Notes On The Season: Is TV Academy Voter Scandal All That New?; Marla Gibbs On Norman Lear’s Emmy ComebackJune 14, 2019
A column chronicling events and conversations on the awards circuit.
Emmy-nomination balloting has been open since Monday, but already there have been skirmishes, some small (a network name creeping illegally into the description of one of the zillion entries — heavens to Murgatroyd!) and some big (an unknown number of TV Academy members attempting block voting in favor of one contender over another). That last one is interesting. The Academy isn’t talking, beyond saying this is firmly against the bylaws and will not be permitted, thus the loss of voting privileges this year — and maybe more — for those who committed the Emmy felony. One consultant emailed me and wondered if I knew which company (or network) was behind the indiscretion. I doubt the Academy would stop with punishing individual members if they had good intel that bigger forces were at play here. Perhaps the consultant had visions of an Oscar season-type conspiracy, but this isn’t really all that out of the norm. However, in this case it was caught in such a way that someone on the inside of it all had to be a snitch and name names (the Academy won’t be doing that, thankfully).
Block voting in various forms has been going on since the beginning of awards contests like the Oscars and Emmys. In fact, movie studios — when they were an all-powerful monolith unto themselves — used to encourage it all the time by urging their Academy members to toe the company line and vote for specific contenders en masse. I can tell you from my own experience in television, both as an employee of shows and as a Governor of the TV Academy, that not-so-subtle attempts to fill the ballot box take place all the time. I remember distinctly when I was working on the short-lived Martin Short talk show there was a point when membership applications to the TV Academy were passed out like M&Ms to everyone in the office, with the hope that if they got in they would vote for the home team in every way they could. Is that all that unusual, folks? We got no nominations, but we should have.
On the other side, as an Academy Governor representing the writers branch for six years, my co-Governor and I would be charged with signing off on any application into our branch and, like clockwork, loads of applications from one specific show or another would come pouring in right about — you guessed it — Emmy-nominating season. Is that block voting? It is a gray line, but you can bet execs with dreams of mounting the stage at the Microsoft Theater are still making sure their underlings can vote and hopefully make a difference in their favor. My guess is that this instance was a bit more obvious and dunder-headed on the part of members of the accused Performers branch, but so far mum’s the word — other than it happened.
TOO MANY ENTRIES, SO LITTLE TIME
Emmy voters, of which I am but one of about 24,000 eligible, have been facing the daunting task of not only trying to see as much as they can but also just simply scrolling down the list of the zillions who are on the final nominating ballot. Most of them don’t have a prayer. Ever see these Best Comedy Series hopefuls: Abby’s, Atypical, The Bisexual, Champaign Ill, Detroiters, Easy, Guest Book, Huge In France?? (And that’s only up to the H’s — there are 108 overall.). OK, maybe they aren’t Veep but could be good anyway, but who has the time? Worse than block voting, though, I would say a lot of voters are guilty of blockhead voting despite the herculean task of sifting through everything.
Remember when Ellen Burstyn got nominated for literally a 14-second role in the 2006 TV movie, Mrs. Harris ? That’s right. 14 seconds! She had played the lead of Mrs. Harris in a previous 1981 TV movie, for which she also got an Emmy nom, hence the little wink to that as to the reason she would even be in this version as an ex of Dr. Herman Tarnower, the man Harris murdered. Burstyn’s name was near the top of the ballot, and because she was a movie star, Performers Branch members likely checked off her name without having to scroll down the whole ballot, even though the role was so small she was only listed on it as “former Tarnower steady.” She took it all with humor, as she told AP at the time: “I thought it was fabulous. My next ambition is to get nominated for seven seconds, and, ultimately, I want to be nominated for a picture in which I don’t even appear. The brouhaha around it, you know, they tried to reach me for a statement. I said, ‘This doesn’t have anything to do with me. I don’t even want to know about this. You people work it out yourself.’” After that debacle, the rule was changed and actors had to appear in 10% of a show in order to be eligible, thus squashing Burstyn’s dream of a nomination for 7 seconds of emoting.
