Tina Fey, Jerry Seinfeld Front Emmy Icons 2013 Portfolio
"Breaking Bad's" Bryan Cranston, "Mad Men's" Matthew Weiner, "Arrested Development's" Mitchell Hurwitz and more legends of television on how the award can save a series ("30 Rock"), give validation beyond ratings ("Seinfeld") and provoke anxiety. Says "ER" creator John Wells: "I forgot to thank George Clooney in my acceptance speech!"
This story first appeared in the Sept. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
THE 30 ROCK BRAIN TRUST
Jeff Richmond (10 noms, 3 wins) Tina Fey (30 noms, 7 wins) and Robert Carlock (14 noms, 3 wins)
"I still wake up in cold sweats, grinding my teeth," admits Carlock, Fey's co-writer and co-executive producer, when asked if 30 Rock, which ended its seven-season run in January, feels like a distant memory. Adds Fey with mock exaggeration, "Even though it seems like a long time ago to us, it's sooo fresh in the minds of Emmy voters."
Not to worry: 30 Rock has been an Emmy darling since it bowed to less-than-robust ratings in 2006; only 4.7 million viewers watched the first-season finale. "We didn't have the biggest audience," admits Carlock, 40. "But we still had a big shelf full of Emmys!" In fact, 30 Rock won outstanding comedy in each of its first three years. "So, it would have been embarrassing and rude to cancel us," says Fey with a laugh. Of the show's Emmy haul Fey says: "It was a tool for our survival for many years."
In the past seven years, the workplace comedy -- inspired by Fey's years spent as head writer on Saturday Night Live -- has racked up more than 100 noms and made history in 2009 when it hauled in a single-season record 22. Fey herself has five statues, including one for playing the irrepressible Liz Lemon (in 2008). "The first year, we were such a long shot that we were seated up in the back in the cable-reality section," says Fey. "Then we won best comedy. Alec [Baldwin] was so sure we weren't going to win, he was in the bathroom."
Voters gave the show 13 more noms this year, including another for series and lead actors. Richmond, 52, Fey's husband and the composer of the series' jaunty theme song, earned a nom for the series' closing musical number.
And collaborators Fey and Carlock -- who signed an overall deal with Universal and recently sold a comedy project to Fox -- have writing noms this year, with Jack Burditt and Tracey Wigfield, for the series' final two episodes.
Asked if she'd like to be on TV again, the 43-year-old mother of two motions to her face: "I would love to, but I don't know if it's going to hold. I'm not doing all of the structural underpinnings. I was supposed to get Frankenstein neck bolts. We'll see."
Photographed by Miller Mobley on Sept. 4 at Jack Studios in New York City
Next … The King of Comedy: Jerry Seinfeld
THE KING OF COMEDY
Jerry Seinfeld (15 noms, 1 win)
If you -- like legions of Seinfeld fans -- are still holding out for a heartwarming reunion special, Seinfeld has disappointing news. "It's never going to happen," he says of reviving his iconic 1990s sitcom. That 2009 reunion arc on Seinfeld co-creator Larry David's HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm notwithstanding, Seinfeld is not much for stunts. And the comedy's status as a top-three series for its final five seasons provided the kind of freedom to push back.
"We'd get calls from NBC saying, 'We want to do a night where every sitcom deals with a blackout,' or whatever, and we'd say, 'Good luck! We have another story that we think is funnier. And, we care more about our audience." But the 59-year-old Brooklyn native does care about validation from his peers, which is why his 1993 Emmy win for best comedy series was so satisfying. "You want to win the championship," he admits.
Two decades later, the still-touring comedian was back in the Emmy race this year, this time for his digital series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. He also has taken to Twitter to stay connected to his loyal following, but he claims not to read the popular Modern Seinfeld feed. Were there to be a contemporary version of the show, Seinfeld says its characters would still be "somewhat dysfunctional, [with] some kids, some divorces and unique social situations." He says he watches little on TV outside of Mad Men and baseball. And does he ever catch a ubiquitous Seinfeld rerun? "Nope," replies the father of three kids with his wife of 15 years, Jessica. "But my kids do."
Photographed by Andrew Hetherington on Sept. 4 at Jack Studios in New York City
Next … The Spring Chickens: William Shatner and Cloris Leachman
THE SPRING CHICKENS
William Shatner (7 noms, 2 wins) and Cloris Leachman (22 noms, 8 wins)
If longevity is king for a working actor, then Emmy veterans Leachman and Shatner are bona fide royalty, with careers spanning more than 60 years apiece. But Leachman, 87, reveals she had a backup plan in the event she didn't win the 1973 TV-movie Emmy for her role in A Brand New Life opposite actor Martin Balsam. "I would shout, 'No!' and wrap myself around the winner's ankles and get dragged up the stairs," she says (mostly joking).
