Emmys 2012: 'House of Lies' Showrunner Makes Case for Long-Overdue Dramedy Category

Matthew Carnahan - P 2012
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Matthew Carnahan - P 2012

Matthew Carnahan argues that the "occasional great show" gets overlooked because there is no specific award for unconventional comedies.

There are wild parrots in my yard. Seriously. They escape, get released by pet owners and form their own colonies in the L.A. Basin and beaches, begin breeding in the wild, live a long time and whap! There you have it, a new subspecies, the wild/domesticated L.A. parrot. Doesn't have a particularly sexy or correct ring to it, but they … exist.

The "dramedy" category that has washed up on our shores over lo these many recent years of television is another such Frankenstein species. Most of us writers really don't love the word "dramedy," or in any case, I don't love it. I kind of can't stand it. And I didn't invent it. It's a word and even a notion that gets shuttled out to the exurbs of the television landscape. I'm up for a new word to describe what is now described as dramedy. And if you have something -- a new name, a new description -- hurry, because I can't say it too many more times.

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I don't even know if what I do as a writer and showrunner should or would be described that way. But … it exists. And kind of like the wild parrots that careen through the neighborhoods here in Los Angeles without a place to land, we haven't made a home for dramatic comedy in the world of awards. So the occasional great show can be passed up when it should be recognized. (Here, let's insert a shameless promotional blitz for my show, HOUSE OF LIES! Maybe a hologram that shoots right out from the screen? Maybe a thing where the actual Don Cheadle appears and, like his dirty onscreen persona Marty Kaan might do, massages the reader's back and thighs? And maybe he goes a little too far? Gets kind of frisky? Like upper, upper thighs? Something they won't forget. OK. Done.)

I know for a fact that the shows I really love are adventurous when it comes to tone; so are the books, plays and movies I love. But it seems to me there's a reward/denial ratio at work when it comes to television and the Emmys around the shows that are genre-pushing or genre-lacking. "A comedy should stay a comedy and a drama should stay a drama, no chocolate in my peanut butter." In case you're wondering, those are the kinds of things the voices in my head say. They're not terribly profound, but at least it ain't schizophrenia.

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We Americans are uncomfortable with drama when it's in our comedy. And we're uncomfortable with comedy when it's sullied by drama. In fact, the last "dramedy" to win an Emmy for best comedy series was David E. Kelley's one-hour lawyer series on Fox, Ally McBeal, back in 1994. (It also was the last hourlong series to win in that category.)

It's also worth noting the characters that so-called dramedies spawn often are favorites with Emmy voters (see Laura Linney's 2011 nomination for The Big C and Edie Falco's 2010 win for Nurse Jackie); the kind of comedic characters who inhabit darker realms and are able to live and breathe in a more dimensional and nuanced universe than their more jokey counterparts.

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And the stories those shows are able to tell (think about what Fox's Glee and HBO's Enlightened have achieved on this front) tend to walk a more Aristotelian dramatic line that allows the actors and writers to challenge both themselves and their audience. Might it be worthwhile to continue to broaden the nomination categories to include dramatic comedy? At least it would give those parrots a place to rest.

Matthew Carnahan is the executive producer of Showtime's House of Lies and creator of FX's Dirt.