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Emmy Ratings at an All-Time Low, but That Doesn’t Mean What You Think
September 19, 2018  | By Alex Strachan  | 2 comments
 

The numbers are in, and the Emmy ratings were down 10 percent from last year, give or take.

It was a Monday and, just think, the Emmys didn’t even have to compete with Sunday Night Football.

Industry post-mortems are already coming in, and as might be expected they’re harsh. The hosts were loser slackers. Betty White’s emotional appearance aside, there was little recognition of TV’s past, its glamor, the great shows we used to gather around the set to watch as a family. That live, on-air wedding proposal? To an audience weaned on The Bachelor — or The Bachelorette, if you prefer — it must’ve seemed lame. Old people! Ew.

Changes must be made. Perhaps a new category — say, Outstanding Situation Comedy with a Laugh Track – and maybe The Big Bang Theory can win something in its final season.

The chorus is tuning up, and it’s getting loud. The Emmys need to get younger! They need to get woke!

The Emmys need to get older! They need to grow up!

If the Emmys were a long-running sitcom, and the audience dropped 10 percent year-on-year, the ceremony, now in its 71st year, would already be being fitted for the cathode-ray-tube boneyard in the sky.

Except . . . .

I have another theory.

My theory, if true, is both a blessing for the industry and a curse.

My theory is that the audience drop has nothing to do with the ceremony itself, or the host, or even that award after award was bestowed on shows hardly anyone sees — a problem not unfamiliar to the Oscars.

My theory is that the crashing numbers are just another sign that audience habits are changing, that the entire business is undergoing a tectonic shift.

I grew up watching TV westerns and the original Star Trek, but it’s not enough to say that westerns are no longer in fashion. Look at Godless (top). Look at Westworld (left). It’s not so much Have Gun, Will Travel anymore — it’s Have Gun, Win Emmy.

Pick an episode of Bonanza or Gunsmoke at random, and then sit down to an hour of Godless. The differences are striking.

TV programs often reflect the times in which they’re made — it’s a hot medium, after all, as Marshall McLuhan kept reminding us — but even by the standards of today’s growing racial and socioeconomic divide, political tensions and worrying signs of yet another market crash, Godless is uncompromising, violent and intense.

That it hails from Netflix hardly seems to matter. The medium is not the message. McLuhan got that part wrong. The message is the message. Godless is compelling entertainment — it deserved all the Emmy recognition it got — but it’s also a wake-up call. It’s set in the 1860s, but it has so much to say about the world we live in today: what happens when the philosophy of “might is right” is taken to extremes; how a society’s tying bonds are only as strong as its supposedly weakest link (a blind sheriff; the town’s women, widowed by a mining disaster; a banished community of African-American war veterans).

Godless was never going to reach a mass audience, even on Netflix — not in the way NCIS tops the broadcast ratings charts week after week.

The fact that it has any audience at all, though, tells us a lot about why so few viewers — educated, affluent, informed viewers, of the kind who watch Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and FX — tuned into the Emmys.

Watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Barry (left) sweep the comedy awards, I was reminded that, not so long ago, it would have been Modern Family up there. We don’t have to think all the way back to Seinfeld and Frasier to find a traditional broadcast comedy that the Emmys embraced.

The Americans, another gripping, absorbing drama that the Emmys rightly recognized this past year, was set during a time‚ the Reagan years, when traditional broadcast television was at the peak of one of its cyclical golden ages. It’s good to remember that, as trenchant, relevant and timely as The Americans is, it could not have existed if not for Steven Bochco and Hill Street Blues.

Barry, Veep and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (below), as lively, witty and engaging as they are, owe an incalculable debt to Norman Lear and the formative sitcoms of TV’s golden years.

Yes, ratings were at an all-time low for the Emmys, but that doesn’t mean fewer people are invested in television. Awards shows, in general, are in decline, if ratings are all you go by. (This year’s Oscars were down 19 percent from 2017, and the Grammys dropped a gut-wrenching 23 percent.)

Viewers still care who wins, though. It’s just that so many of us prefer to get our information online now, through social media and aggregate news sites.

One way to look at this year’s dwindling Emmy audience — 10.2 million viewers, down from the 20 million who watched the Emmys during the Frasier years — is that those missing viewers were too busy streaming Netflix.

Ratings are not the bottom line, except to those who make a living through seven-minute commercial breaks.

The Emmys will always be there because the industry needs a way to recognize the very best television made in any given year.

And if Netflix, HBO, Amazon, and FX teach us anything, it’s that there’s some outstanding television being made this very minute, right now.

Have to run. I have last night’s episode of Better Call Saul to catch up on, and though my DVR promises me it will stay there until I decide to watch it, I’m not sure I can wait that long.

 
 
 
 
 
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2 Comments
 
 
Mac
Just think:a few years ago,it would be Monday Night Football that would scare expensive events away from the night(World Series,I'm looking at you). Now,no one cares about MNF. Emmys,too. The Emmys are the ACE awards 2.0. With so few Emmy winners on broadcast TV,it makes sense to move the awards to HBO,Netflix,Hulu and the rest. But imagine the protest of subscribers paying for such a trite night of TV.
And running to watch something awaiting in a DVR is like Senator Grizzly(sic) speeding up the Kavanaugh confirmation before the mid-terms. What's all the hubbub,bub?
Sep 21, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Oswald
Westerns are different now and so are awards shows. Sure there are those viewers who are interested in who won. Not me anymore. Predictable political posturing, social justice rants and producers not interested in appealing to my boomer demographic, have me ignoring awards shows that I back in the day I would watch.
Sep 20, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
 
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