Serious Question: Did “Empire” Actually Deserve More Emmy Nominations?

July 27, 2015  |  

By now, everyone has seen or at least heard about Lee Daniels’ fake me out Instagram video in response to the dearth of Emmy nominations his record-breaking hit show garnered.  In quintessential Daniels fashion, the Empire co-creator and executive producer, with breakout star Jussie Smollett by his side, said, “f**k these mother”— well, you know the rest.  The video was tagged with the hashtag #emmyniceguyoverwith.  And while some took Daniels’ words to heart, he made it perfectly clear that he was just joking.  In a follow-up video, Daniels stated that he loves the Emmys and wishes all the nominees well.  But die-hard Empire fans have no chill and felt the show was snubbed when Emmy nominations were announced more than a week ago.

As is oft the case come awards season, it should go without saying that not every show is going to get nominated.  And thankfully, unlike this year’s Oscars, whose lack of diversity in the acting categories spawned the hilarious yet poignant hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, the list of actors nominated for this year’s Emmys is more diverse than usual.  Taraji P. Henson is nominated for Lead Actress in a Drama for her role as Cookie Lyon, along with How To Get Away With Murder star, Viola Davis.  This marks the first time that two Black women have been nominated for the coveted category simultaneously.  And though Empire is also nominated for Outstanding Costumes, that’s where the nominations stop.  No love for Lucious himself, actor Terrence Howard, or the show as a whole for Outstanding Drama Series.  And while not everyone’s aboard the Empire train (some have argued the show perpetuates negative stereotypes about Black folks), given the show’s overwhelming popularity and success, and the industry’s obsession with ratings, folks are wondering what gives.  After all, Television Academy members wouldn’t have any shows to nominate if it weren’t for the fans and viewers who consume and keep alive the very content they’re voting for.  Not to mention, in one season, the critically-acclaimed hip-hop drama became a pop culture phenomenon.  Thanks to word of mouth and the Twitterverse, Empire’s viewers grew exponentially week after week.  This feat is virtually unheard of in network television and in today’s DVR world.  In short, Empire changed the game.  So what more does the Academy need to acknowledge the show for all its juicy, plot-twisting, meme-worthy greatness?

Clearly, the Emmys are not the People’s Choice Awards.  If that were the case, it’s safe to say that Empire would be all up and through the nominations.  The Emmys are a symbol of peer recognition and Television Academy members’ votes on nominees and winners – presumably for the work (and the people) they know, the work they’ve hopefully seen and loved, and the work they’ve played a hand in.  This is part of the reason why we’re used to seeing repeat offenders.  Shows like Modern Family, Mad Men and The Big Bang Theory have been nominated and won time and again.  Seemingly, once a favorite is picked, it’s difficult for newer shows to break in.

But the Academy has thousands of voting members, members who clearly thought enough of Henson to nominate her for her performance.  The impact of her on-screen presence alone is obvious.  Cookie is bold and sexy; she never holds her tongue and will tell you the truth, even when you don’t want to hear it (especially when you don’t want to hear it).  Because of Cookie, Henson’s star power has shot through the roof.  She has graced countless magazine covers, some with Howard.  That makes her instantly recognizable to people, even to those who haven’t actually seen an episode of Empire, and has given that much more credit to both her and talent.  But as Henson recently stated in a Los Angeles Times interview, “Cookie is nothing without Lucious.  She is nothing without her family.”

In Lucious Lyon, Terrence Howard plays the kind of man people fear.  He’s ruthless and will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even at the risk of harming those he supposedly loves.  I’m not suggesting that’s the reason Howard wasn’t nominated for an Emmy.  Clearly, as previously stated, there’s a lot at play, campaign ads and politics included.  But let’s face it.  Empire is unmistakably and unapologetically Black and “Black shows” are still seen as less viable in Hollywood and are thought to lack relatability. (And yet, when shows or movies with predominantly Black casts succeed and defy the limits put on them, it’s always met with surprise.) Could this be the reason why Empire was snubbed?  It doesn’t help either that the show is a prime-time soap opera, a genre that’s not exactly favored in the television world. But that didn’t stop a show like Desperate Housewives from being highly celebrated and recognized.  Or Scandal, for that matter, which has soap-like qualities.

If “best” were defined as most popular, Empire would be the best show on network television.  But perhaps the Academy isn’t ready for the series. Given the show’s popularity, it should be around long enough to be able to garner more nods in the future.  It has already made history and there’s plenty room to make more.

What do you think? Did Empire deserve more Emmy nominations?

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