Since her first nomination for The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1972, Leachman has racked up more Emmy nominations than any performer now working in TV -- across comedy, drama, variety series and TV movies -- and is in the midst of shooting the fourth season of Fox's Raising Hope, in which she plays daffy grandma Maw Maw.
With all her years in the biz, it's a wonder she and Shatner, 82, had never been acquainted before their meeting on a recent summer afternoon. Or had they? "Actually, we've met several times," laughs Shatner. "I think you're kind of daft." ("Oh, I'm definitely daft," admits Leachman.)
Though best known as Star Trek's Capt. James T. Kirk -- and Priceline's erstwhile meta-spokesman -- Shatner didn't experience Emmy glory until well into his 70s, with a career resurgence on ABC's The Practice and then its spinoff Boston Legal, playing morally challenged lawyer Denny Crane. "It really knocked me over," says the busy voice-over actor and recent Hot in Cleveland guest star, of his 2004 and 2005 Emmy wins. "Exaltation and pure joy. It was worth the wait!"
Photographed by Brigitte Sire on Aug. 28 at Milk Studios in Hollywood
Next … The Young Gun: Aaron Paul
THE YOUNG GUN
Aaron Paul (4 noms, 2 wins)
At 34, Paul is arguably still a kid in the annals of television greats. But even the giants of drama series acting -- think Ed Asner, James Earl Jones, Peter Falk, James Gandolfini -- can't touch the achievement of the Breaking Bad actor, who is the youngest two-time drama actor winner (supporting or lead) in history. It's a mantle that the Emmett, Idaho, native wears with bewildered modesty.
"I'm honestly still on a cloud from being nominated the first year!" says Paul, recalling the 2009 morning he went to co-star Bryan Cranston's house to do publicity calls. "I was a crying mess all day." And then to beat his own favorite contender, co-star Giancarlo Esposito, in 2012 for his second supporting actor win? "It was an out-of-body experience," he says. "An embarrassment of riches."
Paul, who will next be seen in the DreamWorks racing actioner Need for Speed in 2014, is prepping for Bad's bittersweet final episode that airs Sept. 29 and is unabashedly sentimental about saying goodbye to his alter ego, Jesse Pinkman.
"I love the kid! I lived and breathed every moment of his existence," says Paul. "I'll miss everything about him -- even his bedazzled shirts." As for this year's ceremony, where he's a supporting nominee again, Paul has a solitary wish. "I want a drama series win so badly for Vince [Gilligan]," says Paul of his nine-time nominated but never-lauded showrunner. "To see him win would be the highlight of my life."
Photographed by Ramona Rosales on Aug. 14 at The Churchill in West Hollywood
Next … The AMC Power Trio: Matthew Weiner, Charlie Collier and Bryan Cranston
THE AMC POWER TRIO
Matthew Weiner (22 noms, 9 wins) Charlie Collier (president of AMC) and Bryan Cranston (10 noms, 3 wins)
It might seem that Mad Men and Breaking Bad have little in common aside from their shared home on the basic cable network AMC. But Bad star Cranston reveals that Weiner's pilot episode for his drama about 1950s Madison Avenue was actually the reason the actor said yes to starring in Vince Gilligan's darker tale about a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who cooks meth for money.
"I told AMC's [then executive vp] Rob Sorcher, 'I'm nervous. I love this, but it needs to be treated delicately and with support,' " recalls Cranston, 57. "And then I get this envelope with the Mad Men pilot and a note from Rob saying: 'This is what we aim to do.' I watched, mouth agape, and said, 'OK, I'm good, let's go!' "
The moment not only helped to usher in AMC's giant presence in the scripted arena -- especially noteworthy for a network previously best known for infomercials and old Westerns -- but also an avalanche of Emmy attention that has eluded even a stalwart premium competitor like Showtime.
In July 2007, Mad Men premiered to huge acclaim, and Weiner took home the first of his four consecutive outstanding drama series trophies at the 2008 Emmys. (By comparison, HBO's The Sopranos won only two series trophies during its run.) That same year, just months after Bad's little-seen January 2008 premiere, Cranston enjoyed the first of his record-tying three-in-a-row best actor wins (with Bill Cosby) for playing Bad's antihero, Walter White.
"I remember when the show finally aired, people said, 'Congrats! Where is it?' " laughs Weiner, 48, remembering AMC's then-anonymity. He describes Mad Men's 15-trophy haul -- it's nominated again this year for outstanding drama series -- as "completely surreal." For Collier, 44, who was an early champion of both series, the attention was overwhelming. "To come out of the gate with these series? We all felt very blessed."
