Do the Emmys still matter in 2014?

Taylor Schilling is up for a best actress Taylor Schilling is up for a best actress in a comedy series Emmy for her portrayal of Piper Chapman in "Orange is the New Black." Photo Credit: AP / JoJo Whilden

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Verne Gay Verne Gay

Gay is the television critic.

Why won't you be watching the Emmys on Monday night?

OK, sure, fine ... Maybe you will be watching. But if past is prologue, and if numbers don't lie and the sun also rises, chances are good you won't watch. Instead, you'll catch up with the winners from news stories Tuesday morning.

Besides, the big show on NBC will air on a Monday night because of a football game Sunday.

Monday night? Who watches the Emmys on a Monday?

Television -- most reasonably discerning people can agree -- is better than ever. There are more worthy series to honor on more networks than at any time in the medium's 75-year history. Yet, the awards show that honors this bounty seems to be sliding into, if not outright irrelevance, then senescence.

Now the final insult, on a Monday night ... near the end of August....

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That's the harsh view, and maybe an unfair one, but the numbers appear to confirm that slow, inexorable slide. Last year's 65th Annual Primetime Emmys on CBS was seen by a fantastic 18 million viewers, an eight-year high. But that number was, perhaps, a bit too fantastic -- an aberration, fed by a regular-season NFL game lead-in that blew in millions of viewers who otherwise would have found something else to do.

In the good old days -- from about 1992, when Fox's Emmy exclusivity run was coming to an end, up through the mid-2000s -- 19 million to 20 million viewers reliably watched the Emmys. Since 2007, when viewership started to taper in earnest, around 13million or so have regularly settled in for the big show.

By contrast, the Oscars reliably draw around 40 million for ABC, while the Grammys on CBS brushed up against 30 million last year. Even the Golden Globes (21million in January, a 10-year high) are booming for NBC.

So what is happening to our dear, muddled Emmys?

It's a question that consumes both the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and the broadcast networks -- the Emmys are now rotated among ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox every four years. Solid answers are elusive while that aforementioned paradox -- more good TV than ever, fewer people watching the awards -- remains stubbornly in place. But within this paradox is another: The Emmys were never really designed to be a TV spectacle promoting TV as much as an industry spectacle promoting itself -- to itself.

The telecast has long been a carefully choreographed balancing act that attempts to serve the interests of the various guilds -- actors, directors, writers -- and not necessarily those of the viewers. "You're kind of straddling a line you've got to be respectful to the academy and to the industry, and you can't just design a show that's strictly, strictly for the television audience," says Don Mischer, the highly regarded awards show director who's handled a dozen Emmys over the years and will direct tomorrow's 66th annual awards show.

From a practical standpoint, this means less flexibility for the broadcaster. From a viewer's standpoint, this means more dead spots -- those unavoidable low-interest awards, for example, that send them either to the refrigerator or to bed.

But that's always been the case. Why is this suddenly an issue now? In part because the networks badly want more flexibility as the numbers remain soft, if only to craft a show that appeals to a bigger, broader audience -- or, at a minimum, promotes their own interests.

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The Emmys, in fact, have slowly and ineradicably turned against the interests of the Big Four. Over the past decade, they've morphed into a celebration of great cable TV, not necessarily great broadcast TV. HBO got 99 nominations this year, for example, or more than the total for NBC and CBS combined. Of the 10 series with most nominations, only one ("Saturday Night Live") airs on a major commercial broadcaster.

Or this curiosity: CNN's "Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown" received the same number of nominations (7) as TV's most-viewed comedy, "The Big Bang Theory."

None of the Big Four's dramas earned an outstanding drama series nod.

Of course, a lightly viewed series can be just as good -- often better -- than a massively viewed one, but when the awards telecast is stuffed to the rafters with such honorees, from "Mad Men" to "Orange Is the New Black," millions of viewers who want to see their own popular hit honored are less likely to tune in, or stay tuned in.

And this is where the discussion this year has turned to "The Blacklist," NBC's homegrown hit, which was largely shut down in the nominations -- an oversight that has resparked interest in the idea of expanding the number of nominees, from six to as many as 10, to better reflect TV's horn of plenty.

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"We are in the golden age of television," says Paul Telegdy, NBC's president of alternative and late-night programming. "There is excellence left, right and center, wherever you look for it. But is whether we're just creating a gradual decline because the audience can't possibly all be watching all of these shows."

He dismisses the idea of expanding the honoree list because, "from the audience's point of view, you'd just be honoring more shows that they'd never heard of."

Moreover, he quips, "The Emmys would be six hours long."

(That's the other strike against an expanded nominee list -- it'd add more time to the show, which all of the networks are dead set against.)

"The Blacklist," he adds "is an incredibly important asset here, and a lot of people were disappointed not to see James Spader get a nomination. But he's not crying, and we're not, and we should just get on with things."

As this year's Emmy network, even NBC has shouldered some of the blame for devaluing the Emmy brand by moving the show from Sunday to Monday in late August. That was done to accommodate an NFL preseason game that will air Sunday night (as well as competition from MTV's Video Music Awards).

Telegdy also dismisses the gripe by some industry members that they'll be stuck in rush-hour traffic on their way to the Nokia Theatre tomorrow: "Most people who live and work in Los Angeles have a pretty good handle on traffic...."

Nevertheless, an impression remains that NBC -- in a why-fight-city-hall spirit -- has simply shunted the Emmys aside. If the vast majority of viewers don't care all that much, why should the network airing them?

That impression also may be unfair -- football is NBC's single most important program staple -- while a planned tribute to Robin Williams, as well as a number of awards expected to go to buzz hit "True Detective" could even boost interest.

But if you do watch, maybe it's best to do so in the spirit of this year's host, Seth Meyers.

"We want to approach it the way we would approach anything," he said at the TV Critics' recent press tour in Los Angeles, "which is to just be upbeat and have fun."

A deep reserve of patience wouldn't hurt, either.

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EMMYS ON TV:

PRE-SHOW

Countdown to the Red Carpet: The 2014 Primetime Emmy Awards (4:30p.m., E!)

Live From the Red Carpet: The 2014 Primetime Emmy Awards (6 p.m., E!) -- Giuliana Rancic and Ross Mathews interview celebrities as they arrive at the Nokia Theatre.

1st Look: Live on the Red Carpet (7 p.m., NBC/4)

66th Primetime Emmy Red Carpet Special (7:30p.m., NBC/4) -- Billy Bush, Shaun Robinson and Louise Roe interview celebrities as they arrive for the ceremony.

THE SHOW

66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards (8 p.m., NBC/4) -- Seth Meyers hosts from Nokia Theatre LA Live in Los Angeles.

POST-SHOW

E! After Party: The 2014 Primetime Emmy Awards (11 p.m., E!)

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Host Seth Meyers speaks during the 66th Emmy Emmys 2014 guide