet... the Emmy Award nominations don't reflect the world that we've been watching the past 12 months. The most-nominated programs this year are Six Feet Under and The West Wing, with 16 and 15 nominations apiece. Which makes sense... if Superman does that trick where he flies around the world really fast, thus reversing the Earth's orbit and turning back the flow of time until we're smack-dab in the middle of 2001. If it's this season we're talking about, only the most slobbering, sycophantic fanguys and fangals of either program would contend that either one was on its game this year. As for those new shows we're so fond of? Without a Trace garnered a grand total of two Emmy nominations, for best actor in a guest starring role and best art direction in a single-camera series. Boomtown got a single nomination (the highly coveted "Best Main Title Music" category) -- the exact same amount earned by The Anna Nicole Smith Show (Best Title Sequence). Or to put it another way, Emmy voters think one of the most noteworthy new shows to appear on network television deserves the same amount of recognition as a basic-cable show regarded by nearly everyone who watched it as the worst program in the English-speaking world.

Go back and read that last sentence a couple of times. It only makes things seem more preposterous.

So the Emmys are a farce, a burlesque, an exercise in rigged, predetermined outcomes worthy of the WWE's Vince McMahon. The nominee lists are merely mimeographed copies of the prior year's picks, with anyone whose show went off the air or who died in the past year crossed out, with the name of a new nominee-for-life scribbled in. The awards themselves change hands as frequently as the presidency in a country controlled by a military strongman. Also, the musical tributes are bloated and self-indulgent, and the tuxedos of today are nowhere near as form-flattering as yesteryear's offerings. The world would gladly be rid of the Emmy Awards -- if only there was something else to take its place.

Well... there's always our award show.

Oh, sure -- the annual TeeVee Awards aren't a show in the strictest technical sense. There's no red carpet, no glittering auditorium packed to the rafters with celebrities, no black-tie and gowns from Versace. (We're lucky most days if we can persuade Rywalt to put on a pair of pants.) The winners of our awards don't give long-winded speeches where they thank their team of managers and yes-men until our orchestra awkwardly plays them off. In most cases, our winners don't even know or care that they've won. Which is fortunate since we really don't have much of a trophy budget, as the few winners who've actually taken the time to write us have abruptly discovered. And while we remain in serious negotiations with big-time networks -- all right, UPN -- to televise the event, it looks like this year's ceremony will uphold the proud TeeVee.org tradition of near-total anonymity.

On the bright side, you can probably read all of our award write-ups in the time that it will take the Emmys telecast to perform a musical tribute to the terrible sitcoms of the WB. And we give out mean awards, to people and shows that offend our delicate sensibilities. Let's see those Emmy shits try that.

The TeeVee Awards also have it all over the Emmys in several other key areas:

* Unlike the Emmy folks, who shunt off The Simpsons and Futurama and who knows how many other great animated shows to the Awards Presented at an Earlier Ceremony ghetto, we've given animated programming their own award that's on equal footing with any of the other meaningless accolades we pass out. And occasionally, we've been known to pick animated offerings over their flesh-and-blood counterparts for best show of the year -- particularly during seasons when NBC rolls out a lot of new live-action sitcoms.

* You sometimes get the feeling that the Emmy voters wish that the Cable ACE awards were still around, so that they could go back to ignoring programming found on the upper reaches of the TV dial. Sure, Michael Chiklis won the Best Actor in a Drama Emmy for his work on The Shield last year, but that happened a full month after we gave him the top acting prize in our little contest. And which trophy do you think means more to him?

The Emmy? Chiklis, you ingrate!

* Once you win one of our awards, you're not necessarily guaranteed a repeat performance. Sarah Michelle Gellar has won our Best Actress in an Hour-Long Program award so many times, we might as well carve the statue in her image. (We suspect that Wrenn may have already carved his very own Sarah Michelle Gellar statue.) This year? We wish Ms. Gellar luck as she ends her Buffy the Vampire Slayer days, but she'll have to ride off into the sunset empty-handed -- her performance this year simply wasn't up to our lofty standards. The same holds true for the less prestigious categories -- Emily Procter is a back-to-back recipient of the Worst Actress award, so if we were as shiftless and lazy as Emmy voters, she'd already have locked up the three-peat. But we stay on top of things here at the TeeVee Awards and, without giving away the winner, Procter wasn't even the worst performer on her own show.

Do you think the Emmy voters would take the time to double-check that Emily Procter sucked as bad this year as she did for the past two years? They're too busy signing alimony checks for all their trophy wives.

So throw off the cruel oppressive chains of your Emmy overlords, gentle readers, and embrace our impeccably researched and ultimately meaningless season-end awards, instead. Just kick back for the next week or so as we roll out the best and worst of television this year.

And stay tuned afterward, as Joan and Melissa Rivers critique Rywalt's pantsless ensemble.

Additional contributions to this article by: Philip Michaels.


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