Emmy noms have political clout

Politics at the fore as 'John Adams,' 'Recount' dominate longform

With presidential dramas about the distant and recent past — "John Adams" and "Recount" — dominating the longform Emmy field, not to mention nominees that reflect the modern cultural climate, politics is bound to be front and center at this year's Emmy ceremony, which take place just five weeks before the presidential election.

TNT's "The Company" chronicles the history of the Cold War, while the 1950s-set "A Raisin in the Sun," though not political, touches on today's economic and social realities.

"There's no way not to look at the correlation with a black presidential candidate, racism, poverty and the hard economic times and people struggling to keep their head above water," "Raisin" executive producer Craig Zadan said. "It's amazing how this is a period drama and yet how contemporary it is to the world we are living in."

HBO's "Recount," about the turbulent events following the 2000 presidential election, and "John Adams," about the trials and tribulations of the second U.S. president, saw perfectly timed releases with the highly contested primary season.

"I don't think that when we were shooting 'Recount' even last November that we could have possibly known that the primary election would have become such a huge focus and drawn out so many more people," said Kevin Spacey, nominated for his role in the movie. "Americans across the board were voting and participating and engaging and debating and discussing the election."

Kirk Ellis, who received a writing nom for "John Adams," also believes airing the mini during the primary season drew additional attention to it. He said he hopes politics doesn't play too much of a role in the selection of the Emmy winners.

"I like to think whatever wins will win on its merits and not because it's making some political point that academy voters want to make," he said. "But I think it's unavoidable that politics will be discussed."

"Recount" writer Danny Strong thinks that the ceremony has the potential for politically tinged speeches but wouldn't say if he'd go for one if he wins.

"I think people need to say whatever they want to say," said Strong, a first-time nominee. "It's their moment to speak."

Then comes the question whether ABC will choose to air political remarks. Last year, Fox bleeped winner Sally Field when she made a spontaneous anti-war statement that included the word "goddamn."

Emmys executive producer Ken Ehrlich acknowledged the potentially politically charged atmosphere but said he's not inclined to limit what can be said on the show.

"Obviously, there are FCC guidelines, but you want spontaneity, you want unpredictability," he said. "I've always had a great faith in the talent in our industry. I really trust their judgment. They have very seldom if ever let us down."

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences isn't turning a blind eye to the process. With so many nominations for "John Adams" and the awards happening so close to the presidential election, the ceremony will have a salute to presidents and politics.

"We're planning to acknowledge not just the election but the role of the president and presidential politics in the show," Ehrlich said.

While "John Adams" is expected to sweep the Emmy awards, Ellis said he's proudest of how the miniseries has contributed to the increased attention to politics.

"People are now thinking again about civic engagement and how they can contribute to their town, their city, their state, their country," he said. "I think John Adams is smiling somewhere."

Kimberly Nordyke in Los Angeles contributed to this story.