Ken Tucker sees hope for neglected shows, and for TV viewers

By Ken Tucker
Updated March 14, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

The new Emmy system could help ”Buffy” and ”The Sopranos”

In a news story that was broken last week by my colleague Lynette Rice, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences decided to join the 21st century — that is to say, the body that bestows the Emmy Awards is finally doing something about its voting system. According to Rice, instead of special ”screening weekends,” in which Academy members were required to spend hours in a Los Angeles hotel looking at submitted entries (don’t you imagine Jerry Stiller stretched out on a bed, clad only in his boxer shorts and black socks?), cassettes will now be sent out to voters who can watch them on their own schedule. Why is this significant? Because before now, most of the voters with time to hole up in a hotel to watch TV were the unemployed, the elderly, and the diehards.

Now, the rest of the industry — people who work for shows currently on the air and know the quality of their competition — will be able to vote more knowledgeably. At last, there’s a chance that shows and actors will be rewarded for their good work (and I emphasize the following) IN THE YEAR IN WHICH THEY DID THAT GOOD WORK. Which is to say, I do not in the least begrudge ”NYPD Blue”’s Dennis Franz or ”Frasier”’s David Hyde Pierce their first Emmys — they both did superlative work in the first seasons of their respective series. It’s just that it’s not fair that they should win again and again, year after year, when actors in, say, ”The Sopranos” or the late, criminally unrecognized ”NewsRadio” failed to win drama or comedy Emmys in numbers proportionate to their quality.

Of course, the Oscars have been shipping cassettes to voters for years, and it’s occurring to the laggardly Emmy Awards just as the time is nearing when they’re probably going to have to switch to the DVD format. But if sending out cassettes means that ”The Sopranos” or ”Will & Grace” or my beloved ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” might be seen and voted for by new Academy blood, it’ll be the best thing to happen to the credibility of the awards. Not only that, the Emmy Awards TV broadcast, long inferior to the Oscar cast because PEOPLE LIKE KRISTEN JOHNSTON KEEP WINNING YEAR AFTER YEAR, will finally be watchable: surprising, unpredictable, and maybe even worthy of our respect.