Emmy Nominations: TV Academy Is Getting Its Act Together (Analysis)

Bloodline Ben Mendelsohn Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Netflix

Bloodline Ben Mendelsohn Still - H 2015

The Emmy nominations announced on Thursday morning, while probably not the exact set that you or I would have chosen, are nonetheless praiseworthy. Unlike those of recent years, these do not look like rubber stamped selections, but rather selections that reflect thought — and the zeitgeist.

Here are my three biggest takeaways from them.

1) Changing of the Guard

We are living through a time of immense change in the world of television and the viewing habits and preferences of its viewers. With few exceptions, broadcast networks inherently attract more viewers, but cable and Internet TV inherently attract edgier programming. And while it's taken a while for the TV Academy's selections to reflect that, I think they now do.

Of this year's 14 shows nominated for best drama series or best comedy series, only two were from the broadcast networks: NBC's outgoing Parks and Recreation and ABC's declining Modern Family. CBS failed to land a single series nom — not even for its ratings behemoth The Big Bang Theory or its critical darling The Good Wife. Equally noteworthy, to me, is the fact that the two really exciting new broadcast shows, Fox's drama Empire and ABC's comedy Black-ish, were also excluded from these top races.

Cable maintained its strong presence, with drama noms for AMC's Better Call Saul and Mad Men, PBS's Downton Abbey, HBO's Game of Thrones and Showtime's Homeland, and comedy noms for HBO's Silicon Valley and Veep and FX's Louie.

But, more strikingly, members of the TV Academy finally caught up with the world of Internet TV, allotting it an unprecedented four series noms: for the Netflix dramas House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black — both nominees last year, the latter in the comedy category — and for the new Netflix comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and the new Amazon comedy Transparent.

The aforementioned Internet TV shows also landed acting noms, as did Netflix's new drama series Bloodline (for Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn) and comedy series Grace and Frankie (for Lily Tomlin). And Acorn TV even landed a TV movie nom for Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain, Poirot’s Last Case.

In other words, TV Academy members apparently learned how to use their Rokus!

2) Making New Friends But Keeping the Old

Looking over some years' nomination announcements, I have truly wondered if TV Academy members had actually watched any television in the last 12 months — particularly new shows — or just checked off the same boxes they did the year before. This year, there is no question that they did their due diligence.

Consider the number of new shows that got series and/or acting noms: Netflix's Bloodline (Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn), Grace and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (comedy series, plus Tituss Burgess and Jane Krakowski); ABC's Black-ish (Anthony Anderson), Empire (Taraji P. Henson) and How to Get Away with Murder (Viola Davis); AMC's Better Call Saul (drama series, plus Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks); Amazon's Transparent (comedy series, plus Jeffrey Tambor); Fox's The Last Man on Earth (Will Forte); HBO's The Comeback (Lisa Kudrow); and Comedy Central's Inside Amy Schumer (Amy Schumer).

For those of you counting at home, that's three series noms and 14 acting noms, which is pretty incredible.

Equally interesting to me was the number of shows that have been on the air for years that received love this year in categories in which they did not receive love last year. The fact that Showtime's drama series Homeland — which won the category in 2012 and was nominated again in 2013 before jumping the shark and missing a nom in 2014 — is back as a best drama series nominee tells me that people actually watched the show last year and this year and voted accordingly.

Less clear to me is why the leads of two other drama series — Tatiana Maslany of BBC America's Orphan Black and Liev Schreiber of Showtime's Ray Donovan — each had to wait until their show's third and second seasons, respectively, before finally receiving noms. Perhaps TV Academy members just liked their episode submissions more this year than in other years — or perhaps the backlash that followed their previous snubs resonated with them. Either way, justice has at long last been served.

3) Remembering the Little Guy

Heading into Thursday's announcement, everyone in the world knew that Jon Hamm of AMC's Mad Men, Louis C.K. of FX's Louie, Julia Louis-Dreyfus of HBO's Veep and a host of other performers were slam-dunks for noms — and they deserve to be. The question, for me, was whether or not TV Academy members would also remember to acknowledge some great performances by lower-profile folks. To my delight, they got most of them.

In addition to Maslany, I was rooting for Ben Mendelsohn, who gave one of the greatest performances in the history of television on season one of Netflix's Bloodline — he wound up with a supporting actor in a drama series nom, as did Michael Kelly, who was far and away the best thing about season three of Netflix's House of Cards. Bob Odenkirk, the veteran comedian/character actor, faced no shortage of doubters when it was announced that he would anchor AMC's Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul, and yet he proved the naysayers wrong with a brilliant season that has now been acknowledged in the actor in a drama series category, the same one in which Vince Gilligan's previous muse, Bryan Cranston, dominated for the last several years. Elisabeth Moss, the quiet soul of Mad Men, was snubbed last year after receiving four prior noms, but my prayers that her Peggy would be saluted once again, for her magnificent work during the show's final season, were answered. And the list goes on.

The TV Academy certainly missed a few gems, though.

FX's The Americans, which won this year's Critics' Choice Award for best drama series, was outrageously snubbed for the third year in a row, as were its terrific stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys. And two 2015 Golden Globe-winning actresses, Ruth Wilson (Showtime's drama series The Affair) and Gina Rodriguez (The CW's comedy series Jane the Virgin), both came up empty, as did Critics' Choice supporting actor in a comedy series winner T.J. Miller (Erlich Bachman on HBO's Silicon Valley).

Three of my favorite scene-stealers also got robbed: Timothy Simons (Jonah on HBO's Veep) was once again ignored in the best supporting actor in a comedy category in favor of his likable but more one-note costar Tony Hale; Judith Light (Shelly on Amazon's Transparent) was boxed out of the best supporting actress in a comedy race by, among others, her costar Gaby Hoffman; and Lorraine Toussaint (Vee on Netflix's Orange Is the New Black) missed out on a best supporting actress in a drama spot by, among others, her costar Uzo Aduba (who shifted into this category because of a rule change after being classified — and winning an Emmy — as a guest actress last year).

Also eminently deserving of at least a nomination — even if they are perennial contenders and past winners — were Maggie Smith for PBS's Downton Abbey, Julianna Margulies for CBS's The Good Wife and Jim Parsons for CBS's The Big Bang Theory. (It's kind of bizarre that Margulies and Parsons were admired enough to win last year but not enough to land even a nom this year.)

And last, but certainly not least to me: how the hell was Ellie Kemper, the heart and soul of Netflix's comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and arguably the most likable person in the world, not nominated, especially when her series and four of her costars (supporting actor Burgess and supporting actress Krakowski and guest actor Hamm and guest actress Tina Fey) were?! Totally bizarre.

Alas, one can't have everything.