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Mini Awards
A Commentary
By Ron Steinman

Congratulations are due to Jonathan Swift. His journey to the Country of Lilliput is now complete. The feared Lilliputians are finally in the game. Those little people he faced are about to take over the world of entertainment, news and sports. Here is why. The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences – the vaunted organization that now gives out Emmy’s for practically everything — is about to start giving awards for what hundreds of thousands of people see on screens that are almost too tiny to believe, their cell phones among other miniature devices. According to an Academy news release, there will be an award for “original programming created specifically for non-traditional viewing platforms, including computers, mobile phones, PDA’s and similar devices.”

The announcement is one of the silliest I have ever read. If I did not know better, I would believe it is a hoax. Sadly, it appears to be an honest attempt at inclusiveness for all things creative. Gulliver was much better off in Lilliput than we are in the new world tiny pictures barely visible on any of the aforementioned devices. At least Gulliver was able to escape and go onto other adventures. There is no escape for us.

I am sure the Television Academy will look for originality, quality as in how something looks, the camerawork, writing, even directing, and certainly producing. This latest Emmy will have its debut at the Sports Emmy Awards in 2006, followed by awards for all the other categories, also in 2006.

The world in minuscule is on us and there is no place to hide, or better yet, for me to hide. We are all aware of how the I-pod, now with picture capability, and cell phone cameras rule the younger generation. The small cell phone screen and the screen on the slightly larger Blackberry (and other similar devices) gets filled with everything from pictures of ones baby and ones dog, the latest ball scores, music videos, e-mail, text messages and soon, TV shows that only aired the night before. Maybe it is generational. Maybe it has something to do with my eyesight. Everywhere I turn, the once nearly empty space on our cell phones will have pictures and text where none previously existed. Now, in what I can only call pandering, the Television Academy will give out awards for material – because that is all I can honestly call it – presented on the smallest of screens possible, where the information is barely readable.

Seeing recent commercials for cell phones and others of these devices with tiny screens, solidified for me how advertising is doing its best to stretch the truth, especially when the ad shows up on a 25-inch screen, pretty much the standard these days. The cell phone on screen is usually in close up. The screen on the device is as big as a person’s head. The image on the screen is perfect, the color is sharp, the definition, has depth and of course, it is in optimum light. Maybe this is what the Television Academy saw and thought, cool, we should give this work an award. Maybe, but I hope not.

I do not know how many times I look at my screen in bright sunlight, let alone in normal daylight, at dawn or dusk, or inside a normally lighted room, that in spite of the often-bright background, I can barely read what is in front of me. Translate any of those advertisements into truth and they fail by a wide margin. Is the academy watching the ads and judging what it sees in them as their criteria for the new awards? If so, it too fails in its feeble attempt at pandering to this new audience for the sake of recognition.

I have no objection to any entrepreneur filling those screens with anything they think will make them money. People can watch all they want, when they want, however they want. They can get sports scores, movie times, the weather, pornography, and addresses for restaurants, train and bus schedules. But to award people for producing material that has no quality now, and never will, causes me to shudder.

For many years, I have been a judge for the news Emmy Awards. I usually spend two days watching long form programs, documentaries and TV programs devoted to explaining events and issues the affect our lives. In other words, I look at some of these programs and vote on what I think of them. Most of what I see is not very good. Some program's work, but many do not. Now and then, something startling appears and it gets my vote. Later when I look to see who won, sometimes I picked the winner and sometimes not. It is, after all, subjectivity based on experience and each judge is different.

We watch the videotapes on television sets, as we should because that is how the audience sees them. How does the academy propose we watch material made for the cell phone or a Playstation or an X-Box, or whatever? Surely, we should not view any entry on the handheld devices where they originally appeared. We should view them on their original platforms. It is only how we can judge their value. However, I will not sit for eight hours on any given day and view the world on a 2X2 screen. So here is my thought to the Academy. Do not ask me to judge a news or documentary entry in this new category. Do not ask me to judge something on its picture quality, or its sound quality, or even its story telling on, a two plus square inch screen. I refuse on the grounds of its idiocy.

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At NBC News for 35 years, Ron Steinman was bureau chief in Saigon, Hong Kong and London, was a senior producer on Today and wrote and produced for Sunday Today. At ABC News Productions, he produced and wrote documentaries for A&E, TLC, Discovery, Lifetime and the History Channel. He has a Peabody, a National Headliner award, a National Press Club award, a International Documentary Festival Gold Camera Award, two American Women in Radio & Television awards and has been nominated for five Emmy's. He is a partner in Douglas/Steinman Productions, whose latest documentary, "Luboml: My Heart Remembers," aired on PBS' WLIW/21 and the History Channel in Israel, April 29, 2003. He is the author of, "The Soldiers 'Story", "Women in Vietnam," and most recently, "Inside Television's First War: A Saigon  Journal," University of Missouri Press, 2002.

 

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