Emmys: The Year the TV Academy Got It Right (Analysis)

THR's awards analyst praises the 19,000-member organization, led by Bruce Rosenblum, on the success of its new voting system, and Andy Samberg for emceeing a terrific show.
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Viola Davis and Jon Hamm accepting their Emmys

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a lot of awards shows, but I had never left one at which the consensus opinion was that the ceremony was well-hosted and the winners were well-chosen until Sunday night’s 67th Emmy Awards.

Emcee Andy Samberg rose to the occasion, and there were feel-good moments aplenty — among them, Jon Hamm becoming Mad Men’s first-ever acting winner for his work on its final season; The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart returning to the winner’s circle for his last go-around; Inside Amy Schumer’s Amy Schumer claiming the first-ever variety sketch series prize; and How to Get Away with Murder’s Viola Davis becoming the first black woman ever to win best actress in a drama series. In short, it was a huge success for the TV Academy, its president Bruce Rosenblum and Fox, which aired this year’s edition of TV’s biggest night — and probably gave it a ratings boost by having an NFL game as its lead-in.

Employing, for the first time, a voting process that opened final-round voting to all members of each category’s applicable peer group rather than select blue-ribbon panels, the TV Academy awarded only four prizes to broadcast networks: Davis', for her work on ABC's ratings-bonanza, plus best supporting actress in a comedy series to Allison Janney of CBS's Mom, for the second straight year; best supporting actress in a TV movie or miniseries to Regina King of ABC's American Crime; and best reality competition series to NBC's The Voice, marking only the third time that prize hasn’t gone to CBS's The Amazing Race. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox cannot be pleased with this showing.

But the primary beneficiary of their decline was not Netflix or Amazon, the streaming services that landed an unprecedented number of nominations this year — although they each bagged major wins: Uzo Aduba, of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, won best supporting actress in a drama series, a year after winning best guest actress in a comedy series for the same show; and, for Amazon's Transparent, Jeffrey Tambor won best actor in a comedy series (becoming, at 71, the oldest person ever to win in that category) and showrunner Jill Soloway won best direction of a comedy series for an episode of her semi-autobiographical dramedy.

The hands-down winner of the night was HBO, which was TV's first cable network to breakthrough at the Emmys around the turn of the century and has led the medium at the Emmys ever since. For the first time, Game of Thrones won best drama series (for its fifth season) and Veep won best comedy series (for its fourth), leaving Mad Men and Modern Family stuck in ties with others for the record number of wins in their categories at four and five, respectively. Additionally, Thrones’ supporting actor Peter Dinklage and Veep’s lead actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus and supporting actor Tony Hale were returned to the podium; Veep won best writing for a comedy series (a nod to outgoing Armando Iannucci); and Olive Kitteridge won best miniseries and its corresponding directing (Lisa Cholodenko), writing (Jane Anderson), lead actor (Richard Jenkins), lead actress (Frances McDormand) and supporting actor (Bill Murray) awards. At last week’s Creative Arts Awards, Game of Thrones dominated in the technical categories, while Bessie won best TV movie — so the network swept the four biggest program prizes.

While many are disappointed that Mad Men didn’t get the send-off or Transparent the welcome that they had hoped for, those shows were still shown major appreciation. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Nightingale's David Oyelowo and American Horror Story: Freak Show’s Sarah Paulson, who had been the favorites to win the best actor in a TV movie or miniseries and best supporting actress in a TV movie or miniseries categories, respectively, but lost. Oyelowo's defeat comes just months after the film Academy failed to nominate him for his acclaimed performance in Selma, which is a bummer. Paulson, meanwhile, remains winless after years of standout work in this TV genre, having now played even a woman with two heads — in effect, two different characters. I am at a loss for what she has to do to receive the recognition she richly deserves, but I am certain her day will come.

In the meantime, congratulations to the TV Academy on its new and unquestionably improved voting system and to its 19,000 members for getting it almost entirely right, a year after getting it almost entirely wrong; to Samberg, who played his part just perfectly; and to Tracy Morgan, for making it all the way back from an accident that almost claimed his life. To all, a good night.