Photographed by Joe Pugliese on July 26 at Trader Vic’s at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills
Next … The Record-Setter: Alfre Woodard
Alfre Woodard (17 noms, 4 wins)
With an Oscar nomination for the 1983 period drama Cross Creek and a film résumé that boasts more than 40 titles -- including the critically acclaimed Grand Canyon, Primal Fear and Fox Searchlight's buzzy forthcoming awards contender 12 Years a Slave -- it's easy to forget Woodard is a record-shattering television icon.
Not only is she the most nominated nonseries performer (guest and miniseries/movie roles), but the Tulsa, Okla., native is also the most lauded black actor in TV history, having earned more accolades than other barrier-breaking stars such as Cicely Tyson and Andre Braugher.
Such a tidal wave of attention understandably can cloud the actress' memory. "Gosh … I know I wore a blue dress!" laughs Woodard, 60, of her first Emmy win in 1984 for a three-episode arc on NBC's Hill Street Blues. "It's funny: When you act, your job is to work with the director to find your character. Then suddenly you go to this big party, and maybe you'll get to shout, 'Bingo!' The nomination really does hit you; it's the thing that says, 'OK, I'm on the right track.' "
As for her distinction among black actors, Woodard is frank about the challenges facing all performers trying to break into the business. "Most actors, whatever color or size or age, are pigeonholed," she says. "So you have to think past the obvious and find the specificity in that role, even if on the page it seems obvious."
With recent nominated arcs on Desperate Housewives, True Blood and this year for her acclaimed reinvention of Ouiser in Lifetime's Steel Magnolias reboot, Woodard nonetheless can't hide her gratitude. "I've been so fortunate," she says with a smile.
Photographed by Fabrizio Maltese on Sept. 6 at Brassaii in Toronto
Next … The Creators: John Wells, Christopher Lloyd, Greg Daniels, Marshall Herskovitz and Mitchell Hurtwitz
From left: John Wells (25 noms, 6 wins), Christopher Lloyd (15 noms, 10 wins), Greg Daniels (21 noms, 5 wins), Marshall Herskovitz (9 noms, 4 wins) and Mitchell Hurwitz (6 noms, 3 wins)
Photographed by Austin Hargrave on Sept. 15 at Milk Studios in Hollywood
"I remember thinking, 'OK, I have the first line of my obituary,' " says Hurwitz, 50, of earning his first Emmys for comedy series and writing in 2004 for Arrested Development, which he recently revived for Netflix. He is one of five top show creators -- collectively they've earned 28 Emmys for 11 programs -- who gathered on a muggy September morning to reflect on the moment they earned their first statuette.
Their reactions, much like their résumés, are varied: Wells (ER, The West Wing, Shameless), 57, still kicks himself for not thanking ER star George Clooney when the medical drama picked up its first series win in 1996. Daniels (The Simpsons, King of the Hill, The Office), 50, simply was relieved to have won (in 1989, for writing on Saturday Night Live) as he had invited his then-girlfriend and now wife, Susanne, as his date ("I made a really good impression," he says).
For Modern Family co-creator Lloyd, 53, his first win for Frasier in 1994 was more personal. "Publicly I was very excited to have won," he recalls, "but privately I was thinking my dad [David Lloyd] has two of these [for writing on Mary Tyler Moore], and I'm going to run him down eventually." Asked what they miss most about their early TV work, the show creators give answers ranging from "the writers" (Wells) to "the intensity" (thirtysomething's Herskovitz, 61) to "the energy of a live audience" (Lloyd).
To Hurwitz, who worked as a PA during Lloyd's stint on The Golden Girls, the business only has improved for writer-producers. "The economics have changed," he acknowledges, "but the more outlets, the more opportunities there are for creativity."
Next … Mr. Personalities: Hank Azaria
Hank Azaria (10 noms, 4 wins)
After 24 years of voicing characters in 523 episodes of The Simpsons, Azaria has a few things he'd like to clear up about his art form. "People think you're just sitting there talking, but it really is acting," says Azaria, 49. "Your whole body has to get into it, or it's not going to make the proper sounds. No, we don't have to memorize lines or have hair and wardrobe or be on location. But after two or three hours of recording, you can't do much more! It's really exhausting."
Since the day he first read for Simpsons creator Matt Groening and producer Sam Simon, Azaria has created -- and received three outstanding voiceover Emmys for -- some of the most absurdly lovable characters on the Fox series, television's longest-running scripted program. From Moe the bartender to Apu the convenience-store clerk to Comic Book Guy to Chief Wiggum, Azaria's creations have prompted him to protect his most crucial asset. "I had my voice insured after I blew it out at a Knicks game," he says. "I was really scared because it didn't come back for more than a week. Now I really try not to scream or lose my temper."