It is tough getting noticed out there come Emmy time when you don’t have the instant name recognition. Marin Hinkle is someone avid TV watchers would recognize instantly from numerous series and appearances over the past 25 years including as Judith on Two and a Half Men, Isabelle on Madam Secretary, Dr. Miller on Speechless, Christine on Homeland and on and on. She never got the shot until now to have a realistic run for Emmy, as Mrs. Maisel’s mother, Rose Weissman, on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but it finally might — to borrow the song title from Gypsy — be “Rose’s Turn”.
In January she joined the cast in taking the SAG Award in the Comedy Series Ensemble category, and in the second season she got to shine and take off on her own, even to Paris for some choice scenes. Still she has to compete with co-star Alex Borstein, who last year took home the Emmy for Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, the category in which they will go head to head this year. Amazon is doing a special push for Hinkle and putting her out there, which is exactly what you have to do when it is so hard to break through the clutter of the Emmy ballot. This week Hinkle joined co-stars Rachel Brosnahan and Caroline Aaron in presenting Mrs. Maisel‘s designers their prizes at the New York Women in Film & Television’s Designing Women Awards. Every little bit helps. There are a lot of Hinkles out there deserving notice for their work, but when you land on an Emmy juggernaut like Maisel — it won eight in its first season — you simply go for it.
NORMAN LEAR IS BACK AT THE EMMYS AND BRINGING MARLA GIBBS ALONG
Norman Lear, 96, could be having a banner year at the Emmys only four to five decades after his first big splash — and maybe even with the same show(s). The May 22nd ABC special Live In Front Of A Studio Audience was a surprise ratings smash that recreated episodes from Lear’s iconic 70’s comedies, All In The Family and The Jeffersons, and this week Sony Pictures Television and ABC ramped up a campaign. “The show came in really at the last minute to shake up the race,” a PR consultant exclaimed while mentioning they had put an installation featuring the set pieces from Live in the Century City mall. Several trade ads are also being run for the surprise ratings and critical smash that came from producer/host Jimmy Kimmel in conjunction with Lear and company. The show itself has been entered in the Variety Special – Live category and nearly the entire cast is among the contenders in the Limited Series or Movie acting categories including the only cast member who actually is playing the same part they created a half century ago. That would be Marla Gibbs who received five consective Primetime Emmy nominations as the maid Florence Johnson in The Jeffersons which was spun off All In The Family into its own series in 1975. Everyone else from Jamie Foxx and Wanda Sykes in that show, and Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei in All In The Family were doing their own interpretation of roles made iconic by now deceased stars. Not so for Gibbs who turns 88 today.
She originally was brought into the special to play another role, Mother Jefferson while Justina Machado of Lear’s One Day At A Time Netflix reboot (another Lear reboot getting an Emmy push for its third and final season) was to play Florence. But things changed and the big surprise happened when the door opened and there was Gibbs coming to apply for the show in this word for word remake of the show’s first episode. The audience went wild and it stopped the show. Gibbs told me this week she had wanted to revisit Florence and jumped at the chance when they made the switch. She said she didn’t have to memorize anything because she not only remembered all of her lines verbatim from that episode, but everyone else’s too. She even remembered the blocking and balked a little when Live director James Burrows suggested she cross in front of the couch, rather than in back as she had done 44 years ago the first time she did this particular teleplay. “It was great. I never forgot it because it changed my life. So I knew all the lines, all the moves because they were stuck in my head. I didn’t even have to take the script to the set,” she laughed, then quoted the bible as to the wisdom of shooting the exact same script and making it relevant over four decades later. “You know what the Bible says, ‘as it was then, is now, and ever shall be”. She notes she was 44 when she did the episode the first time, and now it is 44 years later and she’s doing it again, and quite frankly she looks and acts like it was only yesterday when she walked into that “deluxe apartment in the sky”.
I mentioned I believe she might be the first performer in TV history to repeat the exact script they had done so long ago. She praises the new actors she worked with, but did miss the original stars Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford among others she worked with for so many seasons. “It was bittersweet. We were so close, and of course I look at the reruns. I get to visit them in the reruns,” she said wistfully. Gibbs had actually spun off her own series for Florence called Checking In but it only lasted four episodes because the writers strike hit and they couldn’t continue, so she went right back to The Jeffersons. As for the lasting power of Norman Lear she said Norman always has his finger on the forefront of what is going on and knew how to bring it to TV. “Whatever Norman wants to do, I am in,” she said when I asked about the future of more retro live shows like this.
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