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Emmys 2013: Buzzmeter panelists talk noms, 'Modern Family's' merit

By Glenn Whipp

1:45 PM CDT, August 19, 2013

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Leading up to the Emmys next month, we gathered The Envelope's Buzzmeter panelists — USA Today's Robert Bianco, TV Guide's Matt Roush, The A.V. Club's Todd VanDerWerff, the Los Angeles Times' Mary McNamara and Glenn Whipp and, when the focus is on predictions, Gold Derby's Tom O'Neil — for some spirited conversation about this year's nominations.

In this first installment of three (check back each Monday), the Buzzmeter gang debates "Modern Family's" place among past Emmy powerhouses and rates this year's slate of nominees.

“Modern Family” has a strong shot at winning its fourth consecutive comedy series Emmy. Only one other show has taken the category four years running – “Frasier” – and only three other comedies (“All in the Family,” “Cheers” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show”) have won four series Emmys. Are you ready to put “Modern Family” in that group? Is it deserving?

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McNamara: "Modern Family" is already in that group. Groundbreaking in both topic and format, its popularity is rooted in the message of all iconic comedies: Humans are ridiculously flawed, which is why we create families -- to both acknowledge and forgive those flaws.

Roush: There's no question "Modern Family" is a modern classic, and it's not that it's not deserving of a fourth best-comedy Emmy. I'm just not sure it's deserving this year -- not with another distinctive, terrific season of "Louie" to reward. And I have a soft spot for multi-camera comedies that are as uproariously funny as "The Big Bang Theory," which deserves to break the jinx against that style of sitcom and become the first of its type to win since "Everybody Loves Raymond" back in 2005.

Bianco: It’s too soon to decide where “Modern Family” belongs in the sitcom pantheon, and unfair to base its Emmy chances on any prospective placement -- or on how other shows fared in their years. Voters had a chance to give “All in the Family” or “Frasier” more or fewer Emmys and made their decisions based on the episodes in front of them. That’s all voters should do now -- compare “Modern Family” to the shows it’s running against, and let history take care of itself. We worry far too much about numbers and records as it is -- or does anyone really think the reputations of “I Love Lucy” or “Seinfeld” have suffered because they don’t share some Emmy record?

VanDerWerff: Not only am I not ready to put "Modern Family" in that group -- it's gotten very hacky and broad -- but there's another comedy nominated here that could fall into the four-time winner camp that I am ready to put into that camp. "30 Rock" is much more deserving of the honor, particularly after such a great final season.

Whipp: "Modern Family," like the other network nominee, "The Big Bang Theory," has the arguably more difficult challenge of grinding out a 24-episode season. (Just look at how "30 Rock," benefiting from a shorter, 13-episode arc, was able to craft its finest season in years.) I think, looking at the big picture, "Modern Family" can comfortably be placed alongside comedies like "Frasier" and "Cheers." That said, a fourth consecutive Emmy would represent a failure of imagination among voters. Let another great show ("Louie" would be the obvious choice) have a turn in the spotlight.

On a scale of 1 (did they even bother to watch television this year?) to 10 (they did, they really did!), how would you rate Emmy voters this go-around? With so much good television to choose from, did they, overall, make smart, worthy selections?

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VanDerWerff: I'd go with a 6, which is pretty good for the Emmys but still a long ways off where they should be. I find it weirdly telling that they nominated the overinflated "House of Cards," then ignored its best aspect in Corey Stoll, in favor of the two movie stars in the cast. Meanwhile, dozens of other great dramas are largely or completely ignored. But this is still easily the TV awards show that gets it the most "right," particularly when compared to the Golden Globes or Screen Actors Guild awards. If it's the best we've got in terms of televised TV awards, I guess I'll take it."

McNamara: 7. I do not envy academy members their task -- there really is so much incredibly diverse excellent television -- but neither can I forgive their anti-zombie bigotry. "The Walking Dead" rocks.

Bianco: Go with 8. There will always be odd omissions and inclusions ("Mad Men" this season instead of  "Justified," "The Good Wife," "The Walking Dead" or "The Americans" in drama, the refusal to recognize "The Middle" in comedy). But overall, the slate offered more fresh, novel choices than usual. It’s not perfect, but as long as there are more deserving shows and actors than there are spots – and no matter how many spots you have, there always will be – perfection is not an option.

Whipp: At least an 8. You hear talk about splitting categories, separating broadcast and cable. But the bounty of worthy nominees actually makes the Emmys more interesting than they have been in years, forcing voters to step up their game. And they did. No, Tatiana Maslany wasn't nominated for "Orphan Black." But I imagine it was close. And I bet people remember her name next year.

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Glenn Whipp

glenn.whipp@latimes.com

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