Well, it could be that they found other actors’ work more compelling, or that few voters watch the Starz premium-subscription cable channel, where Boss begins its second season on Aug. 17. But Grammer had another possible reason in mind. Talking to Jay Leno on The Tonight Show on Wednesday, Grammer suggested he lost out because “I’m a declared out of the closet Republican in Hollywood.”
It’s conventional wisdom that liberals outnumber conservatives in Hollywood. Still, Grammer’s claim that he’s been victimized because of his politics is a tough sell; even he seemed to walk it back moments later. Yet he’s not the only right-leaning star who feels persecuted (that is, passed over for jobs or snubbed for prizes), and one prominent awards expert believes Grammer’s complaint has some merit.
How valid are Hollywood conservatives’ complaints of political persecution?
There are certainly other possible reasons for Grammer’s Emmy snub. For one, the competition was tough this year for the Best Dramatic Actor category. It’s hard to argue that such heavyweights as Mad Men’sJon Hamm, Breaking Bad’sBryan Cranston, Boardwalk Empire’sSteve Buscemi, Downton Abbey’sHugh Bonneville, Dexter’sMichael C. Hall, and Homeland’sDamian Lewis are undeserving nominees. Or it could be that far fewer people watch the premium-subscription Starz than watch the outlets that yielded this year’s nominees: free-TV channel PBS, basic-cable’s AMC, or even fellow premium channels HBO and Showtime.
The notion that Hollywood Republicans have difficulty finding work doesn’t seem to hold water. Clint Eastwood is always busy. So are Adam Sandler,Bruce Willis, and Vince Vaughn. Also Tom Selleck, Patricia Heaton, and Jon Voight, all of whom are outspoken about their politics. Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson are never far from the spotlight. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took a decade-long sabbatical to serve as California’s Republican governor, who was targeted for months of ridicule and contempt during his paternity scandal last year, and who is now a bit long in the tooth for the action roles of his heyday, is having no trouble finding work. And that’s a far from exhaustive list.
Grammer’s claim of Emmy bias against him personally also has some factual problems. For one, he already has five Emmy wins out of 14 nominations. He claimed that all those happened before he became an outspoken conservative activist in 2006. But that’s not true. As Entertainment Weekly‘s Jeff Labrecquepointed out, conservative magazine The American Spectator revealed Grammer’s politics as far back as 2001 when it listed him as a prominent donor to President George W. Bush’s campaign. I myself interviewed Grammer in early 2006, before his most recent Emmy win, and he spoke candidly and casually about his politics then.
Grammer himself seemed to cast doubt on the idea that Emmy voters would sour on him solely because of his politics, telling Leno, “Do I believe it’s possible that some young person, young voting actor — or even older voting member for the Emmys — would sit there and go, ‘Yeah, that’s a great performance, but ooooooooooooh, I just hate everything he stands for?’ I don’t believe that’s possible.” Sure, he was being sarcastic, but still, the way he framed the idea made it sound far-fetched.
Nonetheless, that may actually be the way some Emmy voters choose, said awards expert and GoldDerby.com editor Tom O’Neil. “Quite frankly, I think Kelsey is partly right,” O’Neil told Celebuzz. “When Hollywooders vote for showbiz awards, they often express how much they like a person, and that can be a problem if a nominee has politics repugnant to the voter.
“That’s not the whole story, of course,” O’Neil added. “Being on Starz, Boss is not as widely viewed as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Homeland, so that was certainly a factor too, but don’t discount Kelsey’s theory entirely. Look at The Middle, which TV critics like Robert Bianco of USA Today adore. It gets snubbed by Emmy voters in part because of Patricia Heaton is passionate conservative Republican. Yes, Heaton and Grammer won lots of Emmys in the old days, but that was back when their political views weren’t being skewered, fried, and mocked daily in the blogosphere.”
Complaints of persecution among conservatives in Hollywood are nothing new. The late activist/blogger Andrew Breitbart built a whole website, BigHollywood.com, around such complaints. Stephen Baldwin, who actually did experience a precipitous career fall over the last decade, blamed his poor prospects on his outspokenness about his conservative politics and his born-again Christianity. He even set up a website, with a PayPal donations page, to kickstart his career after his 2010 bankruptcy filing, in part to show liberal Hollywood that he wouldn’t be squelched or ignored.
Going back even further, in 1996, I interviewed Charlton Heston, who told me that contemporary Hollywood conservatives feared being shut out of jobs and awards if they were open about their politics. “There are more conservatives in the closet in Hollywood than there are homosexuals,” he told me, using a line that he’d repeated often. I told him I found that idea disingenuous; after all, he’d been in Hollywood during the 1950s blacklist, when it was liberals who were persecuted, with the sanction of the federal government, and when even suspected ties to Communism could get people in show business fired or jailed. But in 1996, surely there was no organized effort by liberals, backed by law, to cost conservatives their careers and their freedom, I suggested to Heston. Well, he said, it still felt that way to him.
No doubt Grammer feels the same frustration Heston did, even if the evidence to support his claim is thin. After all, political divisions, fueled by a 24-hour news cycle on cable and the Web that demands a constant stream of opinionated commentary, seem more pronounced and bitter than ever. Everyone is looking for a scapegoat to punish. Grammer is certainly looking, but maybe O’Neil is right, and Emmy voters are looking, too.
Watch Kelsey’s appearance on Tonight Show With Jay Leno.
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