A few years ago, John Kimball (son of Ward) asked me to write a letter to the Television Academy defining what an animation director does, exactly. The reason John wanted the letter, he told me, was that writers of a prime-time animated show (which will go unnamed here) were attempting to get themselves nominated for Emmys as directors.
John K., a longtime animator and animation director himself, was a potentate in the television academy animation branch and took exception to this, hence his request for a letter from TAG outlining directorial duties. A few weeks later, John told me: "Some people weren't too thrilled with what you wrote. In fact, they were pissed." The story of my life.
That lengthy preamble leads me to the subject at hand: a new article in The Hollywood Reporter entitled Cel Division (which unfortunately hides behind a subcription wall). It seems that animation in general -- not just animation directors -- can't get much respect from the t.v. academy:
...In theory, there shouldn't be...much hand-wringing over an Emmy category, but the four [categories] that represent animation at the Primetime Emmys have been causing consternation almost since they were created in 1989. While most Primetime Emmy categories are fairly straightforward, largely separated by genre with subcategories for length, the animation categories cast a wide net over an entire style of visual presentation. That means adult cartoons go up against kids' fare, and dramatic animation can butt heads with comedic forms.
The animation categories also follow different submission and judging rules than the live-action ones; nominations are determined by votes from the Television Academy's animation branch only, and animated episodes are nominated for a single episode...
Funny thing. Like animated features, animated half-hours have almost always been shut out of categories where they competed with live-action shows...
Not since 1961, when "The Flintstones" was nominated in the outstanding program achievement in the field of humor category, has an animated series landed an Emmy nomination berth in a nonanimation category; none has ever won.
According to Television Academy senior vp John Leverence, submitting "Simpsons" as a comedy was an experiment -- initiated by producers at Gracie Films -- that failed.
"It was one of those situations where a very writer-driven production company was interested in seeing if what they considered to be essentially a three-camera sitcom could go in with their peers in the sitcom world," he recalls. "There was not an enthusiastic response from the live-action world of voters to "The Simpsons" coming over, so they went back to animation, where they have continued on to great success."
I'm going out on a limb here and predicting that The Simpsons Movie, even if it grosses $300 million domestic, will not be getting into the Academy Awards by way of a "Best Picture" nomination. Oscar let down his guard for Beauty and the Beast. It won't happen twice.
...Once resigned to staying in their own neighborhood of animation categories, shows often find they have other stumbling blocks to deal with. [Craig] McCracken's Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends ...is a children's show with limited adult appeal. The Daytime Emmys do have a children's animation category, but Foster's, like many shows on Comedy Central, doesn't run in the right day-part to qualify.
"It's frustrating for people on my end of animation," says McCracken, whose show lost last year to "Simpsons." "The people judging are adults, so they're going to honestly respond to things that communicate to them naturally, which is more adult humor."...
And so it goes. The Simpsons can't break into the coveted sitcom category because it's a 'toon, and Foster's can't nab a top-tier animation Emmy because it gets smothered every year by The Yellow Family.
Like I say. The entertainment biz, whether you're talking live-action or animation, is a pretty stone-hearted creature.