Emmy Changes Fail to Win Hollywood's Applause

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The Emmy awards ceremony takes place Sunday. This year, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences tried a new nominating system intended to boost the chances of some previously neglected shows. But the changes have largely been considered a failure.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Emmy Awards will be handed out here in Los Angeles this Sunday. This year, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences tried a new nominating system in the major categories. The idea is to address longstanding complaints that certain performances and shows had been unfairly overlooked.

As NPR's Kim Masters reports, the changes were not well received.

KIM MASTERS reporting:

Lauren Graham has been winning critical praise for her role on the Gilmore Girls for years.

(Soundbite of Gilmore Girls)

Ms. LAUREN GRAHAM (Actress): (As Lorelai Gilmore): This is a real estate office. What errand do you have to run at a real estate office?

Ms. KELLY BISHOP (Actress): (As Emily Gilmore): Are you coming?

Ms. GRAHAM: (As Lorelai Gilmore): Am I coming with you to the real estate office?

Ms. BISHOP: (As Emily Gilmore) Don't forget to lock the door. I'm leaving my bananas here.

Ms. GRAHAM: (As Lorelai Gilmore): Mom, why are we going to a real estate office? Mom.

MASTERS: But Graham has never gotten an Emmy nomination. According to Maureen Ryan, television critic for the Chicago Tribune, that was the problem with the old system.

Ms. MAUREEN RYAN (Chicago Tribune): Someone like Lauren Graham kind of became the poster child of the Emmys, because she has a show on the WB and, you know, while they were in existence the WB and UPN basically got shafted.

MASTERS: There are more than 13,000 members of the Television Academy. In the past, nominations were decided by popular vote, and there were complaints that the same performances and shows made the short list time after time. Some said academy members didn't really watch a lot of shows but just voted for old favorites.

So this year members submitted their votes and then a group of panels watched samples of the top choices. It was those panels that set the list of nominees. But when the ballot was unveiled, the new system got panned, and not just by critics.

Mr. STEVE MCPHERSON (Entertainment Chief, ABC): You know, everyone would admit there's some odd nominations for and there are some odd oversights.

MASTERS: Steve McPherson is ABC's entertainment chief. He expressed his bafflement last month at a gathering of television critics. In ABC's case, McPherson complained about a shutout for the hit show Lost, among other things.

Mr. MCPHERSON: For one year to win it and then the next year to not be nominated; for one year one of the Desperate Housewives to win the best actress and then for none of them to be nominated the next year, there's a problem.

MASTERS: John Leverence, the senior vice president of awards with the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, he responds that for every show that was passed over, another got an opportunity.

Mr. JOHN LEVERENCE (Academy of Television Arts and Sciences): You didn't have other programs that had been in before. For example, Desperate Housewives and Lost. But Grey's Anatomy and House are in.

MASTERS: But critic Maureen Ryan says the system is still a failure. Yes, the series House was nominated, but actor Hugh Laurie, who pretty much carries the show, was passed over. And Lauren Graham from the Gilmore Girls? She wasn't nominated again.

Some of the nominations are as bad as the omissions. Ryan can't believe that the raunchy sitcom Two and a Half Men got seven nominations, including Outstanding Comedy Series. Overall, Ryan feels that the Emmy balloting process has produced a lamentable result.

Ms. RYAN: What this does for people who follow television is just make us feel almost embarrassed. Like, you know, imagine that, you know, Will Ferrell, who's a fine actor, gets nominated for Talladega Nights next year at the Oscars. I mean it's just not going to happen.

MASTERS: The Television Academy's John Leverence points out that there are surprises at the Oscars. Like last year, when Crash won Best Picture. And he adds that among the major awards, the Emmys present unique challenges.

Mr. LEVERENCE: We're the only one that has recurring series. The Grammys and the Tonys and the Oscars, it's all new every year.

MASTERS: It's still not known whether the new system will be in place next year. Leverence says the academy will evaluate the nominations process again, but not until January.

Kim Masters, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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