Programming

Emmys Bring the Drama

Handicapping nominations in the top categories, including a crowded list for top drama 6/06/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Outstanding Drama Series

Last season was all about comedy, with
ABC’s Modern Family and Fox’s Glee reinvigorating
the genre. This year, it’s drama’s turn.
With so many good ones to choose from,
Academy of Television Arts & Sciences voters
have a slew of tough choices to make.

That said, the race is AMC’s Mad Men’s to
lose. Critics considered the three-time winner’s
last season uneven, but it did have some
strong episodes, particularly the remarkable
pas-de-deux, “The Suitcase,” in which Jon
Hamm and Elisabeth Moss share some of the
series’ most honest moments.

“Even in an off-year, it’s better than most,”
says Joanne Ostrow, television writer for The
Denver Post
.

If Mad Men manages to make it four wins
in a row, it will join some of TV’s most elite
company, including The West Wing and Hill
Street Blues
, and L.A. Law, which won four
non-consecutive trophies.

But CBS’ The Good Wife could give AMC’s
darling a run for its money: “Smartest drama
on broadcast TV,” says Ostrow. “If it were on
HBO, it would win everything.”

The show’s stunning season ! nale aired
right before Emmy voters went to fill out
their ballots, which could give the show an
edge. And there are plenty of industry insiders
who would love to see the Best Drama
trophy return to broadcast after being dominated
by cable since 2007.

Another strong contender is HBO’s gorgeous
period piece, Boardwalk Empire, which
is peerless when it comes to sets, costumes
and cinematography. Boardwalk Empire, produced
by Oscar winner Martin Scorsese and
The Sopranos’ Terence Winter, won both the
Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild
Award, making it a force this Emmy season.

Caveats for Boardwalk are that even some
critics found it boring, while others say it
aired so long ago that voters won’t remember
it.

Voters’ fond memories of some of those
shows might also be dimmed by this spring’s
arrival of three dynamic dramas: AMC’s dark
wonder, The Killing; HBO’s epic fantasy piece,
Game of Thrones; and Showtime’s lush and
lusty The Borgias, starring Oscar-winner
Jeremy Irons. And even without Breaking Bad
in contention this year, AMC has one more
program in the mix, zombie hit The Walking
Dead
, which attracted
the largest adult 18-49
audience basic cable has
ever seen.

Critics embraced The
Killing
from the moment it
premiered. “I would push
hard for The Killing as best
drama,” says Tom Jicha,
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
TV writer. “The masterful
cast, who should also get
Emmy attention, makes
you feel the pain of the
heinous crime.”

Even having mentioned
all of those possible
selections, Emmy
voters still have several
shows to consider. Emmy has already demonstrated
its love for Showtime’s Dexter: Last
year, the show won Emmys for Best Writing
for a Drama and Best Guest Actor in John
Lithgow, and lead actor Michael C. Hall has
been nominated the past three years in a row.

FX’s Justified just took home a Peabody,
making it a certified contender as well.

NBC and DirecTV’s Friday Night Lights—one
of TV’s most-loved but least-watched series—
wrapped its run this season. NBC’s emotionpacked
Parenthood can’t be considered a hit,
but it’s one of television’s best written and
acted series, with a capable ensemble cast.

Finally, Fox’s mythology-packed Fringe is
a highly unlikely candidate, but those who
love the show love it with a fervent passion.

“It’s the relationships, not the mythology,
that make it a favorite,” says Ostrow.

Outstanding Comedy Series

While drama presents an embarrassment
of riches, comedy was somewhat stagnant
this season.

The only new player in the pack is Showtime’s
The Big C. The show is well-written,
clever and occasionally brilliantly acted, but like most of Showtime’s comedies—Nurse
Jackie
, United States of Tara and Weeds—the
comedy is often tough to tease out. Leading
lady Laura Linney is sure to be nominated
for Best Actress in a Comedy, which should
help The Big C’s overall chances. Showtime
women have won the past two years
in a row—Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie) in 2010
and Toni Collette (United States of Tara) in
2009—demonstrating that the Academy is
paying attention to what the premium channel
has to offer.

