The problem with Betty White earning a reality TV Emmy nomination follows a pattern, overall, with the nods every year: the same predictable, safe, often inexplicable choices.
I love Betty White. But she has been nominated for an Emmy the past three years in the Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality Competition Program category for her work on “Off Their Rockers.” Reading off a teleprompter for a few minutes as part of the hidden camera show apparently constitutes “outstanding” work as a “host,” which is an insult to both words.
But welcome to reality TV, the genre the industry loves to loathe.
In 2007, the Emmys got it right, giving “Survivor”s” Jeff Probst the award for outstanding host. But then they kept giving it to him — for four years straight. This is a problem beyond reality television, of course (I'm looking at you, “Modern Family”), but again, it's indicative of the relatively low position reality TV holds in Hollywood–despite the fact that there is exceptional work and great unscripted art being produced.
There are 56 hosts and 194 unscripted shows eligible for Emmys this year. And more likely than not, the Academy will — in its infinite wisdom — choose the same shows and people it usually does. Literally, the same six shows have been nominated since 2011, and most of them were nominated every year before that, since the award”s first year in 2003 : “The Amazing Race,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “Project Runway,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Top Chef,” “The Voice.” (“American Idol” occupied a slot for most of those early years.)
“The Amazing Race” keeps getting nominated and has won 10 of the 12 reality competition Emmys, which is just insane. Regardless of what you think of “The Amazing Race” — a show I respect and once loved — there are so many other shows deserving of at least a nomination.
I'd hope that something like Starz' outstanding “The Chair,” ABC's fun hybrid “The Quest,” or Ovation's riveting “The Fashion Fund” would be in the mix. But they're smaller shows and it seems like voting members can't really be bothered to watch or consider shows outside the popular ones they've heard of before.
Occasionally, there's a surprise, but it's been a predictable one, such as Jane Lynch's nomination as host of “Hollywood Game Night.” She's fun, but the work she's doing isn't comparable to fellow nominee Cat Deeley of “So You Think You Can Dance,” nor of the many hosts on cable shows that do so many different things.
Consider “King of the Nerds” hosts Curtis Armstrong and Robert Carradine, who regularly don costumes and characters to introduce challenges, and then offer very colorful commentary. They preside over the show they produce in a way that offers something different.
The most interesting opportunity for recognition of a terrific but smaller, non-broadcast network show comes as a result of a new category that started last year: unstructured reality program. That refers to a documentary-style show that follows a narrative rather than a template or formula. “Shark Tank” won last year, and while it's a terrific show and a good choice, it is a very safe choice: a network show produced by a big-name producer. What of the dozens of other shows? How about Hulu's charming “Behind the Mask,” which follows mascots on and off the field, or Discovery's “Naked and Afraid,” which is not at all about the nudity or fear?
There are plenty of reality shows eligible for nominations that, frankly, don't deserve to be acknowledged as “outstanding.” Like all genres, there's a lot of content, and it's great that some people enjoy it. In an ideal world, the Television Academy should single out shows and people that are truly the best in their respective categories. But that sounds almost as crazy as giving Betty White an Emmy for hosting.