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Sep. 19 2009 - 11:20 pm | 14 views | 1 recommendation | 4 comments

Five talking points for Sunday’s Emmys

Suit up! The brilliant Neil Patrick Harris is your master of ceremonies...

Suit up! The brilliant Neil Patrick Harris is your master of ceremonies...

About 12 million people will sit down Sunday night to watch the television industry pat itself on the back during the 61st Emmy Awards telecast on CBS. And that dozen million can be divided roughly into four groups:

One group will be watching for the fashions.

One group will be self-appointed East Coast taste-makers tuning in for the validation that the little-seen cable TV shows it obsesses over really are as good as it keeps telling everyone they are.

One group will be the same as above, only on the West Coast.

And one group will be a bunch of Americans living somewhere between the coasts who will watch the nominees and repeatedly say to themselves, “Never seen it,” or “Never heard of it.”

I’m oversimplifying, of course. It could be 13 million.

And while there are a handful of other interesting things to be watching Sunday night (more on that in a bit), if you’re one of those social types planning on attending an Emmy Awards watching party and want to impress your friends, here are the five things you’ll need to know to sound like a true, jaded TV insider (and if sounding like a true, jaded TV insider impresses your friends, you might want to expand your social circle):

1. The Disconnect Between Emmy Voters and Actual TV Viewers will Continue to Grow — A few years back, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences rejiggered its nominating process so that so-called “blue ribbon” panels of expert judges picked which shows got nominated (rather than the entire Academy membership). The goal was to make sure that small shows that might not win but were still worthy of nomination got recognized and didn’t just get steamrolled into obscurity by the popular kids (CBS procedurals, I’m looking at you…). It worked: Great little shows, particularly on cable, with tense acting, superb writing and daring artistic style — and very, very low ratings — started bringing in armloads of nominations. But it worked too well: Ratings for the Emmy Awards started to drop. After all, the 15 to 16 million people who make “NCIS” a weekly habit had no reason to watch.

So, this year, the Academy expanded the number of nominees, ditched the blue ribbon panels and returned the nominating process to the sheer popularity contest it once was in an attempt to make sure mainstream, popular shows got nominated. And it didn’t work. Once again, the nominations are dominated by NBC’s “30 Rock”  – the 60th ranked show on TV — and AMC’s “Mad Men” — a show that averages fewer than 2 million viewers a week.

Talking point: Is the Emmy membership so far ahead of American mainstream taste that folks just don’t appreciate how good these shows are, or is it so hopelessly out of touch that we’ve reached a sort of red state-blue state scenario in television?

2. The “Mad Men” Backlash Will Begin — Pity poor “Mad Men.” I fear nothing can go right at the Emmys this year for AMC’s stylish drama with the cult following. As a natural extension of the first talking point: If a show with 1.9 million weekly viewers wins the Best Drama award again (as is nearly universally predicted), a very large number of TV viewers are going to start scratching their heads and wondering why the Academy is, once again, giving Emmy awards to a show 99.9 percent of America has never seen. It will seem elitist and snooty. It will seem condescending. They’re going to be a little pissed. And the backlash will begin.

And if “Mad Men” doesn’t win, despite near universal predictions to the contrary, it will embolden the few critics who haven’t fallen prey to the suave and steely gaze of Don Draper to say: See? told you it wasn’t that good! And with fellow T/S-er Brian Donovan leading the pack, the hushed whispers of “overrated” will begin to get louder…

Talking point: Either way, “Mad Men” can’t win, even if it does.

3. Emmy Ratings Will Be Lower Than Last Year (And Last Year’s Sucked) – First: see Talking Point No. 1. Second: It has some stiff competition this year. As Variety points out, gone are the days when the other networks would abstain from counter-programming on Emmy night. Instead, HBO is premiering the new season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (complete with a “Seinfeld” reunion plot line) and a new quirky comedy, “Bored to Death,” while AMC has a new episode of “Mad Men.” All three shows are like cat nip to the very folks who otherwise would be tuning in to see if their cult favorites are taking home gold statues.

Oh, and NBC has the Cowboys-Giants game, which, conservatively speaking, should get about 20 million viewers, at least.

Talking point: Are the Emmys irrelevant as TV programming? Or should it move to cable and finally become one of the niche-audience shows it loves so much?

4. Be Prepared for the Not-So-Veiled Mocking of Jay Leno’s Show — It’s not because his ratings are plummeting faster than Wile E. Coyote (18 million viewers on Monday, 8.5 million on Thursday) — first week ratings never tell the true story and NBC never expected Leno to win the 10 p.m. slot to begin with (though the fact that he did worse than a repeat of “The Mentalist” has to hurt). It’s because so many people at other TV networks are rooting for the Jay Leno/NBC experiment to fail that we can expect lots of pin pricks in NBC’s shaky new balloon. Then add in all the writers and actors who’ll be out of jobs if Leno does well and networks are emboldened to ditch expensive scripted TV in favor of cheap talk/variety shows, and we’re going to see the sarcasm meter soar.

Talking point: It’s Jay Leno. His show’s not very good and he’s such a caricature of the glad-handing everyman… you practically have to make fun of him. Join in.

5. Get Ready for Awesomeness of Neil Patrick Harris — After seeing his charming turn as host of the Tony Awards at the beginning of the summer, the Academy asked Harris to bring a little of his bad-boy, come-hither charm to the Emmy telecast. Smart move. Sunday’s show will be the start of Chapter Three in the somewhat amazing career of Neil Patrick Harris.

The former child star could have faded into obscurity — or rehab — like so many before him. But the former “Doogie Howser, MD” prodigy instead grew up into — gasp — a happy and prosperous adult. And an entertainment dynamo. He sings. He treads the boards of Broadway. He performs magic. He stars in cult online video favorites, stoner comedies and, now, another successful TV show (for which he’s also nominated for an Emmy, natch). He’s so freakin’ well-adjusted and successful that he even shrugged off with a smile being forced to come out by tabloid slime.

And with this Sunday’s rakish and charming performance as Emmys MC, expect to see him become the new Johnny Carson of awards shows — the guy who just manages to make even the most boring back-slapping monstrosity that much shinier.

Talking point: He’s going to be legen — wait for it — dary. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) And rumor has it that his brilliant character, Dr. Horrible, will make an appearance on the show, too.

So… there you have it, sports fans. Amaze your friends, impress your enemies, bother your use-net cohorts… now you’re an insider.

Wait… what? You want actual predictions of the winners? Please… I put all my money on “ALF” back in ‘87. What do I know?


4 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    This year, I may be more excited about the host than the red carpet fashions. And for me, that’s something. Hope NPH knocks it out of the park.

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    I left journalism school with one goal in mind: to work at TV Guide. It didn't happen. So, I stuck with my day-job: retyping entertainment listings into the Prodigy computer service for The Los Angeles Times. Dial-up modems got faster and I stuck with the Web -- launching, editing and innovating national, political and feature news Web sites for ABC News, The Washington Post and AOL. I've spent 15 years making other people's content look good on computer screens. It's time the shoe finally landed on the other foot...

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