Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I Download, Therefore I Emmy Voter

The term For Your Consideration (FYC) is a familiar mantra during this time of year for those of us who are voting members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (some 14,000 plus). The Emmy nominating process is in full swing, all of which culminates Sunday night September 13 on CBS with the Prime Time Emmy Show. Other networks think so highly of this star-studded program extolling the excellence of the television world that they can't wait to counterprogram against it.

Right now, our home floors and office desks should be piled high with DVD screeners. Production companies, cable and broadcast networks, and, in some rare instances, select individuals should be inundating our mailboxes with DVDs of selected series episodes or one time only specials,in order to remind those of us in the business about the past year’s worth of brilliant television and how much of it we missed by doing silly things like getting out of the house.

I’ve been watching television for so long that I still use rabbit ears to clean loose scrapes of food from under my refrigerator. With the advent of all digital programming this month, rabbit ears joins 8-tracks, the Edsel and collegiate political discussions as things of the past. I will miss my little buddy. I hope he tastes good.

In the old days, three networks and the NET (forerunner of PBS) were all we fanatics had at our disposal. Just like the new car lines, all major programming premiered in the Fall. We rearranged our lives for the new season so we could laugh and cry and fail to do our homework; some of us even penned love letters to our favorite stars. Emily Dickinson, who spent very little time watching dramas (preferring sit-coms that better resembled her own life), went school girl nasty over David Janssen; she said it best after the premiere of the 1964 Quinn Martin series, The Fugitive:

Wild Nights

Wild nights. Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port
Done with the compass
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden.
Ah, the sea.
Might I but moor
Tonight with thee!

Intelligent design scientists were still years away from inventing recording devices. We either watched at the prescribed time or found ourselves watching missed episodes during the dog days of summer. Those of us who stayed indoors to watch a summer replacement variety show like Dean Martin now have engrossing stories to tell our grandchildren.

With the introduction of the consumer VCR beginning in the late 70s, viewing habits became far more malleable; we regained our bi-pedal mobility and actually saw sunlight from beyond our windows. No longer constrained by obdurate network schedulers, we could tape a show, leave our apartments for food or even attempt a date; yet we were comforted by the knowledge that, upon return, our episode would be waiting. Life truly had become more gooder.

It took some time, but by the late 1980's eligible Academy voters began receiving VHS copies of the just concluded season through the mail. The Academy was forced to go late 20th Century because it was finding it more and more difficult to coax enough volunteers away from tennis or golf weekends to hype their own occupation: The old way of casting ballots was just too medieval.

I love show business with the same fervor as I love stalking celebrities, but even my ardor was tested mightily with the old methodology. The Manhattan Project had far less security than this ballot process. Driving into Beverly Hills gang territory to vote in your appropriate categories was both nerve-wracking and time consuming.

Volunteers would be forced to spend whole weekends sequestered away in various NORAD-like buildings around the country, sifting and winnowing through the previous year's shows for the top five contenders. They couldn't discuss what they saw or how they voted. In fact, they weren't even allowed to acknowledge their spouses if they were in the same room together...much as it is at any Hollywood soirée. After one of these behind closed doors, windowless room, stale donuts and cold coffee experiences, methadone withdrawal was never feared again.

Life is all about flat-line simplification and stupifying stuff down. I want it delivered to my door and easy to start. Why induce unnecessary anxiety levels by purchasing a piece of technology so complicated that Einstein would need to text message Niels Bohr for help in putting it together? Who needs the aggravation? A cottage industry has arisen over the last twenty years in publishing extolling the virtues of making everything non-threatening, push button simple. In fact right now I'm looking at my copy of Breathing for Dyslexics. I thought I was purchasing Breeding for Dyslexics, but I digress.

Mailing scores of VHS tapes cluttered up dens and second bathrooms all over the country, but life became so much easier for us. We could now participate in the elective process with only our ass muscles, leaving the rest of our bodies reposed for high intensity yoga, Pilates, and diet flushes. Since it was no longer necessary to drive to any fortified luxurious locations, the average John and Jane Q Emmy voter could kick back and view missed episodes the way they were intended to be watched--- in your underwear, while making dinner, showering or playing poker. Hopefully the VCR was connected to a television.

VHS begat DVD and the goodies just kept coming. We’d receive scores of disks, each with a representative sample of episodes. Some years the packaging housing the DVD's was more creative than the shows within. After the voting season was over, we dumped them off the Catalina shoreline, gave them to friends to sell on the black market, or used them for skeet practice. Those voters who were really conscientious returned the discs to the Academy, where they were recycled off to our servicemen around the world. The troops in Iraq, no doubt, couldn’t wait to get their hands on copies of Generation Kill.

This year, my floors merely have last month's pizza cartons and old nachos chips from New Year's 2007 littering them. Due to the economic downturn, going green, and the success of the Internet tubes, this season's hard copy DVD giveaway failed to materialize. The years of episodic swag are coming to an end. Some of the majors are still sending DVDs through the mails (HBO, History Channel, Universal, USA, for instance), but most are saving $$$ by directing us to the Prime Time Emmy site. So much for skeet shooting and illegal dumping this year.

Instead of watching episodes for consideration on HD or plasma screens the size of a network executive's ego, we voters can now gather around the comfort of a large computer monitor to mark our selections on a downloaded Emmy ballot. Just what I crave after spending twenty hours a day in front of a computer screen looking for work, watching YouTube, befriending people on Facebook, or downloading the latest yoga positions from certain Eastern European web sites. My retinas already have carpal tunnel. Judging the highest quality of television programming this way is like eating tiramisu through a straw.

Damn progress, but if this be the wave of the future, damn progress again. I have four television sets, two set up with DVR capability. I'll hunt through the weekly listings for missed episodes with the obsession of an out-of-work print journalist looking for a solvent newspaper rather than watch prime time shows online. If I need both Viagra and that restless leg syndrome pill to get me through all-nighter view-a thons, then so be it. What else does the Academy want from me?

Gamers tell me there are cables and pulleys and doo-dads available to connect computers to television screens. I could download a show and, magically, watch it on my 12" black and white Emerson if I was of the right mind. Well, I am of the wrong mind. Right now that's a no go. If I have any more wires and attachments coming out of my wall sockets, I'll need to pay for a live-in fire inspector.

Before tackling this season's product, I'm reminded that some Emmy obligations from previous seasons still need my attention. I wonder if it's too late to forward ballots for the final season of X-Files or Season Two of 24?