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Trekking To The Emmys

By Caillan Davenport
Posted at July 16, 2003 - 10:22 AM GMT

At 5:38:30 a.m. tomorrow, Michael Chiklis (The Shield), Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm In The Middle) and Bryce Zabel, Chairman of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, will announce the nominees for this year's Primetime Emmy Awards. While there are sure to be mentions of counter terrorism agents, mobsters, White House staffers and undertakers, Starfleet officers aren't likely to get a look-in.

In this Emmy preview article, we examine how Star Trek has fared at the Primetime Emmys over the years and talk to television experts about why fans shouldn't expect to see Enterprise nominated in any of the high-profile categories.

Over the course of Star Trek's 37-year history, the franchise has received a total of 142 Primetime Emmy nominations, with 31 wins. Yet out of those 142 nods, only six have been in the non-technical categories. The same could be said of many science-fiction and fantasy shows over the years, with the exception of The X-Files, which managed to overcome its status as a genre show. Why has Star Trek and other genre programming constantly been passed over by the Academy?

Aaron Barnhart, television critic at the Kansas City Star since 1997 and webmaster of TV Barn, said science fiction isn't the only category of programming being excluded. "The question could just as easily be asked: Why are cable and syndicated TV shows rarely recognized by the Academy in high-profile categories?" he said. "Or why are WB and UPN shows seldom recognised by the Academy? There is clearly a bias toward the Nielsen Top 30 programs and always has been. Perhaps the success of HBO and basic-cable shows (The Shield last year) will begin to get judges to think differently. But don't bet on it."

The original Star Trek series — which never won an Emmy — managed two nominations for Outstanding Drama Series in 1967 and 1968, a feat repeated by Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1994 when 'New Trek' was at the height of its popularity. While The Next Generation benefited from critical buzz, its spin-offs have failed to reach the same heights of popular and critical success. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine did certainly have its followers in the critics' ranks, including TV Guide, which acclaimed it as the "finest...Star Trek series" — but it was still science-fiction.

"No matter how high brow the content sci-fi is seen as a very lowbrow art form for children and stunted growth individuals," said Cinescape columnist Andrew Hershberger. "Nobody cool would dare vote for a sci-fishow that didn't have [Stanley] Kubrick or Chris Carter's name attached to it. To be fair though, Star Trek [with] these last two series [Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise] has been coasting on the repuation and fan loyalty of what came before. If Deep Space Nine was involved, you'd hear some real complaining on this end."

The Next Generation won 18 Emmys over the course of its seven-year run in categories ranging from Sound Editing and Visual Effects to Art Direction and Costume Design. Deep Space Nine and Voyager scored four and seven gongs, respectively, including one each for their title themes. Last year, Enterprise scored five nominations — all in technical categories, as usual — and won two, for Oustanding Hairstyling and Visual Effects.

What are Enterprise's chances of breaking into the top-flight categories this year? According to Emmy expert Tom O'Neil, author of The Emmys and host of GoldDerby.com, fans should not be waiting with bated breath when Chiklis and Kaczmarek announce this year's nominations tomorrow.

"Enterprise has no chance for top-slot Emmys, I'm afraid," O'Neil said. "It's lost gads of viewers this year and doesn't have buzz. Emmy voters weren't watching anyway, of course. Like Oscar voters, they snub sci-fi and fantasy in general and almost on principle."

Industry and critical buzz is usually essential for any series to succeed at the Emmys, and that's one thing Enterprise doesn't have. The West Wing, which rode the Emmy wave successfully for three years, has lost a lot of support from critics this season — and the recent departure of creator Aaron Sorkin hasn't helped the show's image. This year's hot shows are real-time drama 24 and HBO's mobster saga, The Sopranos.

So what chance does a show like Enterprise have? Maybe a promotional drive from Paramount Pictures would help. "Unlikely," said TV Barn's Barnhart. "Enterprise's problems with storyline are well-documented among the fandom. The show's creators need to focus on doing a good show. Once it's an acknowledged critical favourite on the lines of Buffy — another completely overlooked show — then we can talk promo."

Critical buzz certainly didn't launch Buffy to Emmy stardom during its seven-year run, though series creator Joss Whedon did score a writing nomination for "Hush". Still, fans of the vampire slayer have been very vocal about the lack of acting nominations for the show's star, Sarah Michelle Gellar. The only exception to the genre rule in recent years seems to be The X-Files. Leads Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny both scored acting nominations, with Anderson taking home the prize in 1997. But when The X-Files' ratings — and critical buzz — dropped off, so did its Emmy chances.

Still, one Star Trek actor was recognised by the Academy — Leonard Nimoy (Spock), who received a nomination for each season of the original series. He is the only actor to have scored an Emmy nod for his Star Trek work during the franchise's 37-year history. Even Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard) was overlooked by the Academy, despite executive producer Michael Piller's attempts to secure a nomination with an ad in Variety.

Scott Bakula (Jonathan Archer) received four nominations for his work on Quantum Leap — a genre show nonetheless. But although he has nabbed two Saturn Nods for his performance as Captain Archer, Enterprise's star didn't receive any recognition from the Academy last year. Asked whether any Enterprise actors were actually worthy of a nomination, Aaron Barnhart had a simple answer: "No."

The Trek brass take a different view. Speaking to Variety about last year's Emmy Awards, executive producer Rick Berman said Enterprise's Connor Trinneer (Charles 'Trip' Tucker) was one cast member worthy of a nomination. "If Connor were on any other freshman TV series right now, he would be the buzz of the trades in terms of getting a nomination," he said at the time.

But perhaps Enterprise's problem isn't just the fact that it's science fiction — it's also also seen as a sub-par series, not only by critics, but also by many fans. "Enterprise is recognized by a vast section of the Trek fan base as the lowest quality series yet," said Cinescape's Hershberger. "It's not worthy [of high-profile nominations], regardless of any high brow critical bias. (Which I guess is a critical bias, in and of itself.)"

Star Trek has long been recognised for having top-quality production values — its 31 Emmy wins have all been in the technical or 'Creative Arts' categories — and Enterprise's creative shortcomings shouldn't diminish the achievements of the behind-the-scenes crew, Hershberger said.

"[The Academy] nominated Enterprise in the past for Outstanding Hairstyling (Win), Outstanding Makeup, Outstanding Sound Editing, Outstanding Visual Effects (Win) — it's like there's only Star Trek and Stargate for this category — so it's safe to bet that Enterprise will continue doing the same," he said.

"The Star Trek series continues to offer exceptional work in these fields, even if the show itself has degenerated into a kind of Tin Woodsman (you know, no heart ... or pulse.)"

But who knows, that could change next season — Aaron Sorkin's free.

TrekToday will bring you the complete line-up of nominations for Enterprise and Star Trek alumni tomorrow morning.

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Caillan Davenport is one of the TrekToday editors.

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