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Giving the Emmys a needed face-lift

Times Staff Writer

Like many in Hollywood preparing to celebrate a 55th birthday, there's not-so-subtle pressure on the Emmy Awards to undergo a face-lift, if not an extreme makeover.

This year's nominations will be announced Thursday, and the aging statuette still represents TV's most prestigious honor. Yet as the Miss America Pageant demonstrated with its "Survivor"-inspired revamp a few years ago, venerable institutions can't ignore the rigors of our youth-obsessed media. Some wonder if similar tinkering is necessary to make the Emmys hipper and more relevant — better reflecting the current state of television while simultaneously making the show more enticing to younger viewers.

By this logic, TV movies and miniseries — a genre in retreat on the major networks — should exit the main telecast to create room for newer nonfiction categories encompassing fare such as "The Bachelor" and "American Idol." If you're really going to rouge up the old gal, though, merely inviting "reality" TV to the party doesn't go far enough. To entice the MTV generation, the Emmys must inject new blood, ratchet up the competition and provide the audience a peek behind the curtain, in much the way "Project Greenlight" offers a glimpse into how movies are made, as well as the opportunity to hear producer Ben Affleck pretentiously discuss filmmaking.

Here, then, are some proposed categories — complete with by-now obligatory corporate sponsorships — that might strip away years and get the Emmy ready for its close-up:

Isuzu's Best Performance by an Executive or Producer
Whenever a "reality" TV contestant has a psychotic meltdown or turns out to have assaulted a former girlfriend, someone has to stand up and say they are shocked that the thorough background checks somehow missed those tendencies or overlooked that fact. Presented by Joe Isuzu. Clorox's Best Dirty Laundry
Everybody loves a good behind-the-scenes drama. So which stars held out for more money? Why doesn't that actor speak to his co-stars? Did the producer quit or was he fired? What actor became a monster once the ratings took off? And like the song says, who's zooming who? There could even be bonus points for the most troubled show that still merits a best-series nomination. Xerox's Most Artful Copy
Everyone knows that each new "reality" show and most sitcoms are simply some old show with a twist; still, there's a wide gap between the ham-fisted kind and the "but-with" (as in, "It's a cross between 'Fear Factor' and 'Blind Date,' but with ... ") that can actually stand on its own. As long as TV keeps sending in the clones, let's honor them. Kodak's Most Real Performance by a Reality Contestant
It's not easy when you look like a Barbie or Ken doll to seem heartbroken because you happened to be the 23rd nincompoop whosome other nincompoop decided not to hand a rose to. Many of these performances are fabulous, even without the nonstop musical accompaniment. Microsoft's Most Creative PR Spin
Always a competitive category, this year's clear front-runner would have to be MSNBC, which recently claimed that its quarterly ratings growth "beat its closest cable competitor, CNN." Technically, yes, if you have three viewers and add two, that's a 67% increase. But, as Archie Bunker would say, whoop-te-do. All the news networks grew during the war, with Nielsen estimates showing that CNN surged by 352,000 viewers in prime time, to an average of 1.2 million; MSNBC gained 207,000, to 541,000. If the fact that the latter is a higher percentage counts as a victory, then congrats to the NBA champion Los Angeles Clippers. As for the runner-up, another NBC-owned network, Bravo, is billing its yet-to-premiere unscripted series "Boy Meets Boy" as "the new dating show everyone's talking about." When you consider that the channel ranks 36th among cable networks and is watched on average by roughly 0.1% of the U.S. population, the real bravo here goes to whoever had the chutzpah to make that claim. Calvin Klein's Best Actor/Actress Who's Really Hot
Past Emmy winners James Gandolfini, Dennis Franz and Michael Chiklis are terrific actors, but let's face it, they're not that easy on the eyes. This category would give several WB stars an excuse to walk on stage and maybe lower the Emmys' average viewer age in the process. Revlon's Best Wife Who's Too Good-looking for Her Sitcom Husband
Jim Belushi ("According to Jim"), Larry David ("Curb Your Enthusiasm"), George Lopez ("George Lopez"), Bernie Mac ("The Bernie Mac Show"), Kevin James ("The King of Queens"), and Mark Addy ("Still Standing") are funny guys (all right, at least four of them are), but respectively, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Cheryl Hines, Constance Marie, Kellita Smith, Leah Remini, and Jami Gertz? Unless their characters pull in TV executive pay, get outta here. Super Poli-Grip's Best Actress Over 40
Given the dearth of opportunities for mature actresses, it would be easier to find five nominees for Best Orthodox Rabbi Regularly Appearing on "The 700 Club" than to find performers who would vie for this award. However, beyond tossing a bone to the older folks who generally vote for the Emmys, this category would allow the producers to goof on the nominees, left to fight over scraps the way the folks on "Survivor" tussle for a bowl of rice. After all, those on the wrong end of the 18-to-49 demographic are among the few groups networks can belittle without fear of prompting a letter-writing campaign, so the result could be big laughs — with none of the fuss! Avis' Best HBO Show Not Actually Airing on HBO
NBC's drug-cartel drama "Kingpin" proved that graphic prison rape scenes aren't just for pay TV anymore, and FX's "Nip/Tuck" brings explicit sex and Botox-injection torture to basic cable this month. Pretty soon, to stand apart from the crowd, HBO will have to do a remake of "Little House on the Prairie." Either that, or it could try casting a couple of actresses over 40. Brian Lowry's column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at brian.lowry@latimes.com.

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