A UK playwright and composer win Emmy awards – but where are the headlines?

Abi Morgan. Photo: Sarah Lee.
Abi Morgan. Photo: Sarah Lee.

Okay, so Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville didn’t win anything at this year’s Emmys. That’s a little disappointing, but it’s not the end of the world, is it?

The way it was reported in the UK papers, you’d think it was. The Express, for example, had a headline that screamed: “Downton Abbey hits ratings high but flops at the Emmys”. While The Telegraph said: “Disaster for Downton Abbey and the British Invasion”. Disaster? Erm, if you say so.

A British writer winning a major accolade is something to sing about. There’s the headline, surely?

The Emmys “salute excellence in American primetime programming”. That programmes such as Downton are ever shown on US channels, with their stars then getting nominated for a major international award, is a great achievement in itself. So when they don’t win it’s disappointing, but not necessarily surprising given the American shows/talent they’re up against.

But where UK press reports of the Emmys really fail to miss the mark is their emphasis on talent, and the fact they put so much weight on how well a performer does or doesn’t do. This means then that people like Abi Morgan – a major playwright from the UK and an exceptional talent who won an Emmy for writing The Hour – only gets the briefest of mentions. Sometimes no mention at all. Surely that’s wrong? A British writer winning a major accolade is something to sing about. There’s the headline, surely?

Not that it’s new for writers to feel under-appreciated. The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain has often complained that its members are not given the recognition they deserve. It’s an ongoing battle.

But worse than Morgan’s slightly undervalued status is the fact that only one website (other than The Stage) seems to have reported on the fact Downton Abbey’s composer, John Lunn, picked up an Emmy for his music on the series. Classic FM, from what I can see, is the only other site to have mentioned him.

Why so? Composers and their music are an integral part of a TV production. You may not realise it at the time, but what they do sets the mood for a particular scene, manipulates your emotions, or – particularly where theme tunes are concerned – give a programme a real identity. And yet none of our major publications deemed Lunn’s win worthy of a mention.

That, to my mind, is very sad. And something that should change. Success, after all, should not just be measured by the achievements of our performers.

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Hemley on TV

Hemley on TV

The Stage's resident TV expert Matthew Hemley tackles the big issues facing the small screen.

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