January 16, 2007 | Comments ()

By Seth Freilich | TV | January 16, 2007 |


Recently, I received an e-mail from Kathie over at GiveMeMyRemote. She said that their forums had frequent debates over how television awards should deal with the growing category of dramedies, the hour-long dramas with a comedic backbone (said backbone typically being sarcastic and dark). In putting my thoughts together to respond to her, I found myself getting a little long-winded (as regular readers have surely figured out, the TV Whore basks in his long-windedness) and realized this would make for a good article to disseminate to the masses. Consider this that article.

So, what to do with dramedies? The problem, of course, is easy to identify — it’s a matter of categorization. These shows are often thrown willy-nilly into the drama or comedy category, and either classification is wrought with problems. In the drama category, these shows often face an uphill battle because they are not as heady or serious as their purely dramatic brethren. Of course, last night’s Golden Globes showed that this isn’t always the case, as “Grey’s Anatomy,” a quintessential dramedy, bested more “serious” and “worthy” competition (and for the record, “Big Love” was unquestionably the best of that nominated bunch). On the comedy side of things, dramedies get an advantage against the half-hour comedies, for the same reason they are disadvantaged in the drama category — they are more “serious” and “meaningful” than the half-hour laugh-fests. Again turning to last night’s Golden Globes, we can see this problem in the flesh — while I’m an big fan of “Ugly Betty,” the winner of the best comedy/musical award, there’s nobody who can convince me that it’s a better comedy than fellow nominees “Entourage,” “Weeds,” or “The Office.”

Now the upside of the problem being so easy to identify is that it’s also easy to pinpoint the only workable solution — a Best Dramedy category (or “Light Drama,” or “Drama, Now with Fewer Calories” … whatever you’d like). Just looking over the shows that were nominated for best drama and comedy last night, we already have three potential nominees for our new category: “Desperate Housewives,” “Betty,” and “Grey’s.” The advantage to this system would be twofold — it not only puts these shows on a more equal footing, it also creates more room in their former categories for shows that rightfully belong. For example, suddenly there’s room for “Scrubs” in the Best Comedy category or “Dexter” in the Best Drama category.

But wait, you might say. Should “Dexter” be considered a drama or a dramedy? After all, it’s wrought with sarcasm and black humor, which is what we said defined our dramedies. Well this is a valid point, and one that raises one of the problems with this approach. In our new Award Show World, how exactly do we classify the shows? This is particularly difficult because the “dramedy” tag encompasses an overall tone, attitude, and worldview, which is, of course, more complicated than simply saying a show must have sarcasm and/or black comedy. So in this new Award Show World, let’s take the easy out and avoid a formal definition altogether. I may be wrong in the specifics of this, but I believe that, for the Oscars at least, it’s up to the studios to decide certain categories. For example, a studio can decide if an actor’s role is more appropriate as lead or supporting, and can push for a nomination as such. So why not take that approach in our new Award Show World? Let the studios and networks decide and declare, before the nomination period, how they choose to define their hour-long shows. Let ABC say, “Well, we think ‘Ugly Betty’ is a dramedy, but we’re gonna stick with ‘Grey’s’ as a drama.”

But wait, you might be saying again, there are a ton of problems with this approach. And of course, you’re right again. First, is it true that movie studios actually push for a lead or supporting nomination because they think that’s what’s appropriate? Or, as a cynic might suggest, do they push for the category they think gives better odds of scoring a nomination and possibly a win? The truth probably rests in the murky middle between these two views, and this same muck would likely carry over to our new Award Show World. And this problem is actually made even murkier by the fact that, in our situation, it’s not just a matter of nominations/wins, but a matter of credibility. Just as “comedy” is (wrongly!) considered the bastard brother of “drama,” so too would “dramedy” likely get such second-son status. At least initially, the big guns would still get pushed into the drama category even when it’s more appropriate to consider them dramedy. After all, last night’s Golden Globes recognized “Grey’s” not just as a drama but as the best drama — why should ABC next year demote the show to dramedy status when it’s clearly, in the eyes of others, capable of playing with the big boys and thereby getting more credibility?

