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It’s easy to knock Hollywood for being ageist and void of proper roles for women — as they say — of a certain age. But this year’s outstanding lead actress lineup in comedy, drama and miniseries/movie provides clear proof to the contrary. The average age of the 15 performers honored this year is 49; just one, “Ugly Betty’s” (ABC) America Ferrera, is younger than 36 (she’s 24). A mere three are below 42, and five are 60 and above.
That’s an encouraging sign, but not very helpful in making sense of which women will win on Sept. 21 at L.A.’s Nokia Theatre. Emmy rarely shares love with the younger set; before Ferrera’s win last year, the last time a 20-something took home a lead actress Emmy was 1997 — when Gillian Anderson won in the drama category for “The X-Files.”
The truth is, it takes a certain level of experience to not only garner an Emmy nomination, but also have your peers recognize you as ready to receive their benediction. Among this year’s nominated actresses, seven have been nominated for Oscars, 14 have received prior Emmy nominations, and 10 have won at least once.
The Lighter Side
Undoubtedly, last year belonged to Ferrera, who won the Emmy, the Golden Globe and the SAG Award for “Betty.” But this year the fickle spotlight has shifted to Tina Fey (NBC’s “30 Rock”) — who has a Globe, a SAG, numerous WGA Awards and a PGA Award for her writing, producing and acting work. All this after guiding the show to a series comedy Emmy last year, too.
With four noms this time, Fey’s Emmy nomination tally leapfrogged to 10 (and she’s won twice, including one for NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” in 2002). But all five nominees here have won before.
“I really don’t think I’ll commit suicide if I don’t win, but I hope I win just in case,” quips Fey, whose “30 Rock” earned a comedy series record of 17 nominations overall.
Christina Applegate (ABC’s “Samantha Who?”), meanwhile, has been nominated for Emmys twice previously — but both for guest stints. This is her first as a lead actress, after having been similarly honored earlier this year with nominations at the Golden Globes and SAG Awards. So she has an edge in that area, but she might not be considered well seasoned enough for Emmy voters.
Nevertheless, Applegate says, “I didn’t expect it because ‘Samantha’ wasn’t on for very long, not even a full season. So it’s just a huge thrill.”
Outstanding lead actress in a drama series emerges as a highly competitive category this year, with Sally Field (ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters”), Glenn Close (FX’s “Damages”) and Holly Hunter (TNT’s “Saving Grace”) boasting 11 Oscar nominations between them. Mariska Hargitay and Kyra Sedgwick have become annual faces in the Emmy crowd — this is Hargitay’s fifth consecutive nomination for NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” (she won in 2006) — while Sedgwick has three consecutive noms for TNT’s “The Closer.”
Field won last year, but conventional wisdom is that this is Close’s race to lose. An 11-time Emmy nominee whose lone victory came in 1995, Close has earned critical raves from the get-go for her dynamic work in “Damages.”
“It’s very gratifying to be singled out for work that so shines a light on great material and brings people to our show, as well as to basic cable,” Close says. “Our seven nominations are a testament to the landscape of television evolving into one of the truly great art forms of the 21st century.”
She can also take heart in this: There hasn’t been an actress who has won two drama Emmys in a row since 1996, when “Picket Fences'” Kathy Baker won her second.
Sedgwick has earned a Golden Globe for her work on “The Closer” but not yet an Emmy. Still, she says, “The nomination itself feels like a vote of confidence for work that’s trying to be newer and fresher and different and more watchable. I only wish our show could get a nomination for drama series. The fact it doesn’t, I think, stems from the fact people perceive us as a procedural. We’re so much deeper and more than that.”
As for dark horses, Hunter is a six-time Emmy nominee with two wins (1989 and 1993); Hargitay put in a powerful performance, but as Sedgwick notes, procedurals rarely get much attention from voters.
All in Good Time
It’s hard to imagine a contest where four of the five contenders in any category would all have been previously nominated for Academy Awards (Phylicia Rashad, of ABC’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” is the exception). But such is the case in the outstanding lead actress in a miniseries/
movie category, and audiences have reaped the benefits all year.
It doesn’t make it easy to pick a winner, though. If a sweep for HBO’s “John Adams” is in the works, the bandwagon figures to drive Laura Linney, who played Abigail Adams, to victory. The actress has won for each of her two previous nominations (2002 and 2004).
