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How much do the episode entries really matter in deciding who wins Emmys?

September 22, 2008 |  3:50 pm

Every year the most lunatic Emmy gurus like me make a special point of watching the episodes that nominees for best acting in a series submit to voters. They all give one sample of their best work to judges, who must sign an affidavit attesting they viewed everything required in a given category before voting.

But how much do the episodes really make a difference in the voting process anymore? That's the big question pundits must decipher when forecasting Hollywood's most unpredictable award. Before 2000, the episodes mattered almost exclusively. Back then voters viewed them at judging panels conducted at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and they had to vote immediately afterward when still feeling the full emotional impact of submissions. As a result, the flashiest and most sentimental episodes usually paid off with victory.


But the voting process changed this decade, and now judges view them at home and can ink their ballots later. Since then, industry buzz and the Cool Factor have played a larger role deciding who wins as voters have time to be reminded of those points while having some emotional distance between themselves and the episodes.

Clearly, Bryan Cranston''s episode of "Breaking Bad" is what cinched the upset victory for a show that's mustered only wee viewership for its seven episodes telecast. Portraying a guy who wigs out and goes on a drug spree when he finds out he's dying of cancer, Bryan Cranston gave the most volcanic and showy performance among the six up for best actor.

Also, Glenn Close ("Damages") and Jeremy Piven ("Entourage") had the most dynamic, or nearly so, episode entries in their categories.

But that certainly wasn't true of Tina Fey ("30 Rock") and Dianne Wiest ("In Treatment"). That leads me to wonder: Did they win based upon buzz and Cool Factor alone? If so, why didn't that pay off for Fey's "Saturday Night Live" costar Amy Poehler, who's almost as cool as her cohort? The vast majority of Emmy pundits predicted Poehler would win, if for no other reason than because she had the longest episode entry in terms of face-time minutes. Usually, that pays off with triumph.

But it's possible that Poehler was penalized for appearing on a variety show, doing hambone skits like her Hillary Clinton impersonation. Voters — all fellow actors — just didn't consider that real acting perhaps?

In the race for best actress in a TV movie/mini, Laura Linney's performance as Abigail Adams didn't have the same fireworks as Phylicia Rashad ("A Raisin in the Sun") or Susan Sarandon ("Bernard and Doris"). Again, that's another example this year of subdued performances trumping more theatrical emoting.

I sure wish the old Emmy days of the judging panels returned. I did pretty well with my predix this year, but I could've nailed a lot more races under the old voting system.

Photo: AMC