I did not watch the Emmys last night. In fact, I never watch the Emmys. This might come as a surprise to friends of mine, who have been to my various Oscar parties over the years. At times, it comes as a surprise to me: I like watching good television shows, and I’m often familiar with a number of the nominees. In fact, in recent years, I am probably familiar with more Emmy nominees than Oscar nominees.
As my Twitter timeline was flooded with Emmy tweets last night, I tried to think about why I have no interest in the show. For years, I’ve assumed it’s simply because I disagree with the winners, and thought the voters had bland taste. While this might be true, it’s not an Oscar turn-off for me, even though those awards can certainly be accused of conservative, and even poor, decisions.
I didn’t come up with a good answer until this morning, when I read a brief recap of the show. I think what bothers me about the Emmy is the distinct lack of variety or nuance in handing out awards. From year to year, there’s hardly any true variety amongst winners: shows tend to sweep large swaths of statues, as if there’s been a concerted effort to heap praise upon a show. But rarely does such attention seem born of particular arcs or efforts.
We live in a time when television seasons are increasingly distinct entities. Now, more than ever, we watch television shows as they were produced: we not only view episodes in the order they were aired (and/or shot, thanks to restructured episode orders on DVD and streaming services), but we talk about seasons as products in their entirety. Episodes are no longer the main dish, but courses in a larger meal we’re consuming.
Emmy voters, though, don’t seem to view television that way. And it applies to both the winners I love (Mad Men) and winners I don’t care for (Modern Family): their recognition doesn’t seem attached to any particular meaning, or arc, or performance. In other words, there seems to be little value in winning one award. Success is only achieved from winning several of them.
Maybe this is why the Oscars are more fortunate, and more popular: they have the advantage of starting with a new slate every year, thus avoiding this problem entirely. At least when I watch the Oscars, I know what they’re awarding, and can suss out some reason. Each individual award is infused with great import. With the Emmys, such stature is increasingly unachievable.