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HBO's Overlooked Treme: Are Emmy Voters Racist?

by Anne Thompson
August 18, 2010 3:53 AM
34 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

I finally finished watching David Simon and Eric Overmyer's brilliantly executed Treme, and reread the terrific NYT Magazine feature on how they put the series together, and why HBO was willing to indulge them. Overmyer looks back at season one and ahead at season two.

So it's Emmy season and this series--arguably the best of the year--didn't land one acting or writing nomination. No Wendell Pierce, Clarke Peters, Kim Dickens, Khandi Alexander, John Goodman, Melissa Leo or Steve Zahn. It scored just two, for directing and original music. Why did the series get slighted? As did David Simon's critically hailed The Wire, which earned two writing nominations in its entire run. It's probably the same reason that European audiences responded better to The Wire during the one season that favored more white characters. Even stateside, white moviegoers and Emmy voters seem to tune out material featuring too many every-day African Americans. It's a question of identification, interest and engagement, I guess.

Music was a huge part of the show, providing its spine and often-meandering structure, which was fine with me. I could happily sit down and watch the whole thing all over again.

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More: Awards, TV, Emmys, Treme

34 Comments

  • Mike | August 4, 2014 9:21 AMReply

    I don't know whether the Emmys are racist or not. Does it really matter? The Emmys will never be able to award every show. The same as the Oscars can't award every movie. It is what it is. I don't think it is worth discussing.

  • DK | May 19, 2013 1:06 AMReply

    It is articles like this that make me think the first thought out of some people's heads is always about race. The story of the boy who cried wolf comes to mind. When the finger is pointed all the time it loses its impact. Is it any wonder blacks feel like they aren't heard or overlooked and the rest of us are tired of hearing about Katrina and racism? Emmy's, really? Hollywood is so far to the left of center when it come to race matters that they are blinded to reality. Accusing the Hollywood establishment of racism is like saying the Pope is just pretending to be Catholic or that a bear does his business elsewhere than in the woods. Are we certain that racism isn't just as big of a problem for blacks as anyone else?

  • trivialisation of important words | September 7, 2010 9:52 AMReply

    trivialisation of racism give only better weapon to real racist.
    Being too touchy about racsim is so dangerous and open wide the door to real racsit and give em a reason to exist.

  • JT | August 24, 2010 10:25 AMReply

    It's unfortunate that people get so defensive when it comes to having a real dialogue involving issues of race. The question, "Are Emmy Voters Racist?" is a valid one when you examine the history of past nominees and winners. Black, Latino, Asian and Native American performers are never as recognized as White performers. So, this leads to an even deeper question, "Is the industry as a whole racist?" Why in 2010 do we not have just as many shows with Black, Latino, Asian and Native American leads as we do with White leads? Why are Emmy voters predominately White? And do we really expect a fair number of non-White nominees and winners when the voters are predominately White?

    At least the BET Awards (Awards given to African Americans by African Americans) and Alma Awards (Awards given to Latinos by Latinos) are honest and up front with stating that we are honoring a specific race of people. The Emmy's should just be forthcoming and state that these awards are for Caucasians and most of our voters are Caucasian. If they were really interested in diversity they would come up with a system that was fair to all.

  • Jeremiah | August 20, 2010 6:31 AMReply

    Racist? NO! Nobody likes Jazz. It is the lowest form of music and I would be surprised to find anyone who can sit through a whole episode.

  • Mike | August 20, 2010 3:17 AMReply

    Anne, the NYT article does not say that "European audiences responded better to The Wire during the one season that favored more white characters". You're reading stuff between the lines that simply isn't there. 1) The article doesn't mention "Europe", and less pedantically, 2) It says that is became more popular internationally during Season 2, not that it became unpopular again in Seasons 3-4. Season 3, 4 and 5 were certainly more popular than 1 and 2 in the UK.

    Sure, a show about a community that doesn't exist outside the U.S. might be a hard sell outside the U.S. That's not necessarily evidence that the continent of Europe is racist though. (Although I note you don't say the r-word yourself; congrats on the link bait, but maybe keep your headline writer on a tighter leash next time.)

    And the fact that Season 2 was more popular (in terms of viewers) than Season 1 can be explained without resorting to psychological analysis, since it's true of pretty much every TV show ever made: writers hit their stride, the press pays more attention, word of mouth has a chance to operate. Etc. Etc.