Azaria, a Queens native who's based in New York and records at a local studio, estimates he's performed more than 100 voices during the series' run, 30 to 40 semiregularly. Can he choose a favorite? "That's like Sophie's Choice, but I love Moe as a character, and I love performing Professor Frink. I really enjoy myself when I'm doing him," he says.
Although he's logged numerous film and nominated TV live-action roles over the years -- guest spots on Mad About You and Friends, the Emmy-winning role in Tuesdays With Morrie opposite the late Jack Lemmon -- Azaria says little can compete with the longevity of his favorite job. "The Simpsons has been one big ball of joy, and my Emmy wins are icing on an incredible cake."
Photographed by Emily Shur on Aug. 28 at Bar Marmont in West Hollywood, Illustration by Julius Preite
Next … Reality's First Family: Ozzy, Kelly, Jack and Sharon Osbourne
REALITY'S FIRST FAMILY
Ozzy, Kelly, Jack and Sharon Osbourne (2 noms, 1 win)
If pundits thought an MTV docuseries about an aging British metal musician and his colorful family was a long shot in 2002 to beat Bravo's Harvey Weinstein-produced Project Greenlight for best reality program, they weren't alone.
"I remember thinking, 'Why should we go to the Emmys? We're not going to win,' " says Jack Osbourne of being nominated for The Osbournes, which revealed the private lives of him, dad Ozzy, sister Kelly, mom Sharon and the tiny dogs inside their Beverly Hills mansion. Says Kelly, "I nearly fell out of my chair when they called our name!"
Before audiences knew how to spell "Kardashian," The Osbournes created the modern family-reality format with its 24-hour-a-day coverage of the quirks, fights, cancer scares and, in Ozzy's case, near-inaudible musings about life. Conceived by Sharon, The Osbournes was an instant hit when it premiered in early 2002 -- more than 4 million viewers tuned in -- and was MTV's highest-rated series until its 2005 finale. The show created the prototype for reality's biggest hits, including E!'s Kardashians trifecta, Bravo's Housewives franchise and the top-rated Duck Dynasty.
Eight years later, former wild child Kelly, 28, is a longtime co-host of E!'s Fashion Police and active in various fashion and philanthropy efforts. Jack, 27, now a father and publicly battling multiple sclerosis, is competing this season on ABC's Dancing With the Stars. And Sharon, 60, credited with reviving her 64-year-old husband's music career with the international summer music festival Ozzfest, is a co-host on CBS' hit chat show The Talk and appeared as a judge on America's Got Talent and Britain's version of The X Factor. "But don't ask Ozzy how the show changed his life … he never actually watched it," laughs Sharon. Says Ozzy: "It's true. I was drunk."
Photographed by Ramona Rosales on Aug. 27 at The Hollywood Tower in Hollywood
Next … The Documentary Queen: Sheila Nevins
THE DOCUMENTARY QUEEN
Sheila Nevins (64 noms, 26 wins)
The 13th-floor screening room for HBO's documentary unit at the network's West 42nd Street headquarters has custom-built shelves along all four walls, on which 50 Emmy statues are situated in a blinding display of hardware.
They wouldn't be there without Nevins, president of HBO Documentary Films, who in the past three decades has produced more than 1000 documentaries, including Spike Lee's Hurricane Katrina epic If God Is Willing and da Creek Don't Rise, Jon Alpert's Baghdad ER and Alex Gibney's Mea Maxima Culpa, which already has been given the 2013 exceptional merit Emmy.
"We are minority players in the Primetime Emmy game," says Nevins, who was given the organization's Governors Award in 2009. "We don’t have makeup, we don’t have costumes. It’s just the story telling itself. It’s a special privilege to be able to tell a story about a person that nobody knows and to make that story shine enough so that it’s recognized."
She's also helped to cultivate a diverse, new generation of filmmakers, including Alexandra Pelosi (Journeys With George), Jessica Yu (Breathing Lessons) and Meema Spadola (Breasts). And it was actually Nevins' idea to have late Sopranos star James Gandolfini interview wounded veterans for Alpert's 2007 film Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq. "It's a weird profession in that you're kind of chasing sorrow," she says. "But you're also enlightening people about the universality of emotion."
Nevins cut her teeth in the business working with 60 Minutes legend Don Hewitt on the CBS newsmagazine Who's Who, and she also boasts 28 News & Documentary Emmys, which are given by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; in 2005, she received the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award.
The New York native and married mother of a grown son is humbled by her Emmy haul, which includes this year's documentary special trophy for the Osama bin Laden film Manhunt and the 2005 . "It's always meaningful to be recognized," says Nevins. "My Lifetime Achievement award was particularly sweet! But the rest were definitely team efforts. It takes a village to make a film."
Photographed by Dorothy Hong on Aug. 27 at Nevins’ office in New York City