Ghavri: Playing Awards Catch-Up

by Anmol Ghavri | 9/21/15 6:58pm

This past Sunday night marked the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards. Dartmouth was well represented, with David Benioff ’92 winning an award for co-producing “Game of Thrones” and Mindy Kaling ’01 presenting an award. I, like many passionate television fans, tuned in and was rooting for my favorite actors, actresses and television series. “Mad Men” — the magnificently produced 1960s period drama starring Jon Hamm as a mysterious Madison Avenue advertising executive with a dark past — concluded its seventh and final season in May 2015. I will not spoil the ending for those who are still binge watching the show on Netflix, but the series as a whole is arguably the greatest written television drama of all time. It is a shame that Jon Hamm had not won an Emmy prior to this year for his role as Don Draper, as he has been long deserving of critical recognition for his performance and his talents. Unfortunately, the methodology by which Emmys are awarded can be seriously flawed, oftentimes focusing on mass appeal and novelty rather than sophistication and artistry.

During its seven-season run, “Mad Men” has received consistent critical acclaim for its portrayal of the 1960s, production, acting and writing. The Matthew Weiner-produced drama was the first series from an ad-supported cable network to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, winning the award from 2008 to 2011. Entertainment Weekly even awarded “Mad Men” the number nine spot on its 2013 list of the all-time greatest television programs. Why, then, was its lead actor without an Emmy?

There are several factors that have likely forestalled Jon Hamm from winning an Emmy. It seems that the academy has shifted toward awarding shows according to factors that are not always the best indicators of quality — including popularity, novelty and controversy. Additionally, Hamm has faced in past years cutthroat competition for the Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series, in the form of Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad,” Damian Lewis of “Homeland” and Jeff Daniels of “The Newsroom.”

Jon Hamm has been nominated for his role in “Mad Men” eight times for the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and including eight other Emmy nominations has had 16 nominations in total. He had lost in all of his previous nominations. The show has won a total of four Golden Globes and 16 Emmys, though in previous years none were awarded to Jon Hamm. None of Hamm’s amazing supporting actors, including Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery and Vincent Kartheiser, have previously won Emmy awards for their roles in “Mad Men,” either.

I argue that “Mad Men” is unparalleled in its level of subtlety, patience and grace — which it owes in large part to Hamm’s acting. His Emmy win was well deserved and had been long overdue — it is no surprise that Hamm received a standing ovation as he light-heartedly pulled himself directly onto the stage after his win was announced.

I was quite disappointed, however, that “Mad Men” as a series did not win the Emmy for Outstanding Drama for what was arguably its greatest season. As expected, “Game of Thrones” did spectacularly, winning four Emmys and eight more during the Creative Arts Emmys to set the record for most wins in a single year. Yet this comes at a time when many fervent fans of “Game of Thrones,” myself included, thought its fifth season had lost much of the show’s original spark and was poorly adapted from George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels — particularly in its gratuitous use of violence of sex to titillate audiences. In fact, the only accolade for “Mad Men” this year came from Hamm’s win — the significance of which was just enough to compensate for the show being passed over for the Outstanding Drama Series award.

Jon Hamm’s acting has certainly made “Mad Men” a television show that will not soon be forgotten, and I hope it inspires similarly great television series and acting in the years to come. But I also hope that the academy will be quicker to recognize exceptional programming than it was with “Mad Men.” The Emmys, and all award shows, must remember to evaluate the quality of a show’s production, writing and acting — not its ability to dazzle the public.