The Emmy Awards — Not Just Bad

September 23, 2008

The recent Emmy Awards program has been the subject of biting criticism (for instance, here and here).  The show was hosted by a slew of reality show hosts.  I’m assuming the Academy thought these people (Heidi Klum, Jeff Probst and the like) would be popular with the audience, since their shows get ratings.  But while they were trying to appeal to the modern TV viewer, the show was also determinedly nostalgic about television past, with tributes to the embarrassing time capsule Laugh In, Tommy Smothers, and the like.  The juxtaposition of the reality hosts with TV past was not kind.

It’s not simply that the older stars had talent and the reality hosts, almost by definition, don’t.  Broadcast television was a mass medium, now it’s not.  Television’s claim to importance, television as our collective unconscious, is being replaced by Youtube.

Television is becoming more about narrowcasting to more targeted audiences and less about Lowest Common Denominator.  The reality and game show craze the broadcast networks are falling back to is the last, desperate grasp at a big, undifferentiated audience.  It’s not going to succeed.

Nothing was more indicative of the shift to smaller, targeted audiences for TV than the program that won the most prestigious award, for best drama.  The award was won by Mad Men, a brilliant drama — with an audience of under 2 million people.