Emmys: Comedy Competition Must Be Shaken Up - Out With the Old, in With the New (Analysis)
Voters need to put away the rubber stamp and open up the category to a bevy of worthy newcomers.
A version of this story first appeared in the June 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
When it comes time for the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards to crown the best comedy series, here's what can't happen:
Modern Family can't win. It just can't.
The comedy has won the last four years in a row. The first two years — sure, not a problem. The last two? A problem. A very good series, but other comedies were doing better work. Now, obviously, you have to get nominated to win. But is there any doubt about that? The show will be nominated. Emmy voters are not going to ignore a show that won four straight times, even if the clamoring (begging?) to avoid a fifth straight victory creates a din. They're also not going to ignore CBS's Big Bang Theory, the most popular comedy on television.
That leaves exactly four slots for worthy contenders. And after a bumper crop of new comedies, the winnowing out process is going to be brutal. There are four freshman comedies worthy of nominations: Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, ABC's The Goldbergs, HBO's Silicon Valley and Netflix's Orange Is the New Black. (Other series obviously have merit — Hulu's Moone Boy, Comedy's Central's Key & Peele, Inside Amy Schumer and Broad City, along with IFC's Portlandia — but they are not clear front-runners for consideration.)
If you add returning nominees in HBO's Veep and Girls, FX's Louie, and NBC's previously nominated Parks and Recreation, you've got eight solid options. And let's not rule out voters being intrigued, for reasons that escape me, by Showtime's Shameless shifting into the comedy category. Nine legitimate options, six slots.
What's to be done? My advice is to actually go by the category title and ignore so-called "dramedy" offerings. Meaning: Toss Shameless, Orange Is the New Black and, since history has proven it can happen, Showtime's Nurse Jackie as well. Sad to say, that also eliminates a third consecutive nomination for Girls, a series I really love. All of these shows have funny moments. But they're not strictly comedies (and it's not even remotely close with Shameless).
That leaves six series — Louie, Veep, Silicon Valley, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Goldbergs and Parks and Recreation — battling for four spots.
How to resolve this? Well, three years ago Emmy voters drew all six comedy nominees from the broadcast nets — the first time they had done so since 2005. So it wouldn't be shocking to see both Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Goldbergs get the nod. Emmy voters have passed over the ultraworthy Parks and Recreation since nominating it three years ago, and, sadly, that's likely to continue.
Since Louie — the best comedy on television — is an absolute must in this category, a pattern of network dominance would mean only one of HBO's two worthy comedies will score a nomination. And Veep, having been nominated the last two years, probably has the edge over freshman Silicon Valley, landing the latter in the snubbed bin with Parks and Rec.
That's an educated guess of how it's likely to shake out. But, going strictly on critical merit, how would the category look? I'd go with Louie, Veep, Silicon Valley, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Goldbergs and Parks and Recreation. Those are the comedies that are firing on all cylinders, providing well-earned belly-laughs while being smart and insightful about the human condition.
Here's the thing. The Emmys tends to rubber-stamp gratuitously in the comedy category, which all-too-often leaves deserving series like Parks and Recreation getting, at best, one chance to shine. I would hate for any of the three very funny freshman series — Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Goldbergs or Silicon Valley — to get their superb first seasons passed over because Emmy voters felt obliged to bring Modern Family back again, even after concluding one of its weaker seasons.
But this should be the time for difficult decisions — when worthy comedies are out there and excluding an old-standby could be quite easily justified. The way the system is set up now, late-night talk shows, plus Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Saturday Night Live dominate the variety series category, so it's almost impossible for a show like Key & Peele, Inside Amy Schumer or Broad City to get a nomination. In fact, HBO's Tracey Takes On (1997), Comedy Central's Chappelle's Show (2004) and HBO's Da Ali G Show (2005) were the last nomination of that ilk, and that was a long, long time ago.
So if hilarious sketch shows — 30 minutes of funny, scripted material no matter how you look at it — are knocking on the door and top-notch sitcoms are knocking even louder, then Emmy voters need to drop the rubber-stamp funny business and make some serious decisions about the comedy category.
This would be a great year to start.