It was supposed to be six but it turned out to be seven, and you know what? Seven is better.
Earlier this year, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced that it would expand the number of nominees in the best series and acting categories from five to six.
But ties for the sixth spot (apparently a rock, paper, scissors situation is out of the question) put seven shows in competition for both outstanding comedy and drama and resulted in two lists that are, by comparison to previous years anyway, startlingly wise and even, occasionally, inspired.
This may be due to the welcome inclusion of Showtime's "Weeds" and HBO's "Flight of the Conchords" in comedy and "Big Love" (also HBO) and "Dexter" (also Showtime) in drama (Emmy voters have, apparently, finally begun to watch television). But it also seems to explain the reason that seven is perceived as a luckier number than six.
With seven, you can pull a cut-and-paste from last year -- oh, look, there's "30 Rock" ( NBC), "The Office"(NBC), "House" (Fox) and "Mad Men" (AMC) -- while still raising a few cheers and eyebrows. With the inclusion of Fox's " Family Guy," you can do both.
Seven is a large enough number to make the list interesting and inclusive (who says excellence is synonymous with high brow?) but not so large as to push it into an embarrassing every-kid-gets-a-trophy rite of self-congratulation.
You see the difference seven makes when you glance at the acting categories, which all have only six. The addition of one extra slot gave us a few new names, including Simon Baker (for "The Mentalist," CBS), Elisabeth Moss ("Mad Men"), Sarah Silverman ( Comedy Central's "The Sarah Silverman Program") and Jim Parsons ("The Big Bang Theory," CBS). But even so, each list bears a disheartening similarity to last year's. (I am not even going to mention the numbing presence of Mariska Hargitay, who got her sixth nomination for NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and Tony Shalhoub, who received his seventh for USA's "Monk" because, frankly, I don't need the e-mails.)
If there had been seven nominees, perhaps voters could have included Denis Leary, who has totally rocked this season on "Rescue Me" or Chloë Sevigny, ditto on "Big Love." Jeanne Tripplehorn got a nod for her turn as Jackie O. in "Grey Gardens," but how can you nominate "Big Love" for best series and not nominate any of the actors?
Or the writers, for that matter. I say, if you're going to throw "Mad Men" a ludicrous four nominations (yes, it's good, but it's not that good) then you definitely have to expand that category to seven. What, there were no stand-out episodes of "Breaking Bad" or "Damages"? Did none of the voters see the road trip episode of "Big Love"? In his Miramax heyday, Harvey Weinstein could have won that thing a screenwriting Oscar.
And what about the passing of giants, including "ER," "The Shield," "Boston Legal" or " Battlestar Galactica?" Finale seasons are always dicey, awards-wise, but seriously, only a nod for Ernest Borgnine's guest appearance on "ER"? So Katee Sackhoff creates Starbuck, one of the most souped-up fabulous female characters on television and goes away without so much as a nomination?
See how easily seven can solve such problems without dislodging comfortable favorites? Even the supporting roles, in which voters tend to be a bit more flexible, would have benefited.
Katherine Heigl may have been left off the list for "political" reasons -- she withdrew her name last year after winning in 2007, snubbing the show's writers in the process. But if the "Grey's Anatomy" women are being honored (Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson), certainly Ellen Pompeo, who has worked very hard and against all narrative odds to make Meredith Grey an interesting character at last, should have been included.
Speaking of ensembles, where, I ask for the 75th time, are the men of "Weeds"? No Justin Kirk? No Kevin Nealon? No Albert Brooks? And the omission of John Mahoney for his performance as the troubled CEO on "In Treatment" is, I'm just going to say it, a crime against God and nature.
A list of seven would have solved all this. Because in a world as diverse and populated by greatness as television, the honor really is in the nomination. Look at the lists for outstanding comedy and drama, and look at the acting categories too. Maybe there are one or two that had weaker seasons, but even more so than the Oscars, it's ridiculous to contemplate anointing one or the other the Very Best of the year.
It's like trying to decide if Jessica Lange or Drew Barrymore gave the best performance in "Grey Gardens." One of them will win because that's the way it works. But the point is, they were both nominated.