Commentary

Fixing The Emmys

This past Sunday’s Emmy Awards broadcast was the lowest-rated ever.  Before that, last year’s broadcast was the lowest-rated ever. Next year’s broadcast will probably lower the bar even further and again be the lowest-rated ever.  That’s what happens when most of the series nominated for the major awards are among the lowest-rated ever.  Why should people watch a show that highlights shows they don’t watch?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love “Mr. Robot,” but it barely averages three-tenths of a rating point among Adults 18-49 (and that’s live + 7).

Of the seven Best Drama nominees, only one, HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” generates a 2.0 rating or higher (and more than half the country doesn’t receive HBO).  The only other drama nominee to get even a 1.0 rating is AMC’s “Better Call Saul.”  Not a single broadcast drama was nominated this year.  And the top-rated broadcast dramas are still, with a few exceptions, significantly more popular with viewers than either cable or streaming shows.

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Of the seven Best Comedy nominees, only ABC’s “Modern Family” and “Black-ish” get more than a marginal audience.  “Veep,” the perennial winner for Best Comedy or Best Actress in a comedy series, barely generates half a rating point among Adults 18-49.

Hollywood, critics, and the television industry love many of the nominated shows, but the majority of viewers hardly know they exist, much less watch them.  If you asked 100 random people on the street if they watch Amazon’s “Transparent” or Netflix’s “Master of None,” I’d guess that one might say yes, while the other 99 would say they’d never even heard of those shows.

That’s not to say that the great Jeffrey Tambor (“Transparent”) and Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”) didn’t deserve to win for their extraordinary performances.  But there is no question that if dramas like “The Walking Dead” (the highest rated show on television, which also had a great season), and other popular series, such as “Empire,” “Big Bang Theory,” “NCIS,” “Quantico,” “Major Crimes,” and “Blacklist,” were also nominated, it would have generated more interest in the Emmys.

The Academy Awards increased the number of movies nominated beyond the traditional five mainly so some of the more popular movies would make the list.  Motion Picture Academy strategists understand that ratings are almost always higher when movies that more people have actually seen are nominated.

Is there anything that can be done to improve The Emmy Awards ratings next year?  I have some suggestions, although I doubt they will be implemented.

Break out the major awards into three overarching categories: Broadcast, Basic Cable, Premium Cable/Streaming.  It’s not really fair to the broadcast network series that produce 18-22 episodes per season, to compete with series that only have to create 10-13 episodes and do not have the same sex, violence, and language restrictions (and no real deadline for when they need to start their new season).

Let viewers vote online or by phone for the three categories, and announce the overall winners during a separate hour-long show the following night.  During that show, since there will only be three series competing in each category -- Best Drama, Best Comedy, and Best Actor and Actress -- there will be time to show extensive clips of each show and performance.  This might even encourage viewers to find some of the shows they’ve never heard of before.

Maybe this will work, and maybe it won’t.  But it is worth trying.  Otherwise, I’m not sure why any broadcast network would want to continue airing a telecast that minimizes the value of its own product.

4 comments about "Fixing The Emmys".
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  1. David Kleeman from Dubit, September 21, 2016 at 3:52 p.m.

    I've long been involved with television awards. I ran the Ollie Awards for excellence in US children's programming long ago, and chair the advisory board of PRIX JEUNESSE International, the awards for excellence in children's TV worldwide.

    You can honor excellence or you can honor audience. The latter goes by two names - the ratings and the People's Choice Awards. That's not what the Emmys are all about.

    In a time when there is far more TV than one could ever keep track of, giving awards to outstanding and innovative productions is a great way to help viewers discover something new, something they might not have tried otherwise. My company - Dubit - does trends research with 2- to 15-year-olds; one of our foremost findings is that over 60% of kids and teens often or sometimes have difficulty finding content that appeals to them. It's doubtful that's because it's not there; it's more likely that driving discovery is producers' and distributors' biggest challenge.

    Segregating shows by where they air makes no sense in today's omni-media environment. Most audiences look for engaging content; they don't think, "I want to watch some basic cable."

    Number of episodes and content restrictions are getting blurrier all the time - "Downton Abbey" had eight episodes in its last season (closer to a British standard) but aired on PBS. "Mr. Robot" had 10 episodes in its debut season on USA. Shows on basic cable are challenging language and content boundaries all the time (the censorious Parents Television Council would say broadcast has tipped over the edge, as well). Shows migrate: "Community" started life on NBC and finished on Yahoo!.

    If anything, the hard choices in the major Emmy categories just emphasize that we are spoiled for choice - has there ever been a time with a better array of creator-driven ideas, populated with extraordinary stars and ensembles?

  2. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, September 22, 2016 at 8:13 a.m.

    It's just like advertising; are you in business to win awards or make money? The broadcast networks (along with other outlets) have their shows validated all the time, when people watch them. Advertising doesn't need awards if it builds business. Who cares who won a Webby, Clio or Shorty (outside the creative dept)?

    Like most awards, Emmys are just self-congratulation. They get an audience because celebrities are on and the content is of some interest to the audience. I find it boring because they are using the same devices to create interest (like the opening sequence - which is where they lost me), and it's starting to become hackneyed.

    You're right in that the show should be freshened or totally revamped to make the user experience better. But the awards themselves are content presented poorly.

  3. Linda Moskal from WNPV Radio, September 22, 2016 at 12:28 p.m.

    Steve, you are correct in that I have never even heard of most of the shows you mentioned.  But, then again, they won't care as I am not in their target audience anyway.  And while I agree with both Mr. Kleeman and Mr. Hutter about the purpose of awards, I would suggest that network tv stop carrying the Emmy award show since their shows don't meet the criteria for nomination but then they'd be in the position of having to create some actual programming for all that time!

  4. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report, September 22, 2016 at 2:47 p.m.

    I agree with most of everyone's points.  My intent was not to comment on the purpose of the Emmy awards, but rather how to make the broadcast more appealing to viewers.  I think that oftentimes the most innovative and creative programs will be lower rated, because almost by definition they are not designed to initially appeal to a broad audience.  Breaking Bad is a good example.  For first few seasons it was very low rated, but by its final season it got a much broader and larger audience.  It's Emmy nominations and social media buzz (and AMC's marathons) no doubt contributed.  Nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with adding some high-rated series into the nomination mix - it will take nothing away from the other shows, and might help provide a larger platform for viewers to discover them.

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