  • Dirk | August 20, 2010 3:05 AMReply

    This show was utter tripe. Out of the many characters only two were likable (the restauarant owner and her Sous-chef). The fact that everyone has raved about a show that had no redeeming qualities and was populated with a bunch of good-for-nothing con artists and potheads is ridiculous. They made out the people of NOLA to be despicable human beings in my opinion. Are the Emmy's racist? No, they simply have good taste.

  • JGribble | August 20, 2010 1:43 AMReply

    Why do you only suggest racism as a reason for Tremes unpopularity with Emmy voters? Surely you could suggest other possible reasons
    Personally, I loved The Wire but found Treme a bore. Both have plently of African-American characters yet I only liked one of the shows. There are other reasons for disliking Treme.

  • Are you kidding? | August 19, 2010 12:57 PMReply

    There's a black president in office. Your race card is maxed out, sorry.

  • Rea | August 19, 2010 12:44 PMReply

    Ugh!! Why does everything have to be racist? Maybe it didn't get Emmy nods bc its BORING!!! You know what perpetuates black stereotypes? Crap like this! Blame everything on race; has nothing to do with quality or intelligence or anything remotely legitimate... You never have to try, just blame all failures on race.

  • Paul Birch | August 19, 2010 12:19 PMReply

    “It’s probably the same reason that European audiences responded better to The Wire during the one season that favored more white characters.”

    Really? Being from England I'd say, as would allmy friends, that all seasons were genius... Idris Elba is a legend, Omar, Bubbles, black, white, the cast was genius... don't sully europe with poor writing. We loved the whole run. It is the owners of tv that decide how to advertise the shows, and they tried to make the show look as 'white' as possible, but we're more intelligent than that

  • Spike | August 19, 2010 12:07 PMReply

    Buffy never got so much as an Emmy nomination, let alone a win. Therefore I deem all Emmy voters racist against vampires and hot blondes.

  • Dave | August 19, 2010 11:55 AMReply

    To the guy who said he cancelled HBO after watching four episodes of Treme, you sir are a moron. You probably haven't seen The Wire, the greatest tv show ever, even though you've had HBO

    And doesn't this just go to 'WHO THE HELL CARES ABOUT THE EMMYS??'

    When they didn't recognize The Wire they ceased to hold much integrity.

  • DavidC | August 19, 2010 11:53 AMReply

    "Treme" fans will probably dig this quote from UK critic Philip Kennicott:

    "I'm slightly allergic to plot, and 'The Monk' is wall-to-wall plot, people telling stories about people telling stories. Plot is to reading as carbohydrates are to dieting."

  • Joe Gillis | August 19, 2010 10:24 AMReply

    Wow. There are people on here arguing that TREME wasn't very good. I guess they shouldn't let the inmates near the computers.

    Nothing happened? Life happened. It was a more sensitive and accurate portrayal of the human condition than we've seen for several years.

    Perhaps we should simply have an IQ test for the voters.

  • Anthony | August 19, 2010 10:21 AMReply

    Emmy voters aren't racist, and neither are viewers...thus the ratings. Treme often sits below 1 million viewers and that clearly shows it isn't reaching the audience it needs to be in order to be a hit. Personally I think it's an alright show but it's nowhere near as good as True Blood, Big Love or The Soprano's. It's one of those shows that has to grow on you and most viewers aren't willing to give shows that much time. John From Cincinnati was like that and it didn't last past the first season. It didn't win any awards that I recall, it was canceled despite a decent viewership and a campaign to save it. There wasn't a black character on the show that I'm aware of. Any show can suffer, any show can start well and fail and any show could potentially become an overnight hit. For the latter to happen, all the necessary elements have to be there. Good story lines, good acting, good locales, good direction and so on. The show has to speak to viewers (in the case of dramas) and it has to be something that people can identify with. Treme lacks in some areas and that's why it didn't win any awards. Race isn't always an issue, quality is.

  • M | August 19, 2010 9:33 AMReply

    "And the fact that Andre Braugher is nominated (and will probably win) for the most boring series ever just makes this opinion a little less convincing."

    Which is kind of like saying that the Academy nominating Sidney Poitier for The Defiant Ones in 1959 was proof that there was no racism in Hollywood at the time.

