This year's Emmy awards -- It's hard to handicap the show when the nominations are so screwy

The Emmy awards, the 43rd edition of which is tucked away on the Fox network this week, have become a joke, one that is variously amusing, annoying, and ridiculous. For example:

Isn’t it funny the way, of the three most significant awards shows on television — the Oscars, the Grammys, and the Emmys — the one that honors television itself has become the most confusing and least suspenseful?

Isn’t it annoying that Emmy rules deem that the superlative Simpsons has to compete against a Garfield special in the animated-program category, instead of being placed in the comedy-series category among peer products such as Cheers and Murphy Brown?

And isn’t it ridiculous that Roseanne, the only top 10 sitcom that makes huge leaps in humor and thoughtfulness with each succeeding season, received but a single nomination? John Goodman certainly deserves to win as lead actor in a comedy series, but where are the Roseanne Emmy nominations for Best Comedy Series, writing, directing, acting, and, for heaven’s sake, Roseanne Barr Arnold herdamnself?

Oooh, I’m telling you, these Emmys just make my blood boil — or they would if they had any connection to reality. A nomination process that forces PBS’ magisterial The Civil War to do battle with Entertainment Tonight (in the Best Informational Series category) is one of pop culture’s great unsolved mysteries. Hey, wait a minute: Unsolved Mysteries is in that category too!

You might say, be reasonable — aren’t all those little critic’s-pet shows like thirtysomething, Northern Exposure, Twin Peaks, and China Beach up for a fair number of Emmys? Yeah, but except for Northern Exposure, whose sexy whimsy has seduced a nation, those shows will turn the Emmy presentation into a depressing wake, because they’ve all been canceled, with few quality replacements in sight.

And, oh yes, one more complaint. Why no nominations for the Mystery! miniseries Mother Love, which featured Diana Rigg as a fearsome parent, and Masterpiece Theatre’s House of Cards, the season’s wittiest, most surprising political satire? Both of these shows transcended their respective series’ tendencies to be stuffy and clubby, and they were as exciting and entertaining as anything on commercial TV.

Well, enough grousing. Of the programming that was nominated, here are predictions for the two biggest awards and recommendations for two other horse races to watch.

Comedy series nominees are Cheers, Designing Women, The Golden Girls, Murphy Brown, and The Wonder Years. Leaving aside the fact that the real Best Comedy Series of the year was The Simpsons (ooh, I could just scream), I think Emmy voters will think of this one as a competition between Cheers and Designing Women and will want to see how Designing‘s new cast changes work out before giving the show another award. Thus, the probable winner: Cheers.

Drama series nominees are China Beach, L.A. Law, Northern Exposure, Quantum Leap, and thirtysomething. No doubt in my mind that thirtysomething deserves the Emmy, but the older, grumpier voting members who dominate the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences will probably ignore it. Their pick? I bet it’ll be Northern Exposure: The show is riding a wave of popular and critical goodwill, and, let’s be realistic about this, the prospect of Janine Turner in an evening gown has got to be figuring in some voters’ calculations.

Of thirtysomething‘s eight nominations, the one for which we should most fervently root is David Clennon’s supporting-actor nod: His Miles Drentell was television’s most subtly wicked villain, and if he wins, the acceptance speech by the articulate, politically outspoken Clennon ought to be a doozy.

Finally, be sure to note the outcome of an obscure one: the music and lyrics category. Here, even reciting the nominees yields a certain musicality: The leading candidates are Cop Rock versus Matlock. It’s probably safe to assume that Randy Newman, whose nominated ”He’s Guilty!” number in the Cop Rock pilot was that short-lived series’ only real showstopper, never dreamed he’d one day be competing against an Andy Griffith foxy-lawyer show.