Science is cool. Really cool! So cool that when humans do something really big in science — like putting a remote-control robot on another planet — the whole world stands still to watch. So cool that it seems like this year we've seen Bill Nye's face more than ever. So cool that science invaded mainstream arts with the return of Cosmos, and we crowned Neil deGrasse Tyson as a brainy superstar. So why wasn't he sitting near Matthew McConaughey last night at the Emmys?
He never had a chance, because the Television Academy didn't give him one.
Shows like Cosmos live in the academy's closet, in a box behind the costumes, where they don't have to be seen next to the beautiful people. Every year, the academy rounds up all the nerds and sequesters them to the "Creative Arts Emmys:" a giant overflow room where you put people who basically make television happen but aren't good enough to be on television. I mean, just look at Matthew McConaughey. We can't have nerds sitting next to him! Only people who play nerds on television, like those guys from The Big Bang Theory.
The academy has decided 'Dancing With the Stars' is more important than 'Cosmos'
To some degree this is a logistical problem and the academy's solution makes total sense. The Primetime Emmys, like The Oscars, seem to drag on forever, and putting the Creative Arts awards in there would make it a 12 hour show. And let's face it: we happen to like seeing beautiful people get awards for being beautiful and talented. But it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing game. The academy has made choices about what it wants to put on television that have nothing to do time constraints. It has decided (resoundingly!) that the host of Dancing with the Stars is more important than the host of Cosmos. This particular perversion bites twice: once when we realize we're getting the television shows we deserve, and again when we realize that the locus of "reality" in the TV universe corresponds to a show wherein Howie Mandel uses a Vanna White clone army to award strangers with money in front of a studio audience, and not a beautifully produced series on science that literally describes reality.
The truth is that there isn't even an award category for people who host shows like Cosmos.
The Emmys are, as one Hollywood insider told me today, "where taste goes to die." It's where Modern Family wins awards over shows like Louie, which even the dim court of public opinion seems to find patently unreasonable. My colleague Sam Byford put it well: "shows like the Emmys exist in a weird space between critical acclaim and pure ratings," he said. And of course, we tend to lean towards the side of critical acclaim when a show or an actor we kinda like wins. (I'm looking at your perfectly grown cheekbones, Benedict Cumberbatch.)
So, yeah, the Emmys are superficial and often tone deaf. This is as novel as Hollywood insiders are unpredictable. But it could at least appear to appreciate where science and art collide on the main stage, even for just a few minutes a year.
It's not as if the Emmy's producers even knows how to create good TV. "What truly matters is that we never forget that our success is based on always giving the viewer something compelling to watch," the academy president said last night, after giving viewers a verbal PowerPoint presentation on The Value Of Television.
But maybe next year, the academy will make better choices. Maybe it will spend less time acting out twee bits nobody wants to see. Maybe it won't put a woman on a spinning pedestal, like a cone of shawarma, to force an unsightly, ironic joke — a joke that would have never existed if the people in charge had thought about it for more than three seconds.
Maybe it will give Neil deGrasse Tyson an Emmy. At least give the guy a chance.
The Verge spoke at length with Neil deGrasse Tyson this March