Emmy Hoopla

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

This Sunday, a four-hour gala will celebrate 50 years. There will be oodles of celebrities in attendance, fond reminiscences, and even reflections from the American public. Squeezed in will be the presentation of 27 awards categories. All in the name of television.

The 50th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be broadcast live on NBC, beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern time.

For those who think television is a vast wasteland, this hoopla may seem unwarranted. Why give awards to TV - the medium that is often accused of pandering to the lowest common denominator? That is often blamed (with much attending controversy) for contributing to a rise in real-life violence, a decline in morals, and a predilection for passive activity?

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Granted, most television doesn't approach the heights of Shakespeare. But for better or worse, television has been with us for roughly 50 years. And as NBC publicity material for the Emmys says, TV is "the most powerful medium in the world."

Television touches nearly all of us. Nielsen Media Research last year found that the average American watches 1,673 minutes (almost 28 hours) of TV a week.

Given this pervasive reach, the best needs to be encouraged. The Emmys do this, as do the Peabody Awards, which are given for television and radio.

As with other awards, determining who receives Emmys is serious business. The competition is managed by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, a nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of programming.

In recent years, the networks' dominance of the Emmys has been challenged by HBO, which this year has 72 nominations - second only to NBC, which has 86. Such competition can only encourage better programming across the board.

And in a sign that worthy work isn't in short supply, this year nine awards categories have six nominations instead of the usual five. Among all the nominated shows, top contenders include HBO's "From the Earth to the Moon," NBC's "ER," and Fox's "The X-Files."

The Emmys broadcast this Sunday can signal what's already good on TV, but it can't help much with the 36 prime-time network series premiring this fall. Look to next week's Arts & Leisure for a preview of these new shows.

* Judy Nichols is the assistant Arts & Leisure editor. Send comments to: entertainment@csps.com

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