Justice for kid actors

This was something I should have brought up right after the Emmys, but I’ll bring it up now; consider it a very far-in-advance post about next year’s Emmys. Seeing the entire Modern Family adult cast up for Emmys again, I heard a few people saying that it’s a shame the kids on Modern Family are never recognized by the awards. The kids, particularly Rico Rodriguez as Manny and Ariel Winter as Alex, arguably outshine most of the grown-ups. But it’s not surprising that they aren’t nominated: kid actors are almost never nominated for TV shows.

I looked over a list of nominees and winners, and the only child actor I could find who won for a regular series – I may have missed one, though – is Kristy McNichol, who won two Emmys for Family. (That was the show Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg made so that when people accused them of making mindless pablum, they could say “what about Family?”) As an issue-oriented drama with a big showcase role for McNichol, it gave her the kind of episodes that could catch voters’ attention and give her the edge over older actors. Apart from that, there’s very little. Fred Savage got one nomination for The Wonder Years, and in the second season of The Cosby Show, Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Keisha Knight Pulliam both got nominated. And that’s about it.

The freeze-out of child actors also extends to actors who are merely playing children, or teenagers for that matter. The kids on Glee at least got nominated when the show was hot, but it’s fairly rare for actors to get nominated for playing teen roles. Eden Sher, whose Sue Heck is the breakout character of The Middle and arguably the best character on her entire network, has never been nominated (but in that case, it’s arguably more a case of the whole show being ignored). It just seems like if you take a show that has a mix of child and adult characters, or teen and adult characters, the younger ones will almost never get much award recognition. In movies, it’s a bit more common for a Tatum O’Neal or Anna Paquin to turn up on a list of Oscar nominees.

Probably this is just a measure of lobbying strength: adult actors campaign for nominations much more effectively than younger actors, who don’t have the same number of friends on the academy. (For the last couple of seasons, the Modern Family adults have campaigned for the Emmys almost as a collective six-person unit; if one of them gets nominated, they all do.) And there’s also the usual feeling that child actors’ performances require more help – from the directors, producers, actors and parents – while more experienced actors have to create the performances more on their own. Still, some of the best work on TV today, especially on comedies, comes from the younger people, and it would be nice to see the Emmys recognize that a little bit more.

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