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NOMINATIONS REVEAL EMMY WEAKNESSES

NOMINATIONS REVEAL EMMY WEAKNESSES

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For a dozen years, David Jacobs sat silently while a television show he created, one that he thought was worthy of the top honors his industry can bestow, got ignored every time the Emmy nominations come out. This year, he could hold his tongue no longer.

``In 12 years, 'Knots Landing' has had two nominations for major awards,' Jacobs, a Baltimore native, said over the phone from Los Angeles about the annual awards handed out by the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences. The show, with presenters Jane Pauley, Candice Bergen and Jay Leno, airs at 8 tonight on WNRW (Channel 45).``Both of those were acting awards in the third season. Nothing since. I know why. We're just not an industry show. The people who vote don't watch us. It used to be that they watched 'Hill Street Blues' when that was against us, now they watch 'L.A. Law.' '

Emmy voters have always favored both of those shows. That doesn't upset Jacobs, he understands such circumstances.

What got to him this year, and made him speak up, was the inclusion of Edward Woodward in the best dramatic actor category. He was nominated for ``The Equalizer.' All well and good, except that ``The Equalizer' was canceled more than a year ago. The only reason it was even eligible for awards was that CBS stuck a few leftover first-run episodes on last summer.

``Don't get me wrong, Edward Woodward is a fine actor, but his show wasn't even on the air,' Jacobs said, adding a plug for his ``Knots Landing' star. ``There's no way that he should have been in there when William Devane, who I think is the best actor on television, wasn't.'

There are always complaints about every awards show, but none draws more than the Emmys, and, somehow, never do they draw as many as this year's list of nominees. The inclusion of Woodward in that best dramatic actor category was the lightning rod.

For instance, over at the offices of NBC's ``Midnight Caller,' there was much moaning and groaning about the omission of Gary Cole in that category. And it was justified, too. Cole is a solid, forceful actor who carries that admirable series on his considerable shoulders every week.

``What was Woodward doing in there?' a producer of ``Midnight Caller' asked. ``Peter Falk, he made, what, four of those ``Columbos,' yet he gets nominated over someone who did 22 episodes? And Robert Loggia did nothing but yell and scream in 'Mancuso' every week. It was a crime that Gary wasn't included.'

In addition to Woodward, Falk and Loggia, Scott Bakula of NBC's ``Quantum Leap' and Kyle MacLachlen of ABC's ``Twin Peaks' were nominated for best dramatic actor. A much better list would have been Cole, Devane, MacLachlen, Bakula and Jamey Sheridan of NBC's ``Shannon's Deal.' But it's not the only category with problems.

For instance, Art Carney gets nominated for a cheap heart-string tugger like ``Where Pigeons Go to Die' in the best actor, movies and miniseries, category while Lane Smith's excellent Richard Nixon in ``The Final Days' gets ignored. Go figure.

Jacobs said that he understands at least part of the problem.

``A few years ago, I was marking my ballot for nominations, and I found myself voting for shows that I hadn't seen because I had heard they were good,' he said. ``I stopped doing that. Now I vote for my shows and maybe two or three others that I really admire.'

The difficulty that voters such as Jacobs face is simply the vast quantities of television that is produced. When members of the Motion Picture Academy vote on the Oscars, they have probably seen the bulk of the theatrical movies released by Hollywood every year, at least those worthy of honors, something that is not the case with those in the TV Academy.

And, since the voters can't see that much of television's product, their nominees often follow several predictable prejudices. One is the one that Jacobs noted - you're dead if you're up against a prestige show because people in Hollywood just don't know you exist.

``In the People's Choice Awards, both 'Knot's Landing' and 'L.A. Law' get recognized,' Jacobs said. ``But not in the Emmys. Whenever the viewers get a chance to vote, 'Knots Landing' does just fine. But not in the industry.

``It's something that might have to do with the declining ratings for the Emmy telecasts. If people keep seeing that the shows they watch don't win any awards, they get turned off.'

This factor definitely hurt Cole as ``Midnight Caller' went up against ABC's ``thirtysomething,' an industry favorite that gets its share of nominations, indeed won best dramatic series its first year out.

Another major flaw is that the very people who vote on the nominees - they vote in peer groups, actors voting for actors, directors for directors, everyone for best programs - don't give their own industry enough credit.

They always seem eager to honor someone perceived as stepping down in class, coming to TV from an arena considered somehow loftier.

Thus Woodward, a veteran of the English stage, is aided by this prejudice, as are fellow nominees Falk and Loggia, both seen as successful screen actors who are gracing TV by their presence.

Carney, a former Oscar winner, also gets a boost from this, as, indeed, does every nominee in that best actor, movies and miniseries, category - Hume Cronyn (HBO's ``Age Old Friends'), Albert Finney (HBO's ``The Image'), Michael Caine (ABC's ``Jekyll and Hyde') and Tom Hulce (NBC's ``Murder in Mississippi').

In fact, much of the rush to favorably judge ``Twin Peaks' - it led the pack with 14 nominations - must be credited with its being seen as the product of a successful screen director, David Lynch, turning his attention to television.

The fact that this prejudice did not help John Sayles' ``Shannon's Deal' reveals another bias - you've got to pay your dues in Hollywood, be something of a part of the political system, give jobs to actors and technicians there. Sayles is an East Coast type who's made his films on location. Lynch does his work out of Hollywood studios.

Cole was hurt because he was a Chicago stage actor who came out West and went into television. If he had hit town, done a few decent movies and then gotten a series, he would be showered with nominations. Instead, he makes his series in San Francisco, goes back to Chicago to go on stage during hiatus, and no one in Hollywood knows him.

This is probably also the reason Smith's work in ``The Final Days' went unrewarded. So much of his background is on the New York stage with only solid character credentials in Los Angeles. Again, there was not the proper political and social structure behind him.

And all of these problems are simply with the nomination process. The procedure for choosing the awards themselves is even more flawed.

It's done during an August weekend in some Los Angeles hotel by panels composed of whichever members of the Academy happen to show up. And you were wondering why Robert Duvall didn't win for ``Lonesome Dove' last year?

What's to be done?

Well, there are a variety of measures that would help, changing some categories, perhaps reducing the number. But the bottom line is that people who cast ballots should take their responsibility more seriously.

`` 'Knots Landing' always does fine in the technical categories,' Jacobs noted. ``I think those people do their homework.'

All the voters in the TV Academy should do their homework before they vote next year. And if they haven't done it, they should hand in an incomplete. Then maybe we'd have a better list of nominees.

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