If you saw what sample episodes the producers of "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" submitted to the Emmy judging panels as examples of their "best" work from this past TV season, you'd not only know why their shows got snubbed, but you'd wonder about their sanity or sobriety.
So why should the TV academy get blamed because those shows didn't get top nominations?
And just who was really in charge of ABC's Emmy submissions this year? The network's favorite parking valet?
Over the past week hundreds of America's TV critics have heaped ridicule and scorn on ATAS for being too stupid to recognize what's best on TV (particularly "Lost" — they don't agree with me that "Housewives" had another superb season), but not a single one of them has pointed the blame where it really belongs: at the producers of the snubbed shows, who, frankly, committed Emmy suicide.
Call it the Susan Lucci Syndrome. For 18 years, daytime TV's biggest star got furious at Emmy voters because they spurned her over and over again, subjecting her to repeated public humiliation, but all that drama was really her own fault. The grand diva refused to give them episode submissions that reflected her talents. Isn't it obvious what voters want? Since Lucci was being judged by fellow actors, her peers wanted to see her full acting chops: a broad range of emotions from cheers to tears, with at least one big Money Scene. Instead, she gave them over-the-top diva meltdowns so jarring that Emmy judges sometimes had to turn down the volume on their TV monitors.
Back in the mid-1990s I remember walking down a hallway at the TV academy in New York and hearing hoots of laughter coming from behind a closed door.
"What's going on in there?" I asked a staffer.
"Oh, judges are watching Susan Lucci's reel," he said. "Her mother just died."
That year Lucci's Emmy submission featured her character standing on her mother's grave screaming and flailing her chest in such exaggerated expressions of mourning that it all looked like a "Mad TV" parody of bad Wagnerian opera. Those histrionics probably seemed fine to regular viewers of a daily soap opera, but, taken out of context and shown to a bunch of crusty media types unfamiliar with "All My Children," voters busted a gut. The only reason Lucci won that Emmy in 1999 was because she finally blundered into giving judges a reel with psychological depth and range — her battle to save her anorexic daughter. In the end there turned out to be no conspiracy against TV's most conniving soap diva. Lucci, her fans and those clueless TV critics (see my rant against them — below) whipped up that theory to explain something they didn't understand because they weren't paying attention to the Emmy voting process.
Usually, it's obvious to Emmy contenders what their best work is and they submit it, but every now and then the Susan Lucci Syndrome pops up again. Most often it's due to laziness or inattention by contestants — like John Goodman back in his "Roseanne" days. Believe it or not, his performances on his costar's episode submissions for best actress were usually better than the acting turns he gave on his own tapes. The only possible explanation I could come up with: he was so cavalier about picking a tape that he just fished one recklessly out of a VHS barrel on the "Roseanne" set and told Emmy chiefs, "Here, take this one." But he never took responsibility for the outcome. In fact, Goodman got so angry after seven losses that he withdrew his name from series competition in protest.
Photo (top right): "Lost" wasn't nominated for best drama series because its producers submitted a poor sample episode to Emmy judges. "Man of Science, Man of Faith" made little sense to "Lost" fans, let alone Emmy judges who all can't possibly be regular series viewers. If producers had submitted the episode about the Tailies ("The Other 48 Days") (above), "Lost" probably would've been nominated. If nominated, the show probably would've won again this Emmy year.
Photo (above, left): Felicity gave her greatest performance of the year, and maybe even her whole TV career, in the "Remember 2" episode, which she did not submit to Emmy voters. She had lots of big money scenes in it (clockwise from upper left): arguing with hubby Tom in front of the housewives, finding out that her husband has an illegitimate child, and facing off against the child's mom in a screaming match at a restaurant. Instead, she submitted the episode where she dances the hootchie-kootchie while drunk on a bar. Why? Because producer Marc Cherry ordered her to. Why? Was he drunk?
fRoseanne, by contrast, won an Emmy in 1993 for a powerful episode in which she recalls how she was sexually abused as a child. If Goodman had submitted that same episode, he probably would've won, too.
And therein this year lies the lesson for "Desperate Housewives." Roseanne won for giving judges her best acting work that season, not for an episode most likely to inspire giggles.
Felicity Huffman tells me that "Housewives" producer Marc Cherry has a stubborn notion that his show must submit comedic work in the Emmy comedy categories. Why? Why doesn't he just enter his best work? The top category — in which he failed to be nominated this year — is called "best comedy series," which means the best series that considers itself a comedy. It doesn't mean "funniest show."
Two months ago "Housewives" aired what I consider to be the single greatest episode on TV this year past: "Remember 2," its 90-minute season finale. Even if you don't agree with my assessment, surely you must concede that it was "Housewives'" best night of season 2, right? Well, here's a shockeroo for you: "Housewives" didn't submit it to any Emmy nominating panel. Yes, you heard that right. Isn't that insane? Instead, Cherry submitted the ho-hum season opener in the series race and pressed Huffman to submit that episode where she goes out boozing with her boss after work and dances the hoochie-koochie on the bar. If Felicity had submitted the season finale instead, she not only would've been nominated, she probably would've ended up the winner on Aug. 27.
Actually, she committed the same mistake last year: Felicity submitted what she considered her funniest episode, not her best one — the series pilot, in which she only had about 10 minutes of unremarkable performance time. But, oh, yeah, she did have that humorous scene where she fishes her rascal boys out of a neighbor's swimming pool during a backyard party. Marc Cherry told Felicity to submit that, so she did as she was told. The only reason she ended up winning the Emmy was because Marcia Cross screwed up, too. She submitted Felicity's best scene — the one where she faces off indignantly against the director of her sons' school play (Sharon Lawrence) and tells her to go to You-Know-Where. Felicity is fully aware of how she ended up winning the Emmy by default, I know, because I explained it to her myself one night in New York several months ago as she listened intently, nodding, saying, "Fascinating! That's fascinating!"
But she went ahead and made the same blunder again and this time got what she deserved.
Frankly, too, the producers of "Lost" got their comeuppance for failing to take the Emmy race seriously. Did they really believe they'd impress voters with that "Man of Science, Man of Faith" episode? There's nothing to it and it doesn't make sense. A dog runs away into the jungle at night and a couple of islanders go looking for it. Whoopdeedoo. Meantime, a few other islanders blow the lid off a hatch in the jungle floor and we see partial glimpses of a man living in a modern-style apartment down below. Huh? That's it. That's the whole episode. I repeat: Huh?
Why didn't producers submit the one about the Tailies, ("The Other 48 Days"), which had a full story arc and was dramatically compelling? That would've cinched them a bid for best drama series.
The reason: they didn't think about it. Having won last year, they assumed they'd be nominated again, so they pulled a John Goodman and just pulled any old thing out of a barrel, they got snubbed, and now they blame Emmy voters for not hailing the brilliance of that weird, unintelligible "Man of Science."
Frankly, I think that if you show such contempt for the Emmys, you deserve not to be nominated by them.