Monday, September 17, 2007

The Emmys: Our Annual Fear and Loathing in the Living Room

It's not that the Emmy had any actual meaning before yesterday. But there are lines that get crossed, in terms of the world not making sense to me, that frighten me. And James Gandolfini not earning an Emmy for seven years of inspired, thrilling, serious achievement in the art of acting, frightens me.

Overreaction? No. Because it means that the judgment of a group of sentient adults, who supposedly have knowledge about the art of acting, particularly as it relates to television, is seriously impaired, and yet these people vote in national elections, drive on our highways, and raise children. The world is not a safer place with the likes of these Academy members.

That 30 Rock won Best Comedy and The Sopranos won Best Drama restored a little peace of mind to my worldview. And I thought the tribute to The Sopranos was an authentic moment. The images on the screens were well chosen, and the Jersey Boys's songs added a quick, ironic context to the clips. When the whole cast came out and stood in that huge circle in the round, you could sense the enormous, collective talent who now share a very special collective history. They took a bow, under that bold show logo, and it was a very classy piece of television.

Those bright spots notwithstanding, it is beyond embarrassing that the award show honoring excellence in television is such bad television. The show in the round didn’t work for presenters or accepters, the first 45 minutes were a complete jumble, with no coherence—a tribute to Tom Synder popped up out of nowhere—and there were two times what seemed to be a technical difficulty sent the camera off of the main stage, though it might have been the censor, who then must have gone home when Brad Garrett got onstage.

But beyond the sloppiness of this high school production, we had to witness a subsection of the culture wars.

The Family Guy cartoons started off with a song, a cute nod to the Oscars—-but one of the first lines was something about “trash” on tv, with a punchline of sorts that there’s such a broad range of trash. Why does TV have such low self-esteem? This quickly became a self-fulling prophesy by the most narcissistic, unfunny monologue from Ray Romano, well, until Brad Garrett got up. (How much power must Romano still have to be given that spot ?)

Jump cut to the fine actors from Roots, with Lou Gossett, Jr., saying, “I’m moved at what television can do to enrich our lives and educate, and I’m proud to be part of this medium.”

Television is a battlefield of sorts between the crassness of the Romanos and Garretts, and the actual contributions to the viewing lives of audiences from the Robert Duvalls, Helen Mirrens, Stewart/Colbert/Carrells of the world. The two collide each year on the Emmys (with the middle ground fighting to hold its own), and it isn't a pretty sight. I think Hugh Laurie as host would have helped.

Of course, you can always change the channel. But that's not the point. Television's own award show should be a true celebration of the extraordinary work we invite into our living rooms on a daily basis.

I'll be an optimist and say, maybe next year.


dorki said...

I remember back in the 1950's the FCC Chairman said that TV had become "a vast wasteland". If only he could see it now!

M.A.Peel said...

Ah yes, the esteemed Newton Minnow. Here's what he said:

"When television is good, nothing -- not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers -- nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit and loss sheet or rating book to distract you -- and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland."

I'd say his "when it's good it's great, when it's bad, it's horrendous" assessment is still dead on.

wyndham said...

It defies belief that Gandolfini didn't win it. His performance was subtle and generous and vulnerable in every single episode. Go figure.

M.A.Peel said...

wyndham, maybe there's something he can win in your part of the world.

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