Still, Susan Sarandon is seeking her first win following two previous nominations and is certainly a serious contender for her stellar performance as billionaire heiress Doris Duke (HBO’s “Bernard and Doris”). Voters also tend to love English royalty (of any stripe), so don’t count out Dame Judi Dench (PBS’ “Cranford (Masterpiece)”) — Dame Helen Mirren won it in 2007 and 2006.
A categorical shakeup and an actress’s early withdrawal means it’s anybody’s guess who’ll take home a supporting Emmy
The one absolute in the outstanding supporting actress categories is that there will be no repeat of 2007 when it comes to the drama category; by her own (well-publicized) choice, 2007 recipient Katherine Heigl (ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy”) removed herself from consideration.
With her gone, both drama and comedy are tossups.
The wild card in comedy is “Saturday Night Live” (NBC) regular Amy Poehler, honored thanks to a rule change allowing variety performers to compete in comedy series categories. It’s a little apples-to-oranges, but the mix of variety and series hasn’t been tried yet, and voters may want to give her a shot. The last time a supporting actress comedy Emmy went to someone who hadn’t yet been nominated was 2000, when “Will & Grace’s” Megan Mullally won on her first try. Each of Poehler’s competitors has prior noms, except Tony winner Kristin Chenoweth (ABC’s “Pushing Daisies”).
With Heigl not a concern for drama, Candice Bergen (ABC’s “Boston Legal”) is a force again. During her “Murphy Brown” days, she won five awards in seven years before removing herself from contention. But she’s got tough competition in Dianne Wiest (HBO’s “In Treatment”), who also already has an Emmy triumph to her credit. Remember, when in doubt, the television academy usually gives it to the one with an Oscar or two on the mantel.
In the longform categories, Alfre Woodard (CBS’ “Pictures of Hollis Woods (Hallmark Hall of Fame Presentation)”) is an Emmy dynamo, with 14 prior nominations — and is the only actress here who has won. But her reputation doesn’t figure to be enough to upend Laura Dern, whose quirky performance as Katherine Harris in HBO’s “Recount” has earned many plaudits.
And the Nominees are …
Lead Actress: Comedy
Christina Applegate (“Samantha Who?” ABC)
America Ferrera (“Ugly Betty,” ABC)
Tina Fey (“30 Rock,” NBC)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“The New Adventures of Old Christine,” CBS)
Mary-Louise Parker (“Weeds,” Showtime)
Lead actress: Drama
Glenn Close (“Damages,” FX)
Sally Field (“Brothers & Sisters,” ABC)
Mariska Hargitay (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” NBC)
Holly Hunter (“Saving Grace,” TNT)
Kyra Sedgwick (“The Closer,” TNT)
Lead actress: Miniseries/Movie
Judi Dench (“Cranford (Masterpiece)” PBS)
Catherine Keener (“An American Crime,” Showtime)
Laura Linney (“John Adams,” HBO)
Phylicia Rashad (“A Raisin in the Sun,” ABC)
Susan Sarandon (“Bernard and Doris,” HBO)
And the Nominees are …
Supporting actress: Comedy
Kristin Chenoweth (“Pushing Daisies,” ABC)
Amy Poehler (“Saturday Night Live,” NBC)
Jean Smart (“Samantha Who?” ABC)
Holland Taylor (“Two and a Half Men,” CBS)
Vanessa Williams (“Ugly Betty,” ABC)
Supporting actress: Drama
Candice Bergen (“Boston Legal,” ABC)
Rachel Griffiths (“Brothers & Sisters,” ABC)
Sandra Oh (“Grey’s Anatomy,” ABC)
Dianne Wiest (“In Treatment,” HBO)
Chandra Wilson (“Grey’s Anatomy,” ABC)
Supporting actress: Miniseries/Movie
Eileen Atkins (“Cranford (Masterpiece),” PBS)
Laura Dern (“Recount,” HBO)
Ashley Jensen (“Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale,” HBO)
Audra McDonald (“A Raisin in the Sun,” ABC)
Alfre Woodard (“Pictures of Hollis Woods (Hallmark Hall of Fame Presentation),” CBS)
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