Tuesday, the Academy of Arts and Television Sciences released an announcement regarding its annual lineup of special tributes during the 2013 Emmys. Among the honored actors are Sopranos star James Gandolfini, All in the Family's Jean Stapleton, Mork and Mindy actor Jonathan Winters, and Glee's Cory Monteith. Apparently, the inclusion of the young Glee actor has upset some people, who claim that Monteith's catalog of work isn't sufficient enough to merit a separate tribute during Sunday's broadcast. Not only is this a heartless, callous, and misguided view, but it completely misses the point of a memorial.
These actors are not receiving honorary Emmys. They are not being placed in a television hall of fame. They are simply being held up in a manner that says, "Thank you for your work. You will be missed." And while some of the dearly departed may receive larger images or special tributes, boiling those decisions down to petty arguments about who deserves more time is a dark, calculated way of looking at something that should be beautiful and moving.
It would be nice to serve up longer, more specific tributes for all the actors, directors, and writers we lost this year, but the point of choosing a few folks to honor specifically should not be viewed as some sort of endorsement or popularity contest. Yes, there is limited time and yes, only some of the deceased will be given their own moments. However, a beautiful expression of loss does not need to be made ugly by questioning someone's inclusion in the group of the honored.
The world of television loses many beloved stars and behind-the-scenes personalities each year, and the point of memorializing them during the annual slideshow is to honor their work — great or small — and to provide some sense of closure for their fans who want to say goodbye to someone who was a weekly presence in their homes and had become part of their lives.
Late stars like Gandolfini, Stapleton, Winters, and Monteith are a part of fans' televisual families — quantifying anything beyond that is just crass. While in more recent years, fans have also followed their favorite stars in the media, the real reason these people mattered so much to us is because of the connection they made through the magic of television — which, at its heart, is what the Emmys are supposed to be about.
Monteith, who touched so many young hearts as Finn on Glee, may not have been an Emmy-worthy actor when he passed at the young age of 31, but his impact in the lives of his devoted fans and his heart-broken cast mates is not negligible. He means so much to so many people. Debating his "worthiness" of a tribute is absolutely deplorable.
As someone who wholeheartedly makes jokes about the quality of Glee's writing on the regular, even I can admit that an In Memoriam segment is the last place for critical commentary about the merit of a Fox show or Monteith's talent. He was not a terrible person. He didn't hurt other people. He was a good man who was struggling with inner demons. In what realm does someone like Monteith (or his devastated fanbase, for that matter) deserve this sort of disrespect?
It's difficult enough to lose someone who's had any impact on our lives. Having to defend that person from vicious criticism about whether or not they deserve to be missed is absolutely unacceptable.