Emmys: Kerry Washington, Laverne Cox and 8 More Breakthrough Contenders

8:00 AM PST 07/25/2014 by Stacey Wilson
ABC/Netflix
Kerry Washington and Laverne Cox

"True Detective's" shake-up of the drama competition is just one of eight category-shifting disruptions.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

RACE: DIRECTING FOR A COMEDY SERIES

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Jodie Foster

In 2013, Modern Family helmer and Friends veteran Gail Mancuso quietly made history as the first broadcast TV woman to win this category. She is back in the race this year, joined by newly minted TV director Jodie Foster, who is nominated for helming the Orange Is the New Black episode "Lesbian Request Denied." Sure, voters can't help but gush over Oscar winners, but Foster's inclusion -- the first female directing nominee for a one-hour comedy contender -- "is an indicator that the playing field for women in comedy [is beginning] to even out," says Deborah Liebling, vp Women in Film and president of TV at Red Hour Films. "There are so many comedies now by and for women; it feels like gender parity [for directors] is on its way at last in the genre." The exposure also boosts Foster's chances for a second nom next year for her other directing gig: House of Cards.

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RACE: GUEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

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Laverne Cox

Much has been made of Cox being the first openly transgender actor to score an Emmy nomination. (Openly transgender documentary subject Chaz Bono earned a nom for the 2011 film Being Chaz.) A win for Cox could help trans performers become mainstream. "If viewers are embracing actors like Laverne, show creators will have to be even more open with their casting choices," says Gary M. Zuckerbrod, former president of the Casting Society of America (CSA) and current casting director of TNT's Rizzoli & Isles. "This will allow for increased acceptance of other minorities."

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RACE: LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

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Kerry Washington

An unprecedented number of black actors -- 11 -- earned nominations this year, including Washington (her second for ABC's Scandal). "And [the recent casting of] Halle Berry and Viola Davis show we are moving toward depictions more reflective of our culture," says Zuckerbrod. Recent progress aside, no woman of color has taken home the lead drama actress Emmy. "Would a win for Kerry be meaningful in this context? Absolutely," he says.

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RACE: WRITING FOR A VARIETY SERIES

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Key & Peele and Inside Amy Schumer

It seems odd that half of the big-name contenders for variety writing aren't also nominated for variety series. (Isn't a late-night show only as good as its tweet-worthy jokes?) Noms for niche variety series like IFC's Portlandia (first nominated in 2012) and Comedy Central's Key & Peele and Inside Amy Schumer -- which edged out Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Saturday Night Live and Real Time With Bill Maher -- prove that voters crave more than one-liners. This year's cache of sketch-comedy contenders could pressure the Academy to someday parse out these series into their own category.

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RACE: MINISERIES

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Fargo

The well-documented rebirth of the miniseries hit fever pitch this year with True Detective's controversial entry into the drama series category. But a more game-changing nominee is FX's 10-part miniseries Fargo, which achieved the impossible: an elegant, Coen brothers-approved "re-imagining" of their 1996 film. Writer Noah Hawley's interpretation of the movie's "oh geez" Midwestern ethos has given FX its first near-lock for a win and signaled a likely next chapter in small-screen source material: feature films. "What's really interesting about … emulating a movie is having available a whole body of work," Hawley recently told THR. And with 4 million viewers, FX's recently renewed Fargo likely is just the first chapter in this evolution.

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RACE: LEAD ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES

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Kristen Wiig, The Spoils of Babylon

Oh, how this category was in need of a laugh. After years of somber performances from such winners as Kate Winslet (Mildred Pierce) and Claire Danes (Temple Grandin), voters nominated the category's first-ever purely comedic role in Wiig's Cynthia Morehouse. The SNL vet delivered a full-meta-camp performance in IFC's Funny or Die-produced spoof of, well, every miniseries trope that could be squeezed into eight 30-minute episodes. "The comedy world is champing at the bit to do more minis," says Portlandia co-creator Jonathan Krisel. "The 22-episode model is too daunting." Six-time nominee Wiig and her movie-star castmates (Will Ferrell among them) pulled off such a neat trick in Spoils that IFC has greenlighted a second installment slated for 2015, The Spoils Before Dying.

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RACE: UNSTRUCTURED REALITY SERIES

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The Wahlburgers, Flipping Out, Million Dollar Listing

Were it not for Emmy's first-ever splitting of noncompetition reality series into two groups -- "structured" and "unstructured" -- producer Mark Wahlberg likely wouldn't have seen A&E's show Wahlburgers, a docuseries about his family's Boston burger business, earn a nom alongside Emmy-winning fare like Deadliest Catch. Bravo also benefited from the category split, with two of its home-themed series -- Flipping Out and Million Dollar Listing -- earning noms, giving Emmy hope to creators of lifestyle-driven shows. "It's wonderful [that] the Emmys acknowledged the work that goes into these shows and that they can stand in their own category," says Paul Buccieri, chairman of ITV Studios U.S. Group. "And there's no sign of viewers' appetite for these shows abating."

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RACE: COMEDY SERIES

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Orange Is the New Black

Orange already has made history for its diverse cast, but it's the Netflix series' one-hour, heavy-drama format that stands to have the most impact on future contenders if creator Jenji Kohan scores a trophy. The only one-hour comedy ever to win was Ally McBeal in 1999, and the last one nominated was Glee in 2011. This arguably makes Orange the most dramatic comedy entry ever. "[Netflix] doesn't know if it's a drama or a comedy," Kohan recently joked with THR. "I f-- myself at awards season … my shows are weird hybrids. I wish there was just 'half-hour' and 'hour.' Let's vote on those categories!" She could get her wish someday: Whether Orange wins, other writers -- inspired by Kohan and fellow dark-comedy contender Louis C.K. -- may start to push their own hybrid shows as comedies, forcing the Academy to finally hash out the messy business of how best to judge funny in these truly dramatic times.

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