July 18--The only bang in Thursday morning's 65th annual Primetime Emmy Award nominations is the usual nod for the CBS comedy "The Big Bang Theory," eliciting a whimper of "again?" from me.
Ho Hum. While the home-viewing business is changing at a speed-of-light rate, you can't expect the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to reflect on what's really going on. It took the organization years to acknowledge cable. ("Sex and the City" won the first big award in 2000.)
While some may be hailing "House of Cards'" well-deserved nine nominations and the paid streaming service Netflix for 14 overall as the beginning of a new era, I wouldn't be so quick to expect major alterations in the Emmy landscape for a while. The Netflix nominations are a result of a change in 2008 by the Academy in its eligibility rules, adding the Internet as a platform. That was mostly to accommodate the short-format category, which hardly shows up anywhere else. Last year at this time, when "House of Cards" was in production, there were probably few in the Academy who thought it would create this kind of a beachhead.
Most of the rest of Thursday's nominations were fairly predictable, unadventurous and even boring. There is a certain inertia that sets in when Academy voters make their picks. First of all, there are way too many categories, anyway. Really, who cares about the best guest on a comedy?
The only thing of interest there is that maybe Justin Timberlake, who is nominated for his "Saturday Night Live" gig, might show up this year to help the Emmy Awards show's lagging ratings.
Last year's telecast on ABC drew 13.2 million viewers, a slight increase from the previous year, but saw a drop in the key ages 18-49 demographic. To put that in perspective, "Game of Thrones," according to reports, gets an average of 13.4 million viewers, factoring in originals, repeat broadcasts, DVR, HBO Go and On Demand, where people have to subscribe to the pay cable channel. This year's ceremony is set for Sept. 22 on CBS.
Now back to "The Big Bang Theory," which is about to enter its seventh season and has won Emmys twice as top comedy. At best, it's a serviceable sitcom with a laugh"'track -- an apartment-based live comedy harking back to the 1950s when "I Love Lucy" and "The Honeymooners" were the top shows. Its gimmick is to have nerds gabbing. Like most network sitcoms, it cranks out more than 20 episodes every year, and that ultimately waters down the product.
The Brits recognized this years ago and have limited series. Ricky Gervais only made 12 episodes of the original "Office" over two seasons. Cable shows stick closer to that form. Last year, another network comedy, "Modern Family," beat "Big Bang" for the Emmy, but I'd rather see more subversive shows in the comedy category like Showtime's "House of Lies" or "Shameless." At least, Don Cheadle got a nod for "HOL."
While I have my problems with "Girls" (that's another subject), I prefer having it nominated more than anything from the networks, who complained they couldn't get away with as much because they had advertisers. So? This is supposed to be about quality. Next year's Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black" has a shot at joining the comedy nominees, but will that mean ousting another network show? Hopefully.
There were no network shows among the dramas: five cable series and "House of Cards." But at least the "excellence" that the academy is touting in its nominees is there. There are perhaps as many as 10 other shows that could have made the list, and I wouldn't have minded seeing FX's "Justified" and "The Americans" along with AMC's "The Walking Dead" among them.
It's interesting that cable, along with the networks, grumbled about Netflix's campaign to get nominations, feeling that they were losing a spot. And now they are likely to face more competition. Already Directv is producing its own series, and Amazon, Hulu, YouTube and even Conde Nast have announced they are developing original programming.
Earlier this week, Apple chief executive, Timothy D. Cook announced a "grand vision" for television. While details were sketchy, it was believed to be along the lines of an a la carte service, allowing more choices in viewing and possibly the elimination of commercials.
But whatever happens with people watching on phones, iPads and laptops or streaming to their TVs with Apple TV boxes (they are in some 13 million homes), what the Emmy nominations represent are the end of an era. I know a lot of you will think this is premature. The networks and cable companies still wield a lot of clout, and the Emmy Awards ceremony -- like this year -- has traditionally been a kickoff point of the new fall season.
But how much longer will viewers even care about a fall season? The Emmy Awards today are pretty much just another variety show, and not a particularly popular one. History tells us that people in any industry don't see change coming their way. (I know this firsthand being in the newspaper business.) While it's lovely to see great TV work honored -- and there are plenty of critics and pundits to argue over who is the most deserving -- the industry itself is becoming more and more fractured. Do we eventually start having nominations for best performance on an eight-inch screen to reflect that?
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