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Persistence might have finally paid off for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. For nearly the past decade and a half, the organization that’s responsible for honoring the best shows of primetime has been fine-tuning its rules in order to bring more diversity — of performers, networks and shows — to the Emmy Awards. And while none of the Television Academy’s efforts have resulted in radically varying nominees year to year, there’s a distinct feeling that this year finally might be different.
The minor rule tweaks over the past 15 years coupled with the exits of such longtime Emmy stalwarts as “The West Wing” and “Will & Grace” will give voters for the 59th annual Primetime Emmy Awards the chance to show that they’re thinking outside the (ballot) box. The awards really are (truly this time) poised on the brink of a new era that promises to break open the nominations list and level the playing field as never before.
But series and actor attrition alone won’t guarantee a host of first-time nominees — it’s going to require that voters lose their traditional bias against nominating series that air on basic cable. In fact, only pay-cabler HBO has ever received a comedy and drama series nom, earning six via “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Deadwood,” “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Sex and the City,” “Six Feet Under” and “The Sopranos.” The prevailing wisdom is that a breakthrough for rising cable original programming players such as FX Network, Sci Fi Channel, Showtime and TNT could well be at hand and is nothing if not overdue.
“It’s just backwards thinking to base your quality on where it is rather than what it is,” believes James Duff, executive producer of the third-year TNT drama “The Closer,” for which lead Kyra Sedgwick earned an Emmy nomination last year as well as a Golden Globe win in January.
“I can tell you for certain that basic cable is turning in stuff that’s every bit as good as what the broadcast networks are doing and generally on a much more limited budget. Forget about us, it’s a crime that (Sci Fi’s) ‘Battlestar Galactica’ hasn’t been nominated yet, though I guess I’m not supposed to be promoting another show.”
A partial list of the basic cable shows deserving of some high-profile Emmy love are the firefighter drama “Rescue Me” and the cop hour “The Shield” on FX; “Dexter,” “The Tudors” and “Weeds” on Showtime; “Battlestar” on Sci Fi; “Monk” from USA Network;
“The Closer” on TNT; and “Reno 911!” from Comedy Central.
There is hardly a guarantee that any of the above will crack the final series lists, though many have made progress by landing nominations and, in a few cases, wins for their acting, writing and direction. It looked like the wall had come crashing down when Michael Chiklis shocked the Emmy world in winning the lead drama actor trophy in 2002 for “Shield,” but it turned out to be a lone exception instead of the opening of the cable floodgates. There remains an imaginary but nonetheless shackling dividing line that separates ABC, CBS, Fox, HBO and NBC from everyone else, including the CW. It’s a little bit like the real estate trade in terms of the most important nomination factors being location, location and location.
“Would we get a nomination if we aired on ABC instead of Sci Fi?” “Battlestar” executive producer Ron Moore asks. “Quite possibly.”
Yes, despite the ongoing battles that continue to be fought for Emmy attention and respect, the quality is so richly abundant in the drama series arena that it’s fairly overwhelming. It’s so deep that the two co-favorites in the top drama category last year, ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and Fox’s “24,” could each conceivably get shut out of the lineup altogether, what with their greatly diminished buzz during the 2006-07 season.
The roster of contenders is decidedly less vast in comedy, with the multicamera, laughtrack-fueled sitcom having all but disappeared with the emergence of the single-camera trend. Blame for the decline of TV comedy is typically laid at the doorstep of the reality trend for gobbling up scads of precious primetime territory at the situation comedy’s expense. (And considering that NBC’s fall schedule doesn’t feature a single new comedy, next year’s Emmys might not be much different.) But unscripted series continue to hold steady, even if the Emmys have taken to honoring CBS’ “The Amazing Race” year after year to the exclusion of all others (including a Fox show called “American Idol”).
As for telefilms, well, they’re still breathing and, in fact, found a more consistent overall quality in the few places still committed to making them — namely Hallmark Channel, HBO and Lifetime. The miniseries dwindled even further in terms of sheer numbers, partly because of a new Emmy rule that recategorizes those multiparters lacking a “created by” credit as limited series that now must compete as a drama series. This upsets Showtime president Bob Greenblatt, who now must move his acclaimed “Sleeper Cell” out of the less competitive miniseries group.
“It’s the most cockamamie thing I’ve ever heard of!” Greenblatt protests. Yes, it’s beginning to sound a lot like Emmy season, even if nominations for this year’s Primetime Emmys won’t be announced until July 19 (5:35 a.m. PDT) at the Television Academy’s Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre in North Hollywood. The most prominent of the honors will be handed out Sept. 16 during a ceremony set to air at 8 p.m. EDT/PDT on Fox.
Following is a detailed handicapping of the major comedy and drama series, reality and longform races.
