Ellen Burstyn Gets an Emmy Nomination for a 14 Second Performance and Everyone is Up in Arms

So the members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, those voters who perpetrate the biggest farce in the entertainment award industry-well, next to the Grammies-have egg on their face yet again. In addition to never allowing the writing of The Simpsons to be nominated for a Best Comedy Writing award despite universal acceptance that it has been the best written show in television history, and in addition to once again overlooking the work of the best actress on television right now, Lauren Graham of Gilmore Girls, this time the egg has shells in it in the form of giving a Best Supporting Actress in a TV Movie or Miniseries nomination to Ellen Burstyn for her work in the HBO movie “Mrs. Harris.”

The entire performance of Ellen Burstyn in that movie takes up roughly 14 seconds of screen time.

So the uproar, of course, stems from the fact that maybe-just maybe-the Emmy voters didn’t actually watch the performances of all the potential nominees, but instead merely saw Burstyn’s famous name and penciled her in, expecting that she must have given a great performance. And why not? Ellen Burstyn has given some incredible performances over the course of her career, including her Oscar-winning turn in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, as well as her Oscar-nominated performances in The Last Picture and The Exorcist. Pretty decent resume there so perhaps there is some reason to expect that Burstyn would have given a performance worthy of an Emmy. There’s also very little reason to suspect that she would have been given only 14 seconds of screen time. This is Ellen Freaking Burstyn, after all.

Let’s go back in time to 1976. Rocky, despite being a second rate pastiche of every boxing movie clichÃ?© ever filmed mixed in with more than a tossing of the plot of Marty, wins the Oscar for Best Picture. And Beatrice Straight wins Best Supporting Actress for Network. Her onscreen time in that movie was roughly five minutes, give or take. For the record she beat out Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, Piper Laurie in Carrie, Jane Alexander in All The President’s Men and Lee Grant in Voyage of the Damned. It’s pretty obvious today that at least the first three would be predicted to have been the winner if you didn’t already know Beatrice Straight had won. But Beatrice Straight was no Ellen Burstyn. Then or now. So what gives?

Could it be that Straight won on the basis of one scene that was shown constantly whereas the other actresses may have had different sections of their larger performances highlighted. I mean a five minute scene, give or take, has a lot of power in it if that’s all you get. And maybe she just really, you know, nailed it. Except that Jane Alexander’s screen time in All The President’s Men wasn’t really all that much more. It was, however, spread across a few scenes, whereas Beatrice Straight’s performance was basically just one scene.

The Ellen Burstyn controversy has hit the blogosphere and the television coverage web sites like a hammer. It’s almost as if awarding a 14 second performance a nomination somehow undermines the integrity of the Emmy Awards. Umm, what integrity? I mean it’s not like awarding Titanic 47 Academy Awards undid the integrity of an award that has gone to such movies such as The Greatest Show on Earth, Gigi, Around the World in 80 Days, Rocky and Gandhi. We all know that the Oscars rarely if ever get it right. We aren’t surprised that James Cameron now has more Best Director Oscars than Orson Wells, Ingmar Berman, Jean Luc Godard, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese combined. We know the Oscars have no integrity.

Most of also know that the Emmy Awards have no integrity. So why the uproar over the revelation that Emmy voters probably don’t bother actually watching the performances they nominate?

Is anyone in the real world actually surprised by that?

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