This past Monday, the Emmys premiered on NBC. The award show, which celebrates the best of American Primetime Television, witnessed the lowest viewership in its 74 year run. Anyone familiar with the dying cable platform isn’t surprised at such statistics. With more and more Americans electing to pay solely for streaming, many programs actually on air are expected to suffer.
However, television is the common ground medium. Unlike prestigious films as celebrated at the Oscars or far-away Broadway shows honored by the Tonys, the Emmys cater to the “every man’s” media. Television, whether an hour long HBO drama or a thirty minute ABC sitcom, is enjoyed by millions daily, and the Emmys recognizes that very unity.
This cheat should automatically garner the show greater attention from audiences, but its inability to adapt its platform and shallow attempt at relatability diminishes such an advantage.
The Emmys cold open, lead by Kenan Thompson, featured a mashup of, as Thompson joked “legally cleared television theme songs.” The themes transitioned from “Friends” to “The Brady Bunch,” “Law And Order,” “Stranger Things” and finally “Game Of Thrones” as Thompson and background performers danced along.
Just as Thompson said in his opening monologue, the Emmys is “where the biggest stars in television celebrate other stars on television while all of you watch at home on television.”
This miss-mosh of pop culture references reflects a botched attempt at relatability. Audiences watch as celebrities parade the red carpet, wearing gowns and suits equivalent in cost to our monthly rent. Pretending the gulf between us and the rich and famous doesn’t exist is necessary, but the award show’s approach to the matter actually exacerbated the issue.
What person under the age of 45 is familiar enough with “The Brady Bunch” to appreciate a tribute musical number? Even when accessing timely pieces like “Stranger Things,” the gag was misguided — as any person who experienced the internet between July and September can tell you the flood of memes and strange amount of character song dedications has tired out the popular show for all involved parties.
While attempting relatability the award show only proved it has no idea what we want.
Though recent years failed to hit the mark, past shows featured unique approaches to engage audiences, drawing on what makes The Emmys great: the television it’s meant to celebrate.
The 58th show featured a take on “The Office,” where characters from other Emmy nominated series such as “Parks and Recreation” and “Breaking Bad,” made appearances in the Dunder Mifflin office. A 62nd Emmys cold open featured a musical number with the cast of “Glee,” which in its run garnered 41 Emmy awards and nominations.
When you have some of the best writers in the game at your disposal, an inability to connect to audiences is unthinkable. How does one fall into the trap of bad television whilst awarding the best of the best?
Beyond this the aforementioned cable trap threatens The Emmys same as any award show. Even for people that want to watch, the lack of access presents a barrier. On top of this, the long form of the content also threatens viewership, especially in a time where three minute Tik Toks present a challenge when attempting to hold viewer’s attention.
Despite this, Emmy clips regularly go viral. In specific Sheryl Lee Ralph, who won for Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, gave an inspiring speech which now has 750,000 views on the official Television Academy Youtube and trended for hours on Twitter the night of the show. The problem isn’t a lack of interest. We all want to watch as the shows and stars we’ve cheered on for years finally receive their flowers.
If the Emmys wants to fix faltering viewership, or at least earn equivalent ad revenue from these trending clips, it should more effectively control how it puts out its online content. The Television Academy’s Tik Tok, for example, has a mere 10,000 followers, with most videos yielding only a few thousand views. Rather than letting others take clips and post them online The Television Academy should be on scene, splitting the award show into short form bits live to take advantage of possible viral content.
The Emmys has a willing audience at the ready. By leaning on the great content in its tool belt and revamping its method of output, the award show can re-earn the right to represent the best of the best. Good TV should yield good TV, it only makes sense.