Emmy Awards Find New Place in an Endless TV Season

By Lowry, Brian | Variety, September 15, 2015 | Go to article overview

Emmy Awards Find New Place in an Endless TV Season


Lowry, Brian, Variety


In 1991, Emmy producer Steve Sohmer spoke about goals for the telecast that still seemed very much a possibility.

"I hope the Emmys will perform the magical thing they've done in the past by pointing out shows the public has not quite discovered," he told the Los Angeles Times. "'Hill Street Blues,' 'Cheers' and 'St. Elsewhere' were all marginal shows that won a pile of Emmys and then became hits.... That's a way the entertainment industry can say to the public, 'Hey, here's a good one you missed.' When that recognition can be converted into popularity, that's gratifying."

Fast forward a generation, and plenty has changed, from the major networks' muted presence within the Emmy ceremony - including being shut out in the prestigious best drama category, with PBS' "Downton Abbey" serving as broadcast's lone representative - to the fact that there's less heat surrounding the official start of the fall campaign, in part because the modern TV "season" never really ends.

In terms of representing the starter's pistol for the fall TV season, the Emmys just aren't what they used to be. Indeed, if "Endless Summer" denoted the search for big waves, "Endless Fall" is a fair description of a programming tsunami that ebbs and flows, perhaps, but never really ends.

As Sohmer noted, the Emmys once offered a showcase to try building excitement - especially for TV's high-quality series - heading into the fall. NBC, for example, parlayed Emmy wins in the 1980s into a promotion for its Thursday roster as "the best night of television on television," a precursor to what became "Must-See TV."

Yet while ratings for the Emmys (and other award shows) have remained relatively good, the notion that TV's big night stands out on a calendar overflowing with "events" has grown more tenuous. And while there's still value in claiming the prestige that goes with such acclaim, there's minimal evidence of a correlation between golden trophies and ratings.

In an age of abundant choice and fragmentation, the Emmys have rather primarily become a branding opportunity, especially for premium and now streaming services. "Mad Men," to cite one example, dominated the drama category without ever really becoming a sizable hit. …

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