"Community" Continues To Court Controversy As Emmy Eligibility Starts Cartoon
Quick, I need help reacting to something: What one could easily describe as, a slew of television animation writers and producers are, what one might label as, royally pissed off at the Television Academy, the shady cabal of industry professionals to whom they submit their names and works for Emmy consideration. (Sort of like how we Pajiba writers submit names and works to our lovely readers for Pajiba 10 consideration, only the rules are apparently much simpler here.) Entertainment Weekly says the writers are "protesting" but doesn't offer any examples of how they're, you know, protesting other than the open letter below. Normally, I'd rally behind the writers in this situation, and ultimately I think they're absolutely in the right here, but they're using the recent video game homage from "Community," as a scapegoat.
And that just makes me want to scream about my emotions, because they are quite mixed. Here's the animation writers' missive in full:
"To Whom It May Concern:
We the undersigned animation showrunners and writers desire to address what we have regarded as a pernicious and unfair ruling by the Academy for the past 20 years, which we believe now, more than ever, should be redressed.
We have been told that animated program writers could not also submit their work for writing Emmys, for reasons we never understood, but supposedly pertaining to the purity of the branches.
This is why no one was more startled than we when last year "Community" was able to submit for comedy series, writing, and animated program, in the face of everything we had been told for two decades. We were told that for some reason, a one-time waiver was granted.
Imagine our surprise when this year we see "Community" once again eligible for comedy series, writing, animated program, and short-form animated program. This letter is in no way intended to be a slight on the terrific show "Community" but a request from us to enjoy the very same rights they now do. Clearly the Academy's ban on submitting in multiple categories is being enforced in an arbitrary and unfair manner. We therefore request that we also be able to submit our programs for both animation and comedy series as well as in the writing category.
Richard Appel, Mike Barker, Kit Boss, James L. Brooks, Stewart Burns, Steve Callaghan, Brett Cawley, Joe Chandler, David X. Cohen, Joel Cohen, Jim Dautrieve, John Frink, Tom Gammill, Valentina Garza, Stephanie Gillis, David A. Goodman, Dan Greaney, Matt Groening, Michael Henry, Mark Hentemann, Eric Horsted, Al Jean, Artie Johann, Stephen Kane, Ken Keeler, Brian Kelley, Jon Kern, Rob LaZebnik, Tim Long, Robert Maitia, Seth MacFarlane, Steve Marmel, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Patrick Meighan, Wendy Molyneux, Bill Odenkirk, Carolyn Omine, Don Payne, Michael Price, Eric Rogers, Michael Rowe, Jon Schroeder, Brian Scully, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, Rick Singer, Patric M. Verrone, Ali Waller, Josh Weinstein, Matt Weitzman, Jeff Westbrook, Marc Wilmore"
If you bothered to read that entire list of names, and you're at all a fan of U.S. television animation, you probably wondered where "South Park" creators Trey Park and Matt Stone were. There's no telling, but you may also have noticed quite a few names that have worked on some of the best TV shows (not just animated series) of the past 20 years, including but not limited to, writers/producers of "The Simpsons," "Futurama," "King of the Hill," and "Family Guy." So mostly from guys and gals from Fox who have been in the industry for years and are rightly perturbed at the apparent laissez-faire attitude the Emmy people seem to have toward cartoons versus live-action. People who likely think they could have gotten some awards recognition and, one assumes, larger paychecks and maybe their own shows -- if only they'd gotten the chance to compete, damn it. They could'a been contenders, Charley!
And looking, at least at "The Simpsons" in the 1990s, there might be something to that. It really isn't fair that animation comedy writers are lumped together for a whole series and presented statues at an untelevised ceremoy, while their live-action counterparts get to be singled out for their contributions on national TV. Naturally, the Television Academy has responded to the mad-as-hell undersigned with their own statement with a less-than-sympathetic tone. You can read the whole thing at EW, but here's the most salient bit:
"'Community' is a Comedy Series that for the last two years has included an animated 'special episode.' The competition includes a rule that a special episode can enter as a stand-alone special, 'if it involved a significant and substantive format change throughout e.g. from whole-episode live action to whole-episode animation.' The 'Community' producers followed that rule when they entered the producer-writer-director team for the animated episode in the Animation category and the regular, live-action episodes in the Comedy Series program and Comedy Series individual achievement categories."
There's also this choice parenthetical, seemingly added just to rub it in the animation writers' commonly bespectacled eyes: "[I]f an animated series opts to enter in Comedy Series rather than Animated Program category, then the individual achievement categories are open to them[.]" Meaning, if a showrunner is willing to cut their losses with the animation categories and submit to the live-action ones, then the writers themselves can submit, as well, but they (and only they) can't do both. It's that seemingly innocuous "rather" that is likely the culprit behind this thoroughly polite dust-up. Why should majority live-action series writers have the opportunity to be nominated in animation for a single episode/show, but animation series writers not have the opportunity for their equally hard and valid work to to compete against traditional live-action series?
That kind of arbitrary rule is even more threatening when one considers that the only Emmy "Community" has ever won was for Individual Achievement in Animation for "Abed's Unctrollable Christmas." It gets even murkier when that episode was indeed entirely animated, but "Digital Estate Planning" was not. It would be easy to tell the animation writers to try harder, because, really, "Community" did achieve something truly special with both of their animated episodes and when was the last time you could say that about most of the cartoon sitcoms on the air? But that doesn't excuse the Television Academy's staunch refusal to recognize that such cartoons can be just as (ahem) oustanding as "Modern Family." The solution seems rather easy with a simple re-write of the rules or by-laws or sub-paragraphs or whatever, but that's probably the last thing that will happen when it comes to an institution like the Emmys, which only recognizes greatness at the last possible moment. If ever.
No matter what becomes of this much ado, everyone ought to be able to agree that the reconfigured opening credits for "Digital Estate Planning" deserves some kind of award, right? Right. It's so streets ahead that where they were going, they didn't even need roads:
Rob Payne also writes the comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter @RobOfWar, and his ware can be purchased here and here (if you're into that sort of thing). He tried to fit a reference to brain-wrinkling in here, but doing so would have unfortunately Britta'd a perfectly cromulent sentence.