Conventional wisdom has it that we’re in the midst of a new golden age of television, and that cable and network series are the “new movies.” If that’s true, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that television’s primary awards show appears to be following in the footsteps of its big brother Oscar, increasingly disregarding the tastes of audiences in favor awarding political points and highlighting left-leaning causes.
It started with the biggest winner at the Emmy Awards Sunday night. HBO’s Behind the Candelabra, a made-for-TV movie about famed pianist Liberace and his much-younger homosexual lover, took home top prizes for the Outstanding Miniseries or Movie, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, and Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Dramatic Special. The highest-rated TV movie of last year (and, indeed one of the most popular of all time), The History Channel’s The Bible, walked away empty-handed.
HBO crowed about Candelabra’s 2.4 million viewers when the film first aired in May. But to place that figure in context, the Emmy winner in the same categories 10 years ago, Door to Door, an uplifting story about a persevering salesman with cerebral palsy, drew three times more viewers and no doubt a much more diverse audience.
What’s more, the Emmys were once considered family-friendly viewing, with acceptance speeches tending to be short, sweet, and relatively innocuous. Michael Douglas blew those standards out of the water when accepting his award for his portrayal of Liberace, making several obscene references to homosexual acts. In a prolonged tribute to the piano legend who died 25 years ago, Elton John kept his comments clean, but made it clear that what the broadcast intended to celebrate was not Liberace’s musical talent, but his sexuality, saying, “What I was not aware of at the time was his lifestyle, which due to the tenor of the times, had to be concealed. …What a difference the years have made to people like me.”
But the most surprising moment of the night came when the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series went to Jeff Daniels for his work in a show that even most mainstream critics have derided as an insufferable excuse for liberal ax-grinding. Emmy voters may appreciate the effort Daniels goes to while playing a repentant-Republican who weekly admits the error of his ways, but American television-watchers don’t. The Newsroom draws miniscule ratings, and it’s not even clear whether HBO plans to renew it for another season
Thanks to the surge in popularity among young viewers of shows like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead (which received no major nominations), and Homeland, Emmy ratings were up this year to their highest level in eight years. But if viewers’ favorites continue to be passed over for television’s highest honors and Emmy producers continue to use the show as an excuse to advance agendas, don’t expect that trend to continue.
Listen to Megan Basham discuss the Emmy Awards on The World and Everything in It: