Opinion Column: The Great Battlestar Snub

Commenting on the Emmys’ sci-fi ignorance

bsg_lastsupperNumerous television critics have spent the past few years calling out the Emmy Awards for not recognising Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica, and, though I fundamentally agree that the show should’ve been widely credited for its achievements prior to this year, I don’t think the series has ever quite deserved it. The first season was too slow, the second too inconsistent and the third lacked direction. That’s not to say I believe I think the fourth is perfect, either – what I’m saying is, taken in the context of some of the populist shows that were nominated, it is, for once, an unjustifiable snub.

This year’s dearth of nominations for the show is particularly agonising, however. It hasn’t been a terrific season for TV drama, with last year’s deserved winner Mad Men taking a few steps sideways in regard to quality, while networks have been reluctant to take creative risks in the wake of the writer’s strike and (roll your eyes now) the recession. Look at the pilots for next season prepped by the five big networks and you’ll see shows like FlashForward, clearly geared towards Lost’s existing viewer base, and – worse, though it’s not sci-fi – Beautiful People on The CW, a show so vain that I’d wager it spends 12 hour-long episodes showing Mischa Barton throwing up into a toilet, just to fit into a dress. Likewise, take The Vampire Diaries from the same network, transparently after a bite of the Twilight pie. TV is undeniably scaling back.

I don’t really care if the Academy doesn’t recognise sci-fi; what I’m concerned about is that the awards ceremony is being constrained by the same worries that networks are facing, in making commercial-friendly choices. They know, fundamentally, that nominating wider viewed shows will attract bigger audiences for the ceremony, but they also know that credibility is important, hence Mad Men and 30 Rock receiving heavy recognition, neither of which are unstoppable hits. It also means that something less popular but off-centre, like Battlestar Galactica, will be on the bottom of the pile for consideration. Who, after all, would miss it? Viewers of the marginalised channel that produced the Flash Gordon remake? They’re surely aware of the fact that Battlestar Galactica is a safe snub.

House, however, the medical show with Hugh Laurie that will soon enter its sixth season, was nominated for Best Drama. Thematically, at the very least, we should be able to agree that Battlestar’s mature overall message about the human race warrants more recognition than week-after-week of Dr Gregory House, limping, growling and being rude to another moronic patient only to end on another music montage. Five seasons on, I think we get the idea. Interestingly, both shows featured a major suicide this season, but I’d bet a kneecap that because House’s received more press attention (not least because the actor in the House role, Kal Penn, left to join the Obama administration) the show would be a shoo-in for the Best Drama Emmy. Blanketing Variety.com with ‘For Your Consideration’ ads just wasn’t going to do it for Battlestar.

It’s Seventies-style standalone TV versus progressive, ambitious storytelling, and I find it disconcerting that the former won out. Still, congratulations to the shows that were nominated – the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences clearly sees the majority of basic cable shows on the same level as network fare, suggesting that by next year, the less sci-fi-oriented Caprica will stand a chance. I hope so, anyway.