    Braugher was one of the only black characters in "Men of a Certain Age," which also starred the ever bland and ever popular Ray Romano. And let's not forget how many years it took the Academy to recognize Braugher for his stellar work on Homicide...

    Again, I don't necessarily think racism has anything to do with it, but that argument doesn't hold water.

  • Kamillo | August 19, 2010 9:06 AMReply

    “If a series isn’t around L.A. or N.Y. to schmooze with Emmy voters and NATAS members, they ignore it.”

    Breaking Bad, True Blood, Lost, Dexter...

    And the fact that Andre Braugher is nominated (and will probably win) for the most boring series ever just makes this opinion a little less convincing.

    The thing is everyone will have different opinions, i find Treme boring as hell, some think is the best invention since the wheel. Emmy voters seem to be on my side

  • Syd | August 19, 2010 7:55 AMReply

    I'm sure there are black Emmy voters.
    According to Thompson, that makes them racist.

  • M | August 19, 2010 4:49 AMReply

    There is no question that racism is alive and well, both in this world and in this country. Its masks and hoods are simply subtler today than those depicted in "Birth of a Nation."

    However, while it's possible that a certain kind of subconscious racism may be a minor psychological component, I think the REAL reason shows like The Wire and Treme have been consistently overlooked for awards is the same reason so many other great movies and television shows have been overlooked throughout the years: the voters just don't watch them.

    Most people - even our honored Emmy and Oscar voters - are more interested in entertainment than they are in art. (Even the term "art" has acquired a stain of pretense and pedantry in recent years...) When it comes to these shows, the pace is too slow, the conflicts are too real, the issues are too complex, and the endings are open, messy and frequently unhappy.

    In other words, it's just "too much reality for a Sunday night."

  • DChute | August 19, 2010 4:11 AMReply

    "If a series isn’t around L.A. or N.Y. to schmooze with Emmy voters and NATAS members, they ignore it."

    "Breaking Bad" is the exception that proves the rule?

  • T.K. Firebird | August 19, 2010 2:17 AMReply

    The race card is lame. Stop whining. TV is lame. Youtube is the future.

    http://www.youtube.com/poolboyinla

  • Anne Thompson | August 19, 2010 2:14 AMReply

    Nora (that's my daughter's name),
    I got the info on European audiences upticking during The Wire season with more white characters from that NYT Magazine article.

  • Classical Music Lover | August 19, 2010 1:48 AMReply

    I loved "Treme," and I didn't expect to. I only watched at first because I admired "The Wire" so much. The first episode didn't get me, but from number two I was hooked, and to tell the truth, I don't like the music at all. I understand the role jazz plays in New Orleans, but for me that was the least of the show.

    The characters were interesting, and both the writing and the acting were mesmerizing. The smaller characters were just as well-realized as the major ones. I felt as if I were in New Orleans, and I cannot wait for season two.

    For the record, I am a middle-aged, Midwestern white married mother who usually listens to opera and pre-1850's classical music.

  • trevoir | August 18, 2010 10:41 AMReply

    Or maybe it didn't get nominated because it wasn't very good. More happens in the Boardwalk Empire trailer than the entire first season of Treme. No thanks. If I wanted to watch "people be people" I'd stare out my window. Does that make me a philistine? I'd rather be that and watching Boardwalk Empire than be a culturally enlightened Treme snob.

  • Edward Copeland | August 18, 2010 9:42 AMReply

    I think it's the same reason it took the Emmys so long to recognize Andre Braugher for Homicide and pretty much ignore that series in general. Homicide and The Wire both filmed in Baltimore, Treme in New Orleans. If a series isn't around L.A. or N.Y. to schmooze with Emmy voters and NATAS members, they ignore it.

  • Nora Lee | August 18, 2010 8:13 AMReply

    Is this statement documentable?:
    "It’s probably the same reason that European audiences responded better to The Wire during the one season that favored more white characters."