Now for shows that aren’t able to make the “drama” push, such as “Betty,” maybe the networks would be more willing to consider the dramedy category, under the rationale that a dramedy is more estimable than a mere comedy. Maybe not — the thinking of television executives is a fickle and unfathomable thing. But for the sake of this argument, let’s say that’s the case. This would help to quickly legitimize, at least somewhat, the category. And I would posit that, over the period of a couple of years, things would settle down relatively well, with networks pushing and supporting most of their dramedies in this new category rather than in the pure drama or comedy categories. Because, at the end of the day, this may give their shows a better chance to win, and a win is an opportunity for more puffing and self-congratulation, which is the very foundation Hollywood is built upon.

Is my thinking correct? Would the networks and studios latch onto and embrace this new category? Who knows? Remember, network execs = fickle and unfathomable. However, even if I am right, we’re not done yet. There’s a whole other problem in this new Award Show World that can’t be so readily dismissed — the problem of award show bloat. I can’t imagine there’s a man, woman, or child outside of Hollywood who would disagree with the statement that every single awards show is too … bloody … long. And now we’re talking about adding more categories? To make room, we could certainly get rid of the unnecessary fluff and circumstance that virtually every show has, but we all know that’s not going to happen (because, as you’ll recall, Hollywood = puffing and self-congratulation). So the only way to avoid more bloat would be to either take away other categories (no way in hell is that happening in this new Award Show World or any other world) or to simply limit the number of new dramedy awards.

But is limiting the number of new awards a viable fix? Probably not, as it would simply serve to belittle those that don’t get a home in this new category. Why should shows get a Best Dramedy award, and why should actors and actress get a chance in this fancy new category but not, say, writers or directors or guest stars, etc.? It almost has to be an all-or-nothing proposition. The “nothing” approach means that we’re still in the status quo and the “all” approach means that the award shows become six-hour mega-telecasts. Balls to that.

So where does that leave us? Well, I think my solution has failed because of this bloat problem, if nothing else, meaning the new Award Show World will remain undiscovered, and we’ll continue to simply be mired in the status quo. And you know what? I am totally OK with this. Because there’s an underlying truth that we don’t like to admit to ourselves, let alone to each other, about these award shows. They. Just. Don’t. Fucking. Matter.

Lookit: The true critical darlings that often deserve the most recognition are also the ones that are oftentimes ignored entirely. For every surprise when the awards committees get it right (e.g., the Best Comedy Emmy to “Arrested Development” back in 2004), there are countless places where the awards continually get it wrong (e.g., why in hell is “The Wire” or “Battlestar Galactica” excluded, year in and year out, from the playground?). And even many of the really popular shows (according to the Nielsens, at least) often find themselves left out. So these award shows, more times than not, fail to recognize the critical or popular favorites, which leaves the whole process feeling rather arbitrary. Which, of course, it is.

Just look at last year’s Emmy Awards. They were supposed to be the ones that got things right. The voting process was New and Improved, and it was the dawning of a new day. But then the nominations came out, and we saw it was pretty much as broken as ever.

So can’t we all just agree that these award shows are nothing more than a meaningless side-entertainment? Nothing more than a couple hours of mindless televised pomp and circumstance? Nothing more than a chance to look at some good outfits and, more entertainingly, some awful and gaudy outfits? Nothing more than a chance to listen to long and overwrought speeches in the hopes that one or two will be funny, poignant, and/or the least bit memorable? Nothing more than a chance to see how stupid the voters are and to discuss how much they fucked up this time, with the occasional surprising moment when they actually get it “right?”

Anyone with me? Anyone?

Yeah, I know that these things will forever be given way more weight than they deserve. But a girl can dream, can’t she?


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Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television columnist. He’s still trying to wake his brain up from the coma last night’s Golden Globes put it in.

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A Girl Can Dream

The Trouble with Dramedies / The TV Whore
January 16, 2007

TV | January 16, 2007 | Comments ()




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