Saving the awards: A how-to guide

By Ken Tucker
Updated September 24, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Dennis Franz was sure his NYPD Blue costar would be winning his. Ally McBeal and The Practice producer David E. Kelley said he briefly thought one of his was a mistake and was really intended for The Sopranos. Walter Winchell (in the person of Stanley Tucci) practically gave his away to King Lear (in the person of Ian Holm).

Let’s face it: When the winners look sheepish picking up that winged-woman statuette, you know there’s something seriously wrong with poor old Emmy. This year’s Emmys united the country. In disbelief. If you stood on your rooftop on the night of Sept. 12, you could hear it: ”Kristen Johnston again?” ”John Mahoney finally gets nominated, and David Hyde Pierce wins again?”

Something must be done to make the Emmy awards more relevant. The problem is, as Thomas O’Neil explains in his book The Emmys, the nominations are compiled by a TV-industry-wide vote, but the winners are picked by much smaller subgroups of volunteers — anywhere from 6 to 75 toilers-in-television in any given category. Since these volunteers tend to skew older and more aesthetically cautious, the prizes inevitably veer away from daring stuff like The Sopranos, or even anything-newer-than-Frasier sitcoms like Everybody Loves Raymond.

How to correct this? Two suggestions:

(1) Let all 9,500 eligible industry members vote for the winners, just as they do in the nominating process. It’d drive the accounting firms batty, but they get paid to count. Or (2) Let the nation’s television critics pick ’em. Hey, it’s our job to watch all this stuff, year-round (after all, in the Drama and Comedy series categories, the panels watch only two episodes of each show). Don’t worry — we’d have given Emmys to Frasier and NYPD and even some members of 3rd Rock, but in the years they deserved them. Then we’d move on and recognize the excellence of the new stuff you like, too.

It would make for a less sheepish, more bullish, show. And we’d ask those Felicity kids to keep horsing around: Their TV parodies were more fun than a barrel of monkeys. After all, the more like a zoo the better.