  • matthew | August 18, 2010 7:02 AMReply

    It's incredibly racist of YOU Anne for insinuating that the only way Treme could be ignored is because white voters would only vote for shows with only white characters. This notion is ludicrous. Look at Lost, a series featuring an ensemble of all races, including an Iraqi, or True Blood, Mad Men, Modern Family and Glee, shows which all feature homosexuals. I do realize that you made the point that voters are racists, not homophobic, but lumping the group as bigoted is ridiculous, based on no facts. Why was Melissa Leo or John Goodman snubbed? They're not black. In fact, your allegations belittle the entire cast of Treme, because clearly you cannot get past the fact Wendell Pierce or Khandi Alezander are African American. The bottom line is Treme's ratings and buzz were nowhere near on par with other contenders, and voters can't possibly watch every series that airs. This is the first I personally have read anything on Treme since its premiere. The buzz factor is zero, and I'm sorry but if you don't have the press or a significant audience, i.e. above five million viewers, in your corner, you can't get nominated. This is just how the Emmys work.

  • Zeke | August 18, 2010 6:53 AMReply

    Best Comedy Snubs - Park and Recreation, Community, Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Party Dow

    Best Comedy Noms - The Office (bad season), 30 Rock (bad season), Family Guy (bad season/bad show at this point), Nurse Jackie (barely a comedy, arguably bad season)

    Racism?

  • Zeke | August 18, 2010 6:44 AMReply

    Mark, did you read my comment? How does a history of ignoring excellent "white shows" fit into your "it's gotta be racism" view. The knob slobbering of Raymond is indicative of the Emmy's populist pandering. That show was massive in the ratings. These people have nom'd Two and a Half Men three times. Race may be a part of this but any sort of judgment of the Emmy's that tries to think about them as a merit based system is frankly bonkers. Like every other award show, it's irrecoverably broken.

  • Mark Horowitz | August 18, 2010 6:22 AMReply

    Can't really say why Treme got slighted. But never giving an Emmy to The Wire -- not even the last season, when critical drumbeat was rhapsodic! -- is another matter. It's something weird about the Emmy system that brings out the latent racism in Hollywood, at least the TV side. I assume it was because The Wire was perceived as a "black" show, since all thw stellar performances were by black actors, and I have to assume that's the problem. And the way the Emmys are chosen (all those weird committees and the way votes are spread across so many categories) must somehow bring what otherwise might be invisible to light. Just ask yourself: How many Emmys did The Wire get and how many did Everybody Loves Raymond get. (I'll tell you how many ELR got: It got 13 Emmys, according to Wikipedia. With 48 nominations. Is there any other explanation other than Hollywood racism? Whether or not it's thesame deal with Treme remains to be seen. The series needs to get last a little longer and get a little better before we can draw any conclusions.

  • Zeke | August 18, 2010 5:24 AMReply

    While Treme's first season wasn't as transcendent as you argue, the acting was phenomenal across the board. That doesn't matter though because the Emmys aren't a meritocracy. They're lazy and predictable. Tony Shaloub's house is made entirely of Emmys. Entourage got nominated years deep into its irrelevancy. 30 Rock won for a bad year. Glee will undoubtedly clean up this year despite the quality of that show being a fraction of its hype.

    The Emmy's are bandwagonists with a legacy fetish. Legacy can explain Brian Cranston's recognition for Breaking Bad carrying over from Emmy favorite, regardless of season to season quality, Malcolm in the Middle. From that seed more Breaking Bad love spread. Bandwagonism explains the Mad Men and True Blood love. They're zeitgesty. Everything else is usually just lazy carry overs. . The Office nominated this year for that season? Do they even watch television?

    Treme has too small an audience to pull Emmy love. It doesn't matter how good it is, it's buzzless pop culturally. If race has anything to do with it, it's much less of a factor than you're intimating. The Emmy's ignored Buffy, The Shield (most of the time) and Battlestar Galactica. They ignore Community, Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Sons of Anarchy. They still nominate House (the show) and Mariska Hargitay every year. They ignore good shows and laud mediocrity because they're hacks. Calling them racists is unsubstantiated by any kind of close inspection. They're just blissfully clueless.

  • Blackcapricorn | August 18, 2010 4:42 AMReply

    Agreed David. This show, while interesting to watch really never grabbed me or had any real arcs for the characters (save the chef). It was just about every day life which is fine but not really dramatic. Anne, you must have been watching a different series, in no way should Leo and Zahn (who are great in almost everything else) been nominated for this.

  • David Garber | August 18, 2010 4:36 AMReply

    Treme is the reason I got rid of HBO. Does that make me racist? After four episodes I realized nothing was going to happen. It's unfortunate since The Wire is perhaps the greatest television show of all time. Too bad David Simon felt that a post-hurricane New Orleans contained enough drama that he didn't have to inject any into the story.

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