FAVORITES: “Entourage” (HBO), “The New Adventures of Old Christine” (CBS), “The Office” (NBC), “30 Rock” (NBC), “Two and a Half Men” (CBS), “Ugly Betty” (ABC)
THE NEXT TIER: “Everybody Hates Chris” (the CW), “Extras” (HBO), “How I Met Your Mother” (CBS), “Monk” (USA), “Scrubs” (NBC), “Weeds” (Showtime)
LONG SHOTS: “Desperate Housewives” (ABC), “The King of Queens” (CBS), “Lucky Louie” (HBO), “Men in Trees” (ABC), “My Name Is Earl” (NBC),
“The Sarah Silverman Program” (Comedy Central)
A major overhaul could well be in the offing here for a category in dire need of a good old-fashioned shake-up, with at least two of last year’s nominees — Fox’s “Arrested Development” and “Curb” — not around this time (“Arrested” because of cancellation and “Curb” because of a lack of episodes during the qualifying year.) And with the emergence of such formidable rookies as “30 Rock” and “Betty,” as well as the edgy “Entourage,” that could spell trouble for “Scrubs” and “Two and a Half Men,” both of which earned noms in 2006.
Only last year’s winner, “Office,” and “Two and a Half Men” are locks from among 2006’s crop, joined by “30 Rock” and Golden Globe victor “Betty.” There also appears to be something of a bias these days in favor of single-camera comedies such as “Office,” “Earl” and “Entourage” (which are perceived as more cinematic and artistic) and against multicamera sitcoms such as “Two and a Half Men” and “King.”
“I think that’s part of the reason why you keep hearing we’re in such a down cycle for TV comedy,” “Office” executive producer Greg Daniels says. “That refers to the fact that there’s so little multicamera (series going) on in primetime now. They aren’t talking about (Fox’s) ‘The Simpsons’ or (Comedy Central’s) ‘The Colbert Report’ or anything on cable. There’s plenty of good comedy now, in truth. I think it’s mostly a terminology thing.”
“Weeds” creator/executive producer Jenji Kohan disagrees. “I think it’s a rough time for TV comedy,” she says. “There’s just not that much of it on the air right now, and a lot of the shows that are holding on have gotten a bit stale.”
Of the comedies that are seen as potentially nomination-worthy, four are on cable: “Weeds,” “Entourage,” “Monk” and “Extras,” starring Ricky Gervais. “Monk” has managed to earn star Tony Shalhoub three lead comedy actor wins in the past four years without the show once being nominated for outstanding comedy series — this despite having the category advantage of running 60 minutes rather than 30, points out “Monk” exec producer Andy Breckman.
“We can be more emotionally complicated and build more character arcs than the other guys can in 22 minutes,” Breckman notes. “So, that being the case, why have we never been nominated in the series category? This is where my theory falls down a little bit.
I have no explanation.”
The only hour-format series ever to win a comedy series Emmy was Fox’s David E. Kelley dramedy “Ally McBeal” in 1999. “Housewives” couldn’t, nor could the CW’s “Gilmore Girls,” which switched to the drama category for its final season of eligibility this year after having never landed a single nomination in comedy. “Betty,” fresh from its Globes triumph in January, is seen as having a shot at the statuette and will almost assuredly be at least nominated.
However, one of the ongoing issues with Emmy nominations is that there are far more shows on the air that mix comedic and dramatic elements, and there’s no category to address dramedy. “Chris” executive producer Ali LeRoi objects to the fact that more of a distinction isn’t made between light drama and comedy.
“‘Ugly Betty’ probably skews more toward comedy than drama,” LeRoi believes, “but no one is going to tell me that ‘Desperate Housewives’ is a comedy. It isn’t. You shouldn’t watch a series nominated for top comedy and emerge from it thinking, ‘Wow.
That wasn’t funny. At all’.”
“Entourage” creator/executive producer Doug Ellin hopes no one says the same about his show. “I feel like the season we just finished was easily our best, and we’re only going to get better,” he says. “But we’re like every other comedy on the air right now, in that the public seems to be watching us less and drama and reality shows more. Hopefully, that’ll turn around. People always have to laugh. Don’t they?”
