Emmys: THR's Awards Analyst Handicaps the Comedy, Drama Series Races
Scott Feinberg takes a deeper look into this year's batch of best comedy and drama nominees, which include first-timers like "House of Cards," veterans such as "The Big Bang Theory" and retired giants like "30 Rock."
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's August Emmy stand-alone issue.
COMEDY SERIES NOMINEES
30 Rock (NBC)
The Peacock network's most consistent awards contender over the past decade, thanks to the manifold talents of Tina Fey, has earned best comedy series nominations in each of its seven years and won the prize from 2007 through 2009. For its final season, it received a category-leading 13 noms, including acknowledgments in all of the key categories in which winners usually show up: acting (Fey for lead actress, Alec Baldwin for lead actor, Jane Krakowski for supporting actress, Will Forte for guest actor and Elaine Stritch for guest actress), writing (two noms, including another for Fey) and directing. This year, only one other comedy, Louie, can claim the same. On the heels of a best ensemble SAG nom, if also a Golden Globe snub for comedy series, it certainly seems plausible that voters will give it a big sendoff. It should be noted, however, that only two past winners of this category have won again after a lapse of three or more years -- All in the Family and Cheers -- as would be the case here.
The second season of Lena Dunham's urban dramedy garnered its second comedy series nomination and four others as well, including a lead actress nom for Dunham and supporting actor nom for Adam Driver, who plays her on-again/off-again sexually aggressive squeeze. Dunham, who was nominated last year for directing and writing, scored only the former of those two this year, which sends a bit of a mixed message about how voters regard the show. (Perhaps the darker and sporadically depressive second season was too dark and depressive for some?) Meanwhile, with Veep also nominated in this category, HBO's loyalties and resources must be divided, which can't help either show. Nevertheless, Girls' champions generally are very passionate, as demonstrated by its Golden Globe win in January, and Dunham-mania still seems to be going strong: She won a Golden Globe, was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and even cracked Time's list of the world's 100 most influential people.
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Chuck Lorre's celebration of nerds male and female -- the highest-rated series on television -- received its third consecutive nomination for comedy series and picked up seven other noms as well, including acknowledgments for lead actor Jim Parsons, supporting actress Mayim Bialik and guest actor Bob Newhart. It also was named best comedy series at the TV Critics' Choice Awards, tied with Parks and Recreation for that same honor at TCA Awards and was nominated for the comedy series Golden Globe and SAG ensemble award, making it perhaps the last, best hope for network TV in this category. Still, it should be pointed out that it's unusual for a series to be awarded for the first time in this category six seasons into its run; only The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Barney Miller, Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond waited as long or longer before they finally took home Emmy gold.
Armando Iannucci's farcical comedy about a bumbling female vice president, played by 2012 Emmy winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who also has statuettes for Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine on her shelf), was nominated last year for its first season and is back in contention for its markedly funnier second season. With only four other noms, three of which are for acting -- best actress forLouis-Dreyfus, the most Emmy-nominated woman in history with 14 noms collected over the years, and supporting noms for Tony Hale and Anna Chlumsky, who had never been nominated -- it is tied with its HBO sister show, Girls, for the fewest in the category. But the show is smart, quick and appeals to a more mature audience than most of its peers in this category, which would help explain why it was a nominee for this year's comedy series TV Critics' Choice Award (Louis-Dreyfus won comedy actress) and why it certainly is a serious contender.
Modern Family (ABC) MOST LIKELY WINNER!
The fourth season of Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd's family sitcom was the fourth-highest-rated primetime network series on the air this year and aims to follow in some giant footsteps at the Emmys: The show won this category in each of its first three years of eligibility. This year, it received 12 nominations, including one for directing and a plethora for acting -- supporting actor noms for defending winner Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ed O'Neill (two-time winner Eric Stonestreet oddly was snubbed), supporting actress noms for defending winner Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara and a guest actor nom for Nathan Lane. Earlier this year, it won a third straight SAG ensemble award, but it also might have exposed some cracks in its armor when it lost the comedy series Golden Globe to Girls and wasn't even nominated for the equivalent TV Critics' Choice Award. It certainly could fall prey to one of its edgier cable rivals, or to the sentiment that could motivate a big sendoff for fellow broadcast show 30 Rock, or to the even greater popularity of The Big Bang Theory.
The third season of Louis C.K.'s semiautobiographical series, its most polished yet, bagged its first comedy series nom along with five others, including three for C.K. -- for acting, writing and directing for the second straight year (he won for writing last year) -- plus a guest actress nom for Melissa Leo. The show certainly has critics in its corner, snagging noms this year for comedy series at the TV Critics' Choice Awards and outstanding achievement in comedy at the TCA Awards. Meanwhile, C.K.'s profile has grown exponentially thanks not only to the show but also to hitting the stand-up circuit and an appearance in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine -- and he also picked up this year's TCA Award for individual achievement in comedy. His show certainly is of a smaller scale than most of its competitors, but FX has mounted an aggressive campaign this season on Louie's behalf.
