Y’all aren’t checking for the Emmys anymore, and it’s about time

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I’m sick of awards shows. I’ve been covering them for years, talking about their lack of diversity, and needless celebration of predetermined favorites. But judging by the lackluster reviews and ratings for the 2018 Emmys (which I didn’t watch), it seems that America’s long-storied love affair with this spectacle is finally fading. And I’m all the way here for it.

Though I almost never plan to tune into awards shows, the happenings of the night inevitably become the top topic of conversation the next day. And so, I always end up recording them and watching the highlights on fast forward. It’s a great tactic to avoid the gratuitous ads, product placement, ineffectual host antics, and award categories I give zero shits about. Let’s be honest: we’re all only watching to see the acceptance speeches of any Black winners. Especially if Viola Davis is up for an award.

But this time was different. I recorded the 2018 Emmys festivities as usual, but I forgot the show was even airing on Monday. Then, I felt inclined to delete it before the telecast was even complete. It could have been the fact that the perpetually boring Colin Jost and continually problematic Michael Che were hosting. It could have been that Hollywood seems to collectively decided that its issues with diversity are a thing of the past. But I think my outright apathy towards the 2018 Emmys was really a function of awards shows losing their meaning and importance.

And I’m not alone.

Awards Show ratings are on the decline

This year, the show’s ratings hit an all-time low with an overall down 10.172 million viewers and a 2.4 rating among adults 18-49. That’s 4% down amongst 18-49-year-olds, the most important demographic for advertisers, and 11% of all viewers compared to last year. By comparison, that’s also down a staggering 34% in viewers from just 4 years ago. And it’s not just the Emmys facing these steep declines. The 2018 Oscars also hit an all-time low with 26.5 million viewers, a 20% yearly drop. The 2018 Grammys hit their own all-time low, averaging a 5.9 rating in adults 18-49 and 19.8 million viewers, a 24% loss for both measures.

It’s hard to say what is the definitive cause of these precipitous viewership drops, but a tone-deaf entertainment industry is definitely one of the main culprits. So far, the entertainment industry has done a great job of recognizing that there is a problem. That was evident from the very beginning of the show.

The show opened with a musical number called “We Solved It”, mocking Hollywood’s self-approval of its marginal diversity efforts. One by one, actors from Kenan Thompson to Sterling K. Brown to RuPaul took to the stage an proclaimed that diversity in Hollywood had been “solved” because the Emmy nominees were the most diverse in history and Hollywood had successfully learned to put at least one minority player in every production. They punctuated this by bringing out the “One-of-Each Dancers”. The rest of the telecast had the specter of #EmmysSoWhite hanging over it. Even Michael Che’s “Reparations Emmys” video only did work to highlight the industry’s long-standing issue with not recognizing immensely talented minority actors. So, kudos for recognizing your faults?

Why we’re not watching anymore

What the industry has not done is put in place enough measures to actually fix the problem. On the aggregate, all we’ve seen is “one-drop rule” diversity progress. Viola Davis is the first Black woman to win an Oscar, Emmy, and Tony for acting. Sandra Oh is the first Asian-American woman to be nominated for an Emmy. Moonlight is the first Best Picture Oscar winner about black characters that is not about racism. Pose is the first majority transgender cast of a tv show. All of these things are great, but they do not equate to real diversity or change. Just like having the most diverse pool of nominees or presenters doesn’t make anything the entertainment industry representative.

And to me, that’s why we are seeing these major drops in viewership. In the face of the old, white male guard, we are increasingly generating our own content and not forcing ourselves to watch programming that doesn’t represent us. People are less inclined to watch these awards shows because they hold less importance in our lives. Our communities are more concerned with which shows are trending on Twitter. We simply don’t care as much who wins which award or who wore which designer on the red carpet. We’re all Issa Rae, rooting for anyone Black (or at least everyone not white), yet fully understanding that the chances of our favorites winning is marginal at best.


“Diversity” is not there to win; we’re there to give the ceremony the appearance of diversity, representation, and fairness.

America is rapidly diversifying, and at the same time recognizing that it doesn’t need to buy into a continuation of its white supremacist past. An industry that still largely caters to the white, male, and heterosexual doesn’t have what it takes to survive in today’s climate. And the more we recognize that we don’t have to comport to white supremacist ideals, the more we win.


Photo credit: ABC

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Daren W. Jackson

Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.

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