Small-screen helmers in line for DGA nominations

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If there are any above-the-line professionals who fight an even greater battle for respect in television than the striking writers, it is the directors: hired guns whose marching orders are often simply to keep the lights on and not make too big a mess of things in the process. The truth is that directors are far more valuable than advertised, setting a qualitative tone for a production by virtue of their creative vision and work ethic. Those triumphs of style will be rewarded when the 60th annual DGA Awards dinner unfolds Jan. 26 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel.

But first come the nominations, which are being announced in the TV categories on Jan. 10. The list is expected to reflect what has evolved into a referendum honoring the cable end of primetime, with such critical stalwarts as the AMC period drama "Mad Men," FX's "Damages," TNT's "Saving Grace," USA Network's "Burn Notice" and the offbeat Showtime comedy "Californication" joining the established hits "Rescue Me" and "The Shield" on FX, Showtime's "Dexter" and "Weeds," and the HBO comedies "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Entourage" in angling for attention this awards season.

There's also this HBO hour called "The Sopranos" that left the air in June with, ahem, a little bit of buzz. Its DGA Award prospects look particularly exceptional following its September Emmy wins in both the drama series director and top drama series categories.

The broadcast networks also will no doubt have their share of representation on the director nominations lists for drama and comedy series, reality series and movies for television. There is no shortage of worthy contenders in advance of the noms announcement.
What follows is an overview of how those TV races might play out.


Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series -- Night

If you suspect that nothing can beat "The Sopranos" this year, specifically its much-buzzed final episode, "Made in America" -- directed by series creator and exec producer David Chase, a 2000 DGA Award winner in the category -- you might be correct. And Chase's chief competition might be another "Sopranos" director: Alan Taylor, who already won the drama directing Emmy this year for the episode "Kennedy and Heidi."

Taylor could, in fact, receive two category nominations this time. The other would be for "Mad Men" -- either the pilot or the episode "Nixon vs. Kennedy." Those gunning for category attention also include four-time DGA Award nominee Allen Coulter for his work on the acclaimed "Damages" pilot; three-time DGA victor Sergio Mimica-Gezzan for the "Saving Grace" pilot; Emmy winner Peter Tolan for the Season 4 premiere of "Rescue Me," entitled "Baby Face"; and Tony Goldwyn for the "Dexter" Season 2 premiere, "It's Alive."

Of the broadcasters, ABC shows "Grey's Anatomy" (which received two nods in the category a year ago), "Lost" and "Boston Legal" are seen as among the top candidates. For "Grey's," it's the hour "Didn't We Almost Have It All?" from director Rob Corn that closed out the show's third season. (Corn previous won the DGA honor in 1994 for "NYPD Blue.") For "Legal," the episode given the best shot is the Emmy-nominated "Son of the Defender" from Bill D'Elia. For "Lost," it's another 2007 Emmy nominee, the third-season wrap-up, "Through the Looking Glass," by helmer Jack Bender.

The Season 1 capper of NBC's "Friday Night Lights," "State" from director Jeffrey Reiner, could also land some category attention.

Directorial Achievement in Comedy Series -- Night

You can't go too far wrong to pencil in James Burrows' name among the likely comedy nominees. Burrows is the most honored single director in the awards' history; he's snared nominations in 14 of the past 17 years -- 21 in total -- and won four times. This year, he has two possible contenders: the pilots for both the Fox rookie "Back to You," starring Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, and the first-year ABC sitcom "The Big Bang Theory."

But even Burrows is no sure thing this time. In an era when traditional comedy in primetime is said to be gravely wounded, there seems to be an abundance of DGA Awards-seasoned talent qualified to crash the party once again. Topping that list is Will Mackenzie, a three-time DGA Award winner who could triumph for his high-profile musical seg of NBC's "Scrubs," entitled "My Musical." Mackenzie's last victory came in 1988 for an episode of "Family Ties."

There is also the sixth season of "Curb" to consider -- a DGA darling if ever there was one -- and three former director nominees for the show are all in contention again, including "Borat" director Larry Charles (the season premiere, "Meet the Blacks," and the closer, "The Bat Mitzvah"), Bob Weide ("The Anonymous Donor") and Bryan Gordon ("The Freak Book").

Among new comedy series, the prime candidates include former actor Robert Duncan McNeill for the pilot of ABC's "Samantha Who?"; Barry Sonnenfeld for the "Pushing Daisies" pilot (also ABC); and two-time DGA Award nominee Stephen Hopkins for the premiere installment of "Californication."

Likewise expected to make compelling cases for nomination are Julian Farino (a DGA nominee a year ago) for any of several episodes of "Entourage"; Don Scardino for "SeinfeldVision," the Season 2 opener of NBC's "30 Rock"; Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant for the December series finale of HBO's "Extras"; Craig Zisk for any of several episodes of "Weeds"; at least one installment of ABC's "Ugly Betty" ("Betty" director Richard Shepard took home the DGA honor last year); and an episode or two of NBC's "The Office."

Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television

Probably not a whole lot of surprises here. As has become annual tradition, it will more than likely be directors of HBO projects vs. directors of HBO projects -- with perhaps one or two non-HBO films cracking the lineup.

So in this category don't be surprised to find plenty of HBO helmers such as Emmy winner Yves Simoneau for "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," Tom Hooper (an Emmy winner in 2005 for "Elizabeth I") for "Longford," Kenneth Branagh for the adaptation of Shakespeare's "As You Like It," Nelson George for the drama "Life Support," Scott Z. Burns for the gripping "Pu-239," and Otto Bathurst and Simon Curtis for the miniseries "Five Days."

Giving chase will be Michael Offer and Daniel Percival for the powerful BBC America miniseries "The State Within" as well as Jon Avnet for the USA Network mini "The Starter Wife," Emmy nominee Susanna White for the PBS presentation of "Jane Eyre" on "Masterpiece Theatre" and 2005 DGA Award nominee Lloyd Kramer for ABC's "Mitch Albom's For One More Day," based on Albom's best-selling novel.

Directorial Achievement in Reality Programs

The DGA added this category only two years ago, and in its infancy it has attracted an even mix of reality-competition shows like "The Amazing Race" along with fare like Showtime's "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!" and NBC's "Three Wishes."

The favorites this year have to lean toward more poignant material such as ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," directed primarily by David Dryden and Glenn Taylor, and the first-year Showtime adaptation of NPR's "This American Life," directed primarily by Christopher Wilcha. Star Price and Bertram van Munster, both nominees in the category previously for "Bullshit!" and "Amazing Race," respectively, could well repeat, with ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" helmer Alex Rudzinski joining Brian Smith, director of NBC's "The Biggest Loser," on the nominee shortlist.   
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