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This story originally appeared in the June 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In the history of comedy and drama nominations, there’s not a very long list of examples you could truly call upsets — at least not positive ones. Stunners? Snubs? Rubber stamps? Unforgivable choices? Sure. Plenty of those.
There have been make-good picks, like Friday Night Lights finally getting nominated last year. There have even been — how to put this? — risk-taking but misguided nominations, like Joan of Arcadia in 2004. And there even was the Year of the Ridiculous, 2007, when the drama list included Grey’s Anatomy, Heroes, House and Boston Legal. (At least there was redemption when The Sopranos won.)
On the comedy side, you could argue that the past decade was dominated by stability and/or predictability, plus the occasional Very Bad Choice.
True upsets of the positive kind have been extremely rare. Arrested Development was nominated — and won — in 2004 after years of rubber-stamping and lame offerings. The last serious upset didn’t come until five years later, when HBO’s Flight of the Conchords got a comedy nom. Since 2000, there has been a tad more action on the drama side. The biggest? AMC’s Mad Men and FX’s Damages breaking into the big leagues in 2008 — with Mad Men winning for the first time (and now on a four-in-a-row streak). In 2009, AMC’s Breaking Bad kept the upset streak alive, but it ended right there.
If you’re keeping track of these upsets, well, there’s not much to keep track of. These main series categories represent a very exclusive party, and Emmy voters are inclined to stick with the usual suspects or, at best, attempt to make up for past oversights. That could very well change in 2012. The key is volume. If there are enough truly great dramas and comedies — and this year, there are — the odds of some fresh shows breaking through increase. In fact, it’s almost as if Emmy voters are in a can’t-lose situation (this is where the cynical among you break into a roaring laugh).
Here are the shows that, if nominated against the expected group, would be real upsets.
Using 2011 as a guideline, the odds-on nominees in this category are good ones: Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and The Good Wife. Forget Friday Night Lights, because it’s over, and nominating a very weak Dexter would be a mistake (though it’s the Emmys). If you’re looking for a perfectly worthy pick that might get dropped, think Boardwalk. And if voters realize Good Wife is merely a peace offering to broadcast and thus nonessential, then who knows? There could be four open spots. Possibilities:
Homeland (Showtime): Look, this should be a shoo-in — riveting greatness all around. And because of that, it wouldn’t normally be called an upset. And yet: The Wire. Which is to say, even when you expect a slam dunk, it’s the Emmys, so they could always dribble it off their feet and out of bounds. Assume nothing.
Justified (FX): This. Must. Happen. Now, three seasons in, a nomination is overdue — but not expected.
Downton Abbey (PBS): Whoa, getting cocky, are we? Downton won as a miniseries last year but has switched categories this time, putting Emmy voters on the spot.
Southland (TNT): This is the best cop show on television and truly deserves a nom.
The Walking Dead (AMC): OK, so this is tricky. An immensely popular show that might be a notch below the very top tier of dramas. And yet, it has redefined how stories about zombies are told. It’s not about the dead, but the living.
Treme (HBO): Every year we wait, but it’s not nominated. No time like the present.
The Borgias (Showtime): In its second season, it has fulfilled its potential.
Boss (Starz): Granted, Kelsey Grammer might get a nom, giving judges an out. But it could also sneak in, justifiably.
Magic City (Starz): The pay channel’s shows are getting to the far end of the learning curve. The tail end of this freshman series proves it.
Enlightened (HBO): Here’s your dark horse. It’s a half-hour with plenty of laughs, but it’s more drama than comedy. There’s nothing else like it on television, so who knows where to put it? It should get credit for that, regardless of category.
Again, using 2011 as a guide for the usual suspects is handy, because this category gets a lot of rubber-stamping (though most of the shows are deserving). Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, The Big Bang Theory and 30 Rock are all but assured a nomination. Choosing Glee would just be compounding a mistake, and the recent season of The Office was a creative disaster. That leaves two slots — unless voters decide to drop 30 Rock because it’s been in this category (and won) so many times. Possibilities:
Louie (FX) and Girls (HBO): Here’s the thing — there are no shows like Louie or Girls on television. Louie should have been nominated last year; it’s the funniest show on TV. The freshman Girls is the most original, audacious series since Louie, so these two are an absolute must — which means that if they get in, by Emmy standards, that’s a double upset.
Veep (HBO): A great political satire and, like Girls, a more easily accessible series than Enlightened — but worthy of a nomination no matter what. Wonderfully spot-on.
House of Lies (Showtime): It might be that this comedy is too crass for Emmy voters and they will only give a much-deserved nomination to Don Cheadle. But hey, you can hope.
Archer (FX): Yes, really. It’s animated, and there’s a special category for that, but there’s a sophisticated sense of humor that places Archer above standard animated fare. This hilarious and ridiculous series could easily battle standard sitcoms.
Raising Hope (Fox): Most of the best sitcoms are on broadcast, and this is no exception. Maybe the funniest show you’re not watching.
Suburgatory (ABC): More proof that we are absolutely loaded with great comedies, and this is a freshman.
Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt 23 (ABC): See above. And it might just be better. Congrats to ABC.
Community (NBC): The word you’re looking for here is overdue. One of the most original network sitcoms, it has been sorely missing from this category.
It looks as if 2012 could shape up as the Year of the Upset when it comes to nominees. The potential is there. Or maybe these deserving series don’t deserve to be called upsets at all, but simply the most worthy and laudable.
2012 PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS CALENDAR
- JUNE 11: Nominating ballots posted on the Television Academy’s website
- JUNE 28, 5 P.M.: Deadline for returning nominating ballots to Ernst & Young
- JULY 19, 5:35 A.M.: Nominations announced from the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre
- WEEK OF AUG. 6: At-home judging DVDs for Creative Arts Awards categories are mailed
- WEEK OF AUG. 13: At-home judging DVDs for Telecast Awards categories are mailed
- AUG. 24, 5 P.M.: Deadline for returning at-home judging ballots for Creative Arts Awards categories to Ernst & Young
- AUG. 31, 5 P.M.: Deadline for returning at-home judging ballots for Telecast Awards categories to Ernst & Young
- SEPT. 15: Creative Arts Awards and Ball
- SEPT. 23: ABC telecast of the 64th annual Primetime Emmy Awards, followed by the Governors Ball
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