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FMS FEATURE ARTICLE...

September 24, 2004
Newman, Angels and the Academy
Missteps at this year's Emmy Awards
by Jon Burlingame


The 56th annual Emmy Awards show got some things right and some things wrong during its three-hour telecast Sunday night on ABC.

The memories of three well-known composers who died during the past year, and who had contributed memorable music to TV over the years, were honored as part of the annual "in memoriam" tribute: Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein and Michael Kamen.

Actor Tom Selleck, who introduced the segment, even spoke of "legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith, who created the musical score we're about to hear." Goldsmith's soaring theme for the film Rudy was used as the images – including slow-motion shots of Kamen, Goldsmith and Bernstein on the podium – unspooled.

Goldsmith, whose career began in television, won five Emmys and created over a dozen classic themes including Dr. Kildare, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Room 222, The Waltons, Barnaby Jones, Police Story and Star Trek: Voyager. Bernstein won one Emmy; his themes included Riverboat, Staccato, Hollywood and the Stars, Julia, The Rookies, Ellery Queen and the fanfare for National Geographic specials.

Kamen's small-screen contributions were far fewer, but included Emmy-nominated work on From the Earth to the Moon and the entire score for the World War II miniseries Band of Brothers.

Omitted, unfortunately, was any mention of the late David Raksin, whose Ben Casey theme was a classic '60s signature and who worked extensively in the medium during the '50s and '70s. His credits included Life With Father, Father of the Bride, Five Fingers, Breaking Point and several TV-movies including the much-honored The Day After.

A much larger issue loomed on Sunday, however. The irony of hearing Thomas Newman's theme for Angels in America again and again was that the composer wasn't even nominated, the result of a flawed nomination process that has been called into question nearly every year during the past decade.

Angels in America, HBO's critically praised adaptation of Tony Kushner's Tony Award-winning play about the AIDS crisis, won 11 Emmys. It had been nominated for 21 and, astute observers have said for weeks, should have been nominated for 22 – the missing category being Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special for Newman's exceptional score. Director Mike Nichols, at least, cited "Tom Newman's beautiful music" during his acceptance speech, and the applause that followed his mention indicated that many in the audience shared his view of the composer's contribution.

This reporter outlined the specifics in Variety on August 19. Excerpts from that story, along with additional information, follow:

When the nominees were announced July 15, a PBS Great Performances airing of Elliot Goldenthal's seven-year-old ballet Othello was nominated. Thomas Newman's widely acclaimed music for the six-hour Angels in America was not.

Othello appeared to violate three key provisions of Emmy rules: It was not written for TV; it was publicly performed long before the telecast; and it was "exploited" via other media when a CD was released in 1998.

The Academy's music-branch executive committee voted to retain the Othello nomination, however, based on Goldenthal's contention that the work had undergone a "significant rewrite," Academy senior vice president John Leverence reported. He likened it to a Neil Simon play that, if adapted for TV, would be eligible for nomination.

Newman, a six-time Oscar nominee and past Emmy winner (for the Six Feet Under theme) spent seven months writing and recording 110 minutes of music for orchestra and choir for the Angels miniseries.

"Subtle," "evocative" and "extraordinary" were among the adjectives used by major critics around the country to describe Newman's music. The composer's own explanation – that the music reflects "a broad array of human emotion, from despair to guarded optimism, to give play to Mike Nichols' spare irony and enduring humanism" – turned out to be a completely accurate assessment.

Why Newman's score didn't make the cut is a mystery to many longtime Emmy observers. "That score was just amazing," said one of this year's nominees. "I can't believe it wasn't nominated." In fact, the Emmy fate of Angels' music was decided by just seven anonymous individuals.

The score was entered for potential nomination, Academy executives confirmed (unlike, for example, Richard Hartley's music for Showtime's The Lion in Winter, which was not). Under the current rules, everything entered is screened, in order to hear the music in its original dramatic context (as opposed to simply listening to a CD).

Only seven branch members screened Angels, and they saw only the second half of the program (Part 2 was entered, not Part 1). Some observers theorize that Part 2 was impossible to understand without seeing Part 1, and that voters' confusion or disinterest led to low scores.

The seven members who screened Angels remain anonymous, so there is no way to know how the music was judged; whether the judges were songwriters or underscore composers, entry-level musicians with few credits or seasoned veterans with many; or, perhaps most crucially, whether they even bothered sitting through all of Part 2. The Academy confirmed that no one asked to see Part 1, although it would have been made available upon request.

Since the current system was established in 1995, at least one major music score has been bypassed nearly every year, including some of television's most high-profile projects. Among recent scores failing to secure a nomination were Michael Kamen's Band of Brothers (outstanding miniseries, 2001-02), Laura Karpman's Taken (outstanding miniseries, 2002-03) and Anne Dudley's The 10th Kingdom (1999-2000).

In a sense, however, the Academy is maintaining a decades-long tradition of head-scratching decisions about music. Henry Mancini never won an Emmy, despite nominations for Peter Gunn and The Thorn Birds; neither did Lalo Schifrin (four nominations, including three for Mission: Impossible). John Barry wasn't even nominated for Eleanor and Franklin; nor was John Williams for his thrilling Amazing Stories, "The Mission," one of the finest episodic-TV scores in recent memory.


© 2004 Jon Burlingame

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