Saturday, July 18, 2009

Emmy, meeny, miny, and even more

By Steve Crum

I’ve said it before: 10 percent of TV’s best programming is higher caliber quality than 90 percent of motion picture (big screen) product. I am talking any comparable, given year for each medium.

Of course, that means there is also 90 percent of television programming--mainly non-drama--that is below par, either leaning toward mediocre or bottoming out. For a positive example, nearly any episode of CSI is better produced, acted, written, and directed than most dramas opening at movie houses. I say most. Now and then, Hollywood movie studios do get it right.

This year’s Emmy nominations focus on the elite top tenth of TV broadcasting. Dramas, comedies, and mini-series are comfortable fits here. That the reality show phenomenon must be represented is regrettable, but not to the millions who thrive on peeking at real competitive humans displaying extreme stress, anger, and joy. Sometimes it is akin to stopping to leer at a car wreck. In high school, where I taught over three decades, it is comparable to the enthusiastic crowd that formed every time a fight broke out in the hall. Exclude me from this mass entertainment. Their wild popularity is reflected by 22 *gasp* reality shows receiving 63 nominations. Ratings dictate. That is truly reality.
There are some surprises this year, led by Tina Fey and her 30 Rock ensemble garnering 22 nominations. That is the highest number for any comedy series in Emmy history. Remember too that in the days of I Love Lucy and The Andy Griffith Show, there were fewer categories. Still, it is a great achievement. Fey is the Elaine May of our time, a powerhouse comedienne, actress, writer and producer.
With 16 nominations, Mad Men continues to baffle the masses. The fact is few have ever seen the series, which kicks off its third season on AMC next month. From the beginning it received critical raves. Its comparably small audience, I among, are loyal fans. Its production values, including acting, set design, directing and even quirky theme music, are top flight.

Mad Men is all about the lives of advertising guys and gals set in an ad agency during the late 1950s through the ‘60s. Great writing too. If you have never seen it, catch it from the beginning since it is episodic. Then, as they used to say in New York’s Madison Avenue parlance, “Run it up a flag pole, and see if you salute.” By the way, the “Mad” in the title refers to Madison Avenue. John Hamm, incidentally, is again nominated for Best Actor. Hamm is also nominated for playing Tina Fey’s flaky boyfriend in several 30 Rock episodes.
When I first saw Kansas City’s own Edward Asner in a CSI: NY episode, playing a former Nazi, with chilling believability, it was obvious: He would be Emmy nominated as Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series. This has been a good year for Asner. He should also be nominated for an Oscar for his voice work in Up. And he should win for both.
Rarely are there ties for Emmys. However, both Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, playing daughter and mother respectively, deserve like wins for their challenging work in the mini-series, Grey Gardens. Absolutely unforgettable performances.
Finally, a few words about two superb, Best Lead Actor, Miniseries or Movie, nominees: Brendan Gleeson and Kiefer Sutherland. This year, Sutherland missed the Best Actor in a Drama Series for his relentless Jack Bauer portrayal in 24, but he is nominated for his Bauer role in the mini-series that preceded this year’s 24 season, called 24: Redemption. However, Gleeson will win the Emmy due to his awesome acting as Winston Churchill in the mini-series Into the Storm.

Isn’t speculation fun? Just get your own blog and have at it.
Emmy winners will be announced Sept. 20 on CBS.

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