LEAD ACTOR: Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock” (NBC); Zach Braff, “Scrubs” (NBC); Steve Carell, “The Office” (NBC); Brad Garrett, “‘Til Death” (Fox); Ricky
Gervais, “Extras” (HBO); Kevin James, “The King of Queens” (CBS); Jason Lee, “My Name Is Earl” (NBC); Tony Shalhoub, “Monk” (USA Network); Charlie Sheen, “Two and a Half Men” (CBS); Patrick Warburton, “Rules of Engagement” (CBS)
LEAD ACTRESS: Tichina Arnold, “Everybody Hates Chris” (the CW); Marcia Cross, “Desperate Housewives” (ABC); Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “The New Adventures of Old Christine” (CBS); America Ferrera, “Ugly Betty” (ABC); Tina Fey, “30 Rock” (NBC); Joely Fisher, “‘Til Death” (Fox); Anne Heche, “Men in Trees” (ABC); Felicity Huffman, “Desperate Housewives” (ABC); Mary-Louise Parker, “Weeds” (Showtime); Sarah Silverman, “The Sarah Silverman Program” (Comedy Central)
Of the group nominated for lead comedy actor in ’06 — Carell, “Curb’s” Larry David, James, winner Shalhoub and Sheen — only David isn’t eligible this time. One has got to figure Shalhoub is again the one to beat until someone else beats him, which has
happened only once in the past four years. His win last year over Carell was seen as a colossal upset and even enraged “Monk” exec producer Breckman, who admits “feeling like I was gypped out of a funny three-minute Carell speech.” But Carell will surely be back as a nominee, along with Golden Globe winner Baldwin and James. The remaining spot figures to go to either Braff, Lee (snubbed last year) or Sheen.
Meanwhile, amongst lead actresses, only winner Louis-Dreyfus is eligible to be a return nominee from a year ago. The four others were on shows since canceled: Stockard Channing for “Out of Practice,” Jane Kaczmarek for “Malcolm in the Middle,” Lisa Kudrow for “The Comeback” and Debra Messing for “Will & Grace.”
Poised to replace them are Ferrera (who took home the Golden Globe this year), Fey, Parker and either Cross or Huffman from “Housewives.” Also given an outside shot: Silverman for her first-year series on Comedy Central.
FAVORITES: “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC), “Heroes” (NBC), “House” (Fox),
“Rescue Me” (FX), “The Sopranos” (HBO), “24”(Fox) THE NEXT TIER: “Boston Legal” (ABC), “Brothers & Sisters” (ABC), “Deadwood” (HBO), “Lost” (ABC), “Rome” (HBO), “The Shield” (FX), “The Tudors” (Showtime) LONG SHOTS: “Battlestar Galactica” (Sci Fi), “The Closer” (TNT), “Dexter” (Showtime), “Friday Night Lights” (NBC), “Gilmore Girls” (the CW), “Medium” (NBC), “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” (NBC)
Well, “West Wing” is gone, and soon, so, too, will be “Deadwood” and “Sopranos,” meaning that a new drama series era truly is dawning in Emmyland. HBO is about to be a player in the category no longer, the first time that’s happened since the dawn of the millennium. Of course, “Sopranos” only seemed to be eligible every other year, anyway, given creator-producer David Chase’s propensity for taking his good sweet time. But after this year, only “24” will remain from among a group of veteran Emmy players in the category.
Does this mean “Sopranos” is poised to go out with a bang? Maybe, but when it comes to the overstocked drama series arena, all things and all scenarios seem possible.
Besides “Sopranos,” the front-runners look to be “Grey’s,” “House” and the still-strong-after-all-these-seasons “24.” Although “House” doesn’t look like a lock, the remaining slots might give newcomers such as “Heroes,” “Tudors” or even “Friday” a shot at Emmy. Other potentials include the peacock’s ratings-starved freshman hour “Studio 60” from producers Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, as well as “Battlestar,” “Dexter,” “Lost,” “Rescue Me” and “Shield.”
The nominees list would prove an historic one if Showtime’s bawdy historical romp “Tudors” appears in the final five. That sounds just fine to “Tudors” executive producer Morgan O’Sullivan, who likes to think his show has “a great chance of garnering a nomination” because of “the superb cast, writing, directing, camera work, design and costume.”
Not that it’s ever really just about how good one is, as Kelley — himself a 26-time Emmy nominee and 10-time winner — understands all too well. He has seen two of the performers on his “Boston Legal,” James Spader and William Shatner, take home Emmys for the show while the show itself looks to land its first drama series nomination. It isn’t the kind of problem a Kelley show typically suffers.
“I feel we just finished our strongest season,” Kelley says. “We really got a sense not just of the dramatic and comedic muscles of it but how we were able to balance the two. We sort of tugged and pulled our first year, found our rhythm in Year 2 and then found everything just kind of jelling in our third season. If ever we were going to get a series nomination, this is the year. We took our best run at it. The problem is, we’re not a show that fits easily into one of those definable slots. We’re really neither fish nor fowl.”
Leary knows just how Kelley feels. While he earned a nomination for lead actor last year on “Rescue Me,” the series is such a hybrid of dramatic tension and dark humor that it remains difficult to categorize.
“Yeah, I’m not sure these guys will ever figure out what it is that we are, and I guess that might be a problem,” Leary acknowledges. “But you know, breeding some confusion is a small price to pay for the creative freedom we have on this show. We’re allowed to go where we want to go, and we’d never have anything close to what we have on FX at one of the broadcast networks. But I mean, besides all of that, just to be a smaller show like we are and
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