Peak TV bonanza complicates Emmy goal to honor the best

LOS ANGELES — Fancy looking for the viewer favorites “Yellowstone”, “NCIS” or “Young Sheldon” at the Emmy Awards?

She and other ratings failed to dent the nominations for Monday’s ceremony. Instead, the catch went to shows that are critical darlings or have a higher degree of cool, including “Stranger Things” and “Squid Game”.

While it can be frustrating for fans, industry experts take such omissions as a sign that television’s most prestigious honor is doing its job, or trying to, in the daunting age of “peak TV” overload.

“When the Emmys were created over 70 years ago, there were so few shows. The public was aware of what was being nominated,” said TV producer-writer William Rosenthal. It stayed that way for most of the 20th century, but today it’s “a very different game, with over 500 series, and international series too.”

Netflix’s “Squid Game” is a prime example, a South Korean drama that is the first non-English language nominee for the highest series accolades. The dystopian horror story competes with seven other critically acclaimed shows, including “Succession” and “Severance.”

The crush of programming means even worthy shows are struggling for recognition.

“You would have thought this abundance of quality would be great for the Emmys, but it has become one of their main challenges,” said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture. “What happens when a prize that was originally designed to select the highlights in what was called the ‘idiot box’ suddenly has more highlights than they can ever know what to do with them?”

Which begs the question: Given the many options shattering the TV audience, how can an awards show draw a crowd?

The ceremony isn’t limited to spotlighting only nominated shows, returning executive producers Reginald Hudlin and Ian Stewart said. The awards will air on NBC Monday at 8 p.m. EDT, hosted by Kenan Thompson of “Saturday Night Live.”

“The writing, the filmmaking, the acting that you see on television is extraordinary,” Hudlin said. “We want to celebrate all the TV… the things we like to watch, whatever that is, yay!”

How to achieve that? “Put a little ‘Law’ & Order’ out there for the people, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,’ Stewart said, using the long-running franchise as shorthand for audience favorites. “We want people to recognize their TV, not our TV, not just the things that have been nominated but have never heard of, or who don’t subscribe to the streaming service.”

One approach, inviting actors from unnominated shows to serve as presenters is already evident: Mariska Hargitay of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and Christopher Meloni of “Law & Order: Organized Crime” will do just that (with both shows also handy on host network NBC).

The nomination process this year was particularly brutal. The farewell seasons of network favorites “black-ish” and “This Is Us” were disapproved, and FX’s “Atlanta” was left out of the best comedy series after two previous nods (although star-creator Donald Glover is eager for an acting trophy, which he won. won in 2017).

Staples like NBC’s “Chicago Fire” or CBS’ “NCIS” — the No. 1 network drama averaging 10 million viewers last season — are awards that have been awarded in every field, but especially among the endless wave of innovative stories on TV. The same goes for Paramount’s “Yellowstone”, well made but not seen as groundbreaking, leaving even the deserving cast members out in the cold.

“It seems like a big mistake that Kelly Reilly was not nominated,” said Rosenthal, whose credits include “Nurse Jackie” and who is an assistant professor at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. Reilly’s performance is heavy but troubled Beth Dutton in the modern western is “really fantastic,” he said.

Emmy nods, preferring shows from big-release streaming services like Netflix, one of the drivers behind TV’s explosive growth, alongside relatively old premium cable channels, including HBO and Showtime. Of the 21 nominees in the best drama, comedy and limited series categories, 11 are on streaming services and seven on premium cable.

ABC’s comedy ‘Abbott Elementary’ stands alone as a nominee for the broadcast series. Two series of kinks went to basic cable: AMC’s “Better Call Saul” and FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows.”

When broadcasts and daily ratings ruled TV, before DVRs and streaming, Emmy recognition could help make a show. The groundbreaking police drama ‘Hill Street Blues’ is a vivid example cited by Thompson of Syracuse.

It was one of the lowest-rated series when it was showered with a then-record eight Emmys in 1981, he said, and saved cancellation. It aired until 1987 and won four consecutive Best Drama Series awards.

The hunt for Emmys continues to spark sizzling “for your consideration” promotion campaigns targeting college voters. But the congested pop culture environment has dimmed the appeal of Hollywood awards across the board, as the dwindling viewership proves, and perhaps the cachet of the trophies themselves.

Emmy producer Stewart offers a counter perspective on the latter. Statistically, he said, the odds of winning one of the 25 Emmys awarded Monday are overwhelming.

“Let’s not forget that this is an unbelievable, unbelievable achievement,” he said.

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