Emmys: Tim Goodman Breaks Down the Comedy Show Contenders

"Veep"
"Veep"
 HBO

This story first appeared in the June 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

In 2001, HBO'S Sex and the City won the Emmy for best comedy. No cable series had done that before. And, as it turns out, none has done that since. That might change this year -- if Emmy voters stop rubber-stamping network hits.

In the past six years, two sitcoms have dominated this category. NBC's 30 Rock won three years straight, from 2007 to 2009. And ABC's Modern Family has won three years straight, from 2010 to 2012.

But if there ever were a year for a cable comedy to shake things up, it's 2013 because there are any number of legitimate contenders.

As a critic, I'd put FX's Louie right at the top of the list. But the cable channel is a leader in cranking out funny, original comedies like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (a glaring Emmy omission for years), Wilfred, Legit, The League and the animated series Archer, which has some of the best writing on TV.

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HBO also could be a strong contender because it has four exceptional comedies in Veep, the newly launched Christopher Guest series Family Tree, Girls and Enlightened. (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Girls and Veep all were nominated in 2012; Curb would not be eligible this year.)

Showtime's darker half-hours such as Nurse Jackie and The Big C were ignored in this category, but the channel has a strong candidate in House of Lies and perhaps a dark horse in Episodes.

There certainly are more horses of a darker shade when you get to a smaller channel like IFC with Maron and the revitalized Cougar Town on TBS. But the wild card here is a very heavy hitter in Arrested Development, from Netflix (and yes, I know that's not a cable entry but a valid outsider that could topple the aforementioned network dominance).

It'd be easy to fill all six slots in the outstanding comedy category with cable-only offerings -- more on that shortly -- but there still are numerous high-quality broadcast sitcoms that surely will be nominated.

You can start with the only two winners of the past six years -- Modern Family and 30 Rock, which are slam dunks. Last year, The Big Bang Theory, an extremely big hit, was nominated, and I'd wager there will be a repeat.

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Other deserving candidates from the network side include Parks and Recreation from NBC (one would hope Emmy voters won't lean on sentimentality and instead opt for The Office); Suburgatory and Happy Endings from ABC (though the latter is a stretch, given that it has been canceled); plus Raising Hope, The Mindy Project and New Girl from Fox.

Every series mentioned here has made a case for inclusion (I purposely left off those that didn't and thus shouldn't be considered). But going on the notion that 2013 could really be the year of the cable comedy upset, here's the top six picks I'd make strictly from the cable comedy pool: Louie, Family Tree, Arrested Development, Veep, Archer and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

The reasoning behind those is that they are primarily funny first and foremost -- and that's what I'm looking for in a comedy.

Girls, a show I dearly love, and House of Lies have stronger dramatic elements to them. It doesn't lessen their quality -- it raises it in both cases -- but just as I vastly prefer 30 Rock to Modern Family, it's because the punch line is the priority over hugging or learning or any type of sweetness. That's just me and my black heart.

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In the second tier of six quality cable comedies, I'd fill the nominations with Girls, House of Lies, Wilfred, Legit, Maron and Enlightened because they all are starkly original and daring.

As a critic, I could easily defend all 12 of those picks and fight for the others as well. Clearly, there's a ton of quality cable contenders.

But with what is likely to be a maximum of three slots available, if the network stranglehold on that Emmy trophy is going to be undone, the most likely to achieve that would be Louie, Arrested Development or Girls.

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