Emmy Awards: Relevance and Privilege

Over on Facebook today, a friend of mine posted a very interesting query: “So of all who watch the Emmy’s year after year…. do you actually have access to all those networks and shows that are nominated?”. This dovetailed with a feeling I had watching this year’s Emmys: What happened to the days when most people could see the Emmy winning shows on broadcast TV? This year there were very few network shows nominated, and even fewer winners. In fact, many of the winners weren’t even broadcast on channels one could get on traditional over-the-air, cable, or satellite TV as part of the basic subscription packages. They were on channels that, like HBO, you had to pay premium prices for, or channels like Hulu which you had to have an Internet subscription to watch.

Thinking about this further, on my Facebook, I asked: Wouldn’t it be great if we could get an awards show for excellent on channels that everyone could see: free channels or those included is most basic packages. That would encourage those channels to be excellent, not just those that can command premium prices.

But, driving home, what I realized is something unspoken about the Emmys: We may celebrate diversity behind the camera — especially this year. But we don’t have diversity in front of the screen. The inclusion in the Emmys of premium channels and channels that depend on the Internet have an unwritten presumption of a form of privilege: the privilege that provides the means to pay for premium subscriptions, to have Internet service, to pay for the extra devices, to pay for the computers and such. Many of the poor in this country don’t have those means — our rush to the Internet has simply passed them by and most people don’t care. There is no requirement of Universal Internet Access, like there is for phone service.

In our push to recognize quality in premium channels, we are sucking the quality from the accessible-to-all channels. And in doing so, we are dumbing down those channels and hurting the entire viewership of TV.

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