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TV Awards Season-Judging Panels

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If there is one thing nearly everyone associated with the 59thPrimetime Emmy Awards can agree on, it’s that the judging process forchoosing nominees and winners remains an ever-evolving beast steeped incomplexity. It comes complete with terms like “peer-group analysis” and”blue-ribbon panel” and “weight ballot,” and with the system’sseemingly annual tweaks it can often seem that everyone involved has adifferent perception of how it all works.
To be sure, the way thatEmmy contenders are assessed and ultimately chosen remains an imperfectpractice, whether we’re talking about the higher-profile categories orbelow-the-line technical groupings. Witness the nomination in 2006 ofactress Ellen Burstyn for outstanding supporting actress in amade-for-TV movie or miniseries for her role in the HBO film Mrs.Harris. It wasn’t what Burstyn did with the part so much as what shedidn’t, given that it was a mere 11 seconds in length. That’s right: 11seconds.
Dwight Jackson, a longtime TV art director and productiondesigner with 11 Emmy nominations and one win to his credit and whocurrently serves as a governor of the TV academy’s art decorators andset decorators peer group, recalls another such anomaly last year whenthe Discovery Channel documentary Rome: Engineering an Empire landed anEmmy nomination … for its art direction.
“What was interesting wasthat, as a documentary, it had almost no art direction to speak of atall,” says Jackson, currently working as production designer of theforthcoming HBO comedy Twelve Miles of Bad Road from producer LindaBloodworth-Thomason. “The judges had gotten it confused with the seriesRome on HBO. The problem was, Rome: Engineering an Empire was almostentirely shot in CGI.”
All right, so both of the above examples areanomalies. But they highlight an issue that remains somewhatcontroversial with the moving of most Emmy judging to at-home viewingof DVDs. That includes the below-the-line categories spanningcinematography, editing, casting, art direction, lighting, sound andmakeup. Candidates once were assessed during full-day viewing andjudging extravaganzas. But over the past several years, that part ofthe process has moved out of hotel ballrooms to the sanctity of eachjudge’s individual castle. And not everyone is happy about that.
“Ifeel that doing judging using the blue-ribbon panels in hotels wasbetter, in that not only was it a great way to meet fellow judges, itwas a safeguard to make sure everyone was watching what they weresupposed to,” says Philip Angerhofer, co-governor of the TV academy’selectronic-production peer group and who presently works as manager ofstudio and video operations for ABC. “But at the same time, youultimately don’t have as many people judging the contenders if you relysolely on the panels, since so many more people can participate fromhome.”
That said, the academy has impaneled judges the past twoyears for blue-ribbon voting in many of the prominent categories,including top comedy series and drama series and series lead andsupporting actor and actress. In 2006, it involved pre-screening ashort list of 10 series episodes to weed the field down to fivenominees. That process was tweaked this year to weight the 10-finalistjudging as a mixture of panelist viewing and a more widespread paperballot vote.
Both Angerhofer and his electronic production peergroup co-governor, Stephen A. Jones, served of the judging committeesover the past several years, including on the blue-ribbon panels in2006 and this year.
“It’s been a good experience, but last year itwas more difficult,” says Jones, a longtime camera operator currentlyworking on the CW comedy series The Game. “The issue was the decisionsto use a blind sampling of selections that the judges watched in orderto come to a consensus. Some found it confusing that not everybody waslooking at the same episodes or contenders. It was a little bit betterthis year, I think, in that the academy conducted it more closely tothe panels of the past.”
Adds Angerhofer: “This year, instead of aluncheon, it was a longer day where we all sat through the same 10shows for the pre-screening. It worked out better all around.”
Evenso, however, both men agree that in tandem with the at-home judging oftheir below-the-line candidates, it’s a highly time-consuming process.But all things considered, the consensus is that for those with theability and flexibility, good old-fashioned, in-person Emmy evaluationstill works best.
“I kind of miss that camaraderie that you get frombeing there to judge in person,” says production designer DwightJackson, a governor of the art directors and set decorators peer group.

Written by Ray Richmond

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