Emmy Wrap: Final Cut


By Randee Dawn

Arguably, the greatest stress in a TV producer's life comes after the season has wrapped, when he must select the best episode from the past 20-odd to send to the Emmy judges. In the case of comedy and drama series, just one episode has to stand in the nomination process (though once the series is nominated, the producer can submit six total episodes for final balloting). Nonfiction and reality producers only ever get one pearl to send forward, for both nomination and final balloting, so it has to be particularly special.
What follows is a brief look at the episodes seven shows selected for the pre-nomination process, and some of the behind-the-scenes agonizing that ultimately got them shortlisted in their outstanding series categories. Nominees will have to wait until Sept. 21 to see if they chose wisely.

Boston Legal (ABC)

Episode: "The Court Supreme"

In this episode, the lawyers try to overturn a death sentence and end up arguing before the Supreme Court. The setup created its own particular obstacles, explains exec producer Bill D'Elia. "Since we were dealing with real people in portraying the Supreme Court judges, we were attempting to cast not only the best actors but actors that bore some reasonable resemblance to the actual court. James Spader's closing was perhaps his longest of the season, and on a set that was new to us, so the physical production of the Supreme Court scenes was challenging. To produce an episode of this magnitude and maintain our episodic budget was also challenging. That said, over the course of a full season there are many episodes that present these challenges. The trick is to balance these episodes with those that take place without a large guest cast and on our standing sets."

House (Fox)

Episode: "Frozen"

Executive producer Katie Jacobs and creator/executive producer David Shore are in charge of making the decision for the medical drama, and Jacobs says the real challenge is to find a quality episode that doesn't feature a lot of backstory. "It has to be a good and compelling hour for both the fans and those who aren't all that familiar with 'House,'" she explains. "This year, we went with an episode that both David and I saw as quintessentially what our show is about. It was strong and very much classic and traditional in terms of what we are. We'd considered going in a different direction and submitting, 'House's Head,' which was wildly ambitious and imaginative and unformulaic. But while that's a fun piece of TV for our viewers, we're not sure it would have been embraced by the academy. You've got to take those factors of familiarity into consideration."

Inside the Actors Studio (Bravo)

Episode: "Alec Baldwin: Inside the Actors Studio"

Baldwin had been the first guest on the show when it debuted in 1994, and a return visit was in order. Notes Bravo general manager Frances Berwick, "He was able to speak about his body of work since then, and about '30 Rock' (NBC) and his comedic side. We felt it was really representative of the season." But, adds host James Lipton, the show was exciting for more reasons than just that: "Alec is full of surprises, one of which is that he does great mimicry. He took two acting students from the audience, brought them up on stage, and taught them how to mimic Al Pacino. That I had not anticipated."

Lost (ABC)

Episode: "The Constant"

As with "House," backstory is one of the major obstacles a show like "Lost" has to overcome. "We can't make stand-alone episodes," explain writers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, answering questions jointly via e-mail. "So we went with the one we felt was our best work and decided we would live or die by it. Fortunately, the panel seemed to respond well to it. 'The Constant' was a very complex episode that involved consciousness traveling. Instead of our normal two-week story break, it took us five weeks to break the episode. The challenge was to do something that involved a lot of trippy mythology, but not lose the viewer in a morass of exposition. We worked very hard at finding an emotional through-line for the story, and at keeping the story at all times pointed toward our emotional ending -- the reunion of Penny and Desmond."

The Office (NBC)

Episode: "Local Ad"

Deciding what episode to send over brings up a host of questions, says executive producer Greg Daniels. "There is really no hard and fast rule for how we conclude which episode to submit. It all depends on our mood and the direction we believe the wind to be blowing. When it's just one episode, we try to send over what we think to be, simply, the best. It may not be the funniest, but the most powerful, the one that pays off with heart as opposed to pure episodic comedy. That's the old debate. With 'Local Ad,' we opted to go with straight-out laughs. But next year that may not be the case. The process keeps changing in our minds in part because the TV academy procedures keep changing."

This American Life (Showtime)

Episode: "Escape"

The bulk of this episode is about a man, Mike Philips, whose muscles no longer work and who has to communicate with his thumb via computer. "I was worried about putting it on the air originally because it sounded so corny," says host Ira Glass, "but it's an amazing story. He has this great girlfriend, his life is moving along, and he's fighting with his mom because he wants to move out of the house and be independent." At one point, Glass asks Philips who he'd like to read his e-mails and messages. He responds, "Either Johnny Depp or Ed Norton, because they're badasses." The next moment, Johnny Depp has taken over narrating Philips' messages.

As for Glass, his biggest surprise of the season was that "the experiment (moving from radio to TV) worked out. It's nice when it doesn't blow up in your face and the actual professionals think you're OK."

Two and a Half Men (CBS)

Episode: "Rough Night in Hump Junction"

For "Men" producers, the decision over what episode to send revolves not as much on the funny elements as it does characters. Says creator/executive producer Chuck Lorre, "It's got to be about funny, of course. (But) we give special emphasis to the episodes where Jon (Cryer) and Charlie (Sheen) get to shine. One advantage we have as a four-camera filmed audience show is we get to see a response. The other (shows) don't get to gauge that because what they do is closer to shooting a movie. The flip side of that coin is, we're a high-wire act. Sometimes it's really clear from the audience that something ain't working, so we'll rewrite while we're shooting the episode. It's exciting and unnerving and stressful but ultimately very rewarding. I wish we could do that with the Emmy judges. You know, step in while they're watching it and say, 'Hey, no worries, we can punch it up right here in the room. We're here to make the show work for ya!' That's one rule change I'd support."

Reporting by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, P. Ryan Baber and Ray Richmond

Noms by Network

HBO: 85
ABC: 76
CBS: 51
NBC: 50
PBS: 33
Fox: 28
Showtime: 21
AMC: 20
Sci Fi Channel: 15
Bravo: 11
FX Networks: 11
TNT: 10
A&E:  9
Comedy Central: 8
Discovery Channel: 6
Disney Channel: 6
History Channel: 4
USA Network: 4
Cartoon Network: 3
The CW: 2
Nickelodeon: 2
Animal Planet: 1
Biography Channel: 1
Lifetime: 1
MTV: 1
Starz: 1
TLC: 1

Source: ATAS -- Does not include Web or VOD nominations.

Noms by Program (Five or more)

John Adams (HBO): 23
30 Rock (NBC): 17
Mad Men (AMC):  16
Pushing Daisies (ABC): 12
Recount (HBO): 11
Bernard and Doris (HBO): 10
80th Annual Academy Awards (ABC): 9
Tin Man (Sci Fi Channel): 9
Cranford (Masterpiece) (PBS): 8
Dancing With the Stars (ABC): 8
The Office (NBC): 8
The Andromeda Strain (A&E): 7
Boston Legal (ABC):  7
Damages (FX):  7
Lost (ABC):  7
Two and a Half Men (CBS): 7
The Amazing Race (CBS): 6
The Company (TNT): 6
Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale (HBO): 6
Saturday Night Live (NBC): 6
Ugly Betty (ABC): 6
The War (PBS): 6
American Idol (Fox): 5
Autism: The Musical (HBO): 5
Battlestar Galactica (Sci Fi Channel): 5
Comanche Moon (CBS): 5
Dexter (Showtime): 5
Entourage (HBO): 5
50th Annual Grammy Awards (CBS): 5
Grey's Anatomy (ABC): 5
Late Show With David Letterman (CBS): 5
Project Runway (Bravo):  5
This American Life (Showtime): 5

Source: ATAS