Reality TV always seems to get the short end of the stick from Emmy watchers, but it’s probably because the television academy really doesn’t know what to do with the category.
For instance, the categories for outstanding reality show, reality-competition show and reality host have been shuttled back and forth between the main primetime ceremony and the Creative Arts ceremony — what former winner Kathy Griffin has affectionately called the “Schmemmys” — so many times that it’s hard to keep track.
Secondly, the academy seems to be have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to reality; until 2010, the only winner of the competition show category was “The Amazing Race” (the equally highbrow-ish “Top Chef” won last year), and in the general reality program category, there’s not a Kardashian or a Real Housewife to be found.
But at some point, the folks at the academy are going to have to acknowledge that reality TV is not only here to stay, but constitutes the majority of programming on TV today. Looking down the list of shows in both reality categories, there are plenty of candidates out there that could get a nomination for the first time:
“The Voice”: This show pretty much seems like it’ll be a cinch to get an Emmy nomination for competition series, and not only because of its boffo ratings. It’s taken the formula of “American Idol” and upped the ante, with the compelling blind auditions, mostly professional contestant roster, and the superstar profiles of the four coaches. It could be because the show has the Mark Burnett sheen of quality on it, but right now, “The Voice” feels like it could break through the streak of more erudite competition shows and do something “Idol” has never done: win in this category.
“Pawn Stars”: The guys from the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas would be in the Outstanding Reality Program mix, and it doesn’t seem like it would be a stretch for it to be there. Why? Well, because the academy seems to spend a nomination in this category every year for “Antiques Roadshow,” which covers a lot of the same ground as “Pawn Stars” but isn’t nearly as entertaining. The reason why this has become one of cable’s top shows is not only because of the “junk to fortune” intrigue of the show, but because of the interaction between shop owner Rick Harrison, his son Corey and Rick’s father, The Old Man. And if there was a category for Best Reality Sidekick, Austin “Chumlee” Russell would run away with it.
“Bethenny Ever After”: This may be a good way for the academy to acknowledge the “Real Housewives” franchise, albeit indirectly. The second season of Bethenny Frankel‘s reality show was interesting enough, mostly thanks to Frankel’s raw sessions with her therapist, but it was also benign enough for the academy to embrace. There were no table-flipping fights, no examples of crummy human behavior here — just a woman dealing with a new marriage, baby and business and figuring out how to fit it all in. Seems like perfect academy material.
“Shark Tank”: Another Burnett production, and one that’s been a bit underappreciated in its two seasons on ABC. The show has everything that you’d want to see in a reality competition series — compelling human stories, judges with personality who tell the blunt truth to the contestants and each other, and situations where real tension occurs, like a recent episode where three of the four sharks fought to throw millions at the inventor of a nasal shield product. This year’s addition of guest judges Mark Cuban and Jeff Foxworthy has helped made the show a little more lively than during its first season, even with the sneering presence of resident “evil capitalist” Kevin O’Leary making things interesting.
“Shatner’s Raw Nerve”: The academy has seemingly fallen in love with William Shatner in recent years, so it’s a surprise that this show hasn’t been nominated before. The formula seems like something the academy would love: Shatner! Sitting close in weird chairs! Getting people to talk about their parents and tear up! Of all the shows in the reality category, this does seem to feel like one of the most real and unscripted, but that’s never been the biggest criteria for judging reality shows. Any excuse, however, to see Shatner make another speech is fine with us.