DRAMA SERIES NOMINEES
Breaking Bad (AMC) MOST LIKELY WINNER!
As voters weigh the first half of the addictive series' fifth and final season, the public is tuning into its now-unspooling final eight episodes in record numbers, and the concomitant buzz might finally propel Vince Gilligan's magnum opus to its first drama series win. With 13 total noms this year, more than any other drama series except Game of Thrones -- including acting noms for Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Jonathan Banks and Anna Gunn, plus one for directing and two for writing -- it clearly has the across-the-board support that most winners have had in the past. It tied with Thrones in this category at the TV Critics' Choice Awards and beat it for program of the year (but not for outstanding achievement in drama) at the TCA Awards. But the show might have a slight edge because it seems to have crossed a tipping point, and TV watchers and critics have caught up to the fact that Bad is as good as it gets.
Downton Abbey (PBS)
The third season of Julian Fellowes' British show seemed to offer more of an emotional roller coaster than the soap-operatic first (which dominated the miniseries categories) and second (which scored a bunch of major nominations in the drama series fields). A period piece built around a massive ensemble, it was rewarded with 12 noms, including one in each of the four acting categories -- HughBonneville for lead actor, Michelle Dockery for lead actress, Jim Carter for supporting actor and defending winner Maggie Smith for supporting actress -- something that also could be claimed this year only by Homeland. Downton also picked up noms for writing and directing to go along with its best drama series Golden Globe nomination and surprise SAG ensemble win. But its talent, which mostly is based overseas, hasn't been around to campaign as aggressively as many of its competitors', and that could undermine its chances in a close race.
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Gory fantasy is not everyone's cup of tea, but David Benioff and D.B. Weiss' epic show -- easily the biggest and most expensive undertaking of the nominees and a constant critical and ratings bonanza for HBO -- has become must-see TV. Based on George R.R. Martin's best-selling novels, Game of Thrones enjoyed a well-received third season and has been rewarded with more total nominations (16) than any other nominee this year, including recognition for supporting actor Peter Dinklage and supporting actress Emilia Clarke as well as guest actress Diana Rigg and the writing of its ninth episode. It also tied with Breaking Bad for the best drama series TV Critics' Choice Award and was the sole winner of the TCA Award for outstanding achievement in drama. But Game of Thrones still is in search of its first Emmy win for drama series -- and with the full power of HBO now solely behind it in this category for the first time (Boardwalk Empire, which was snubbed this year, had been nominated each of the past two), a win might just happen.
House of Cards (Netflix)
The first season of this political thriller from Netflix -- the subscription-based streaming service that unloads entire seasons of shows all at once -- earned a game-changing drama series nom and eight others, including lead acting noms for Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright and a directing nom for pilot helmer and Oscar nominee David Fincher, three Hollywood A-listers who took a gutsy gamble on a new model of entertainment. The show, equal parts Shakespeare and Machiavelli, didn't score all of the accolades on which it had set its sights -- supporting players Corey Stoll and Kate Mara were notably snubbed -- which might gives one pause about its prospects for winning the top honor, as does the fact that its nine total noms are the fewest of any of the nominated series. But with 13 well-crafted episodes that seemingly everyone felt compelled to check out, thanks in large part to the massive Netflix campaign behind it and the scent of history surrounding it, voters could be nervous about betting against it.
Last year, the thriller's riveting first season won over viewers, critics and TV Academy members alike -- it was awarded more majorEmmys than any other show, including the drama prizes for series, best actor (Damian Lewis) and best actress (Claire Danes). This year, it was less well-received but still popular enough to win the Golden Globe for drama series, score a drama series TV Critics' Choice Award nom, an ensemble nom from SAG and earn Emmy noms in each of the four drama acting categories -- for leads Lewis and Danes, plus supporting actor Mandy Patinkin and supporting actress Morena Baccarin. Homeland also earned a guest actor nom for Rupert Friend and writing and directing mentions. The bottom line, though, is that it seems to stand no better a shot this time than any other nominee.
Mad Men (AMC)
The sixth season of Matthew Weiner's groundbreaking period piece -- which has won this category four times (2008-2011), tying the record shared by Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and The West Wing -- got off to an uneven start but picked up steam and finished very strongly, in the eyes of viewers and critics. TV Academy members apparently agreed, rewarding it with 12 noms, including six for members of its SAG-nominated ensemble: Jon Hamm for lead actor, Elisabeth Moss for lead actress, Christina Hendricks for supporting actress, Harry Hamlin and Robert Morse for guest actor and Linda Cardellini for guest actress. (Perhaps this will be the year that an actor or actress associated with the show finally takes home a statuette!) Nevertheless, one can't help but notice its snubs in the writing and directing categories, which, along with last year's record-setting Emmy air ball (none of the show's 17 nominees won), suggest that Mad Men might not be destined to join the exclusive list of drama series that have won, lost then won again (Playhouse 90, Upstairs, Downstairs, L.A. Law and The Sopranos) -- at least not this year.