Should Cory Monteith, an actor who became a household name due to his role on "Glee" and tragic, untimely death, be given a special, elevated tribute as part of the In Memoriam segment at the Emmys?
That's the question raised by Variety editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein in an opinion piece for the Hollywood trade publication.
Wallenstein writes that the “Glee” star getting a special tribute at the Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday was to be expected given the industry and its fans are still reeling from his recent loss. What Wallentsein questions is whether that decision by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to include Monteith with actors who have had a far more storied career is "the right thing."
"When Monteith’s name is elevated alongside the other four people who are being elevated from the usual In Memoriam reel — actors James Gandolfini, Jean Stapleton and Jonathan Winters and writer-producer Gary David Goldberg — his inclusion risks coming across ill-considered," writes Wallentstein. "The unspoken, uncomfortable truth of the matter is that while the work he did on “Glee” showed great promise, it was not equal to the incredible careers the other four amassed."
Monteith died on July 13 of a heroin and alcohol overdose. At the time his Hollywood star was burning brightly thanks to his role on "Glee" as sweet-natured quarterback Finn. He left behind millions of fans but a relatively short resume.
An actor who is singled out in this fashion for celebration at the Emmys, Wallentstein argues, "should have a body of work that puts him head and shoulders above his peers."
"What Gandolfini did on 'The Sopranos' inarguably transformed the medium of television; can we really say the same about Monteith on 'Glee'?" he asks.
Stapleton is best remembered as the long-suffering Edith Bunker from "All In The Family," but had a six-decade career spanning Broadway and Hollywood. As did Winters, whose work on "Mork and Mindy" was balanced by his output as a comedian, author and artist. Goldberg, while not a household name, was behind such landmark television series as "M*A*S*H," "The Bob Newhart Show, "Lou Grant" and "Family Ties.
Gandolfini's eulogy will be delivered by his "Sopranos" co-star Edie Falco during Sunday night's broadcast. Stapleton's by director Rob Reiner. Winters' by comedian and "Mork and Mindy" co-star Robin Williams. And Goldberg's by former "Family Ties" alum Michael J. Fox. Monteith's is to be delivered by his Glee co-star Jane Lynch.
Wallenstein acknowledges how tragic Monteith's passing was and writes that questioning his exclusion should "not be misinterpreted as a judgment being made about the circumstances of his death." But by putting Monteith in this elite group, "the Academy is risking having its honorable intentions misconstrued as using the actor’s memory to cater to the younger audiences that are in decreasingly short supply for award shows these days."
Perception matters, according to Wallentstein. Especially when other actors who have had far more impact on the history of television - Larry Hagman and Andy Griffith to name two - are being relegated to the standard In Memoriam tribute.
Such a snub is not sitting well with Hagman's fans. "Larry should definitely be included for his decades of work...plus almost 400 hours of television for a single character, arguably the most iconic antagonist in television history," wrote member PMM349 on Soapchat.net. "What a slap in the face to Larry," added Wizard62, who listed the press contacts for the Academy and urged Hagman fans to tell them of their displeasure.
"Monteith could have gone on to a tremendous career, but Larry Hagman, for instance, already had a tremendous career, and putting Monteith on a pedestal casts a shadow over the memory of this iconic “Dallas” star," argues Wallenstein.
Those who left comments on Wallenstein's article were divided on the matter. "You're making this about something it's not.... For a lot of young kids, who haven't experienced a loss of a celebrity they adored, Cory's death was a first. It was a big deal to them, his impact was real ... so yes, he is deserving of the honor," wrote Jess.
"If you give Monteith one, you better give one to Lee Thompson Young too…he had a much more prodigious career," said Mark of the "Rizzoli and Isles" castmember who committed suicide last month.
It's not the first time the Academy's decisions regarding the In Memoriam segment have come under fire. Back in 2010 pop star Michael Jackson was featured heavily in the package. Absent that year were iconic actresses Bea Arthur and Farrah Fawcett.
The Emmys, Wallenstein says, should set the gold standard. "The event should be first and foremost about recognizing a body of work. In that respect, the Emmys needs to aspire to timelessness, demonstrating its relevancy whether being watched on the night of the telecast or 20 years later."