Showtime is sure to push Jackie, which was
recently renewed for season three. Falco’s
win last year upset the field and seemed to
surprise even the star, who proclaiming from
the podium, “I’m not funny!” With Showtime
pulling the plug on Tara, a quirky but littlewatched
series about a Midwestern mom
managing multiple personalities, that show
is likely out of the running.

Season two of ABC’s Modern Family was
arguably stronger than its first, putting the
solid performer in good position to repeat.
Fox’s Glee remains just as fun as ever, but it’s
going for so many things in every episode—
including show-stopping performances and
heart-wrenching story lines—that it’s hard
to categorize it purely as a comedy.

“We forgive the inconsistency
and cheesiness,” says Ostrow. “It’s
still the rare show with music and
fun characters the family can watch
together. Also what we used to call
‘pro-social values….’”

NBC’s 30 Rock used to be the show
to beat in this category until Modern
Family
came along. Most critics do
not expect 30 Rock to reclaim its
crown, but the show is consistently
hilarious, and that should bring it
yet another nomination.

30 Rock’s Thursday night companion, The
Office
, also is expected to win a nomination.
The series has been nominated every year
since 2006, when it won its first and only
Best Comedy trophy. This season the show
has sentiment behind it since it was the wellliked
Steve Carell’s last as bumbling but lovable
office manager Michael Scott.

Sticking with NBC on Thursday night,
critics adore both Parks and Recreation and
Community. Of the latter, Ostrow says, “The
writing is exceptional, with its knowing,
sharp, post-post-modern-or-whatever wit.”

Finally, many think CBS’ The Big Bang Theory
one of the highest-rated comedies on
television—is long overdue for a win.

Other options include Showtime’s Episodes,
starring Matt Le Blanc, and ABC’s dark
horse, Cougar Town. “So mean, so funny!”
says Ostrow.

Best Actor in a Drama

Mad Men’s Jon Hamm is the man to beat
this year, especially with three-time winner
Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad out of the
picture. Last season, viewers saw Hamm’s
charismatic Don Draper bottom out before
their eyes, exhibiting both power and deep
insecurity in his performance.

But with all of the dramas to choose from
this year, Hamm will have stiff competition.

Steve Buscemi of Boardwalk Empire won
the Golden Globe this year for playing
compelling and charismatic Enoch “Nucky”
Thompson, a crooked Prohibition-era
politician. Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons plays
Pope Alexander VI with guile and gusto on
Showtime’s The Borgias, while Justified’s Timothy
Olyphant gets rave reviews as Marshal
Raylan Givens.

Dexter’s oft-nominated Michael C. Hall
manages to make a serial killer sympathetic,
while William H. Macy has a decent chance
of earning a nomination for playing a blotto
drunk on Shameless.

Hugh Laurie has been nominated five
times for House, but has never won. Laurie is
consistently brilliant but the show is aging,
lessening his chances.

The appealing Kyle Chandler of Friday
Night Lights
was finally nominated for his
portrayal of football coach Eric Taylor last
year. With the series ending its run, Chandler
might earn some sentimental votes.

Best Actress in a Drama

The leading contender in this category
is Juliana Margulies, who plays lawyer and
wronged political wife Alicia Florrick on The
Good Wife
. “Her best work ever,” says Ostrow.

A couple of other good wives have a shot
at getting nominated, including Friday Night
Lights
’ Connie Britton and Monica Potter of
Parenthood. And one not-so-good wife, Sons
of
Anarchy’s Katey Sagal, has a huge following
supporting her that Emmy has thus far
ignored. Last year’s winner, Kyra Sedgwick
of The Closer, will likely win a nomination
because her popular show is taking a bow
after this season.


Mad Men
’s January Jones could be nominated again, although her role last season
was much less meaty than it had been in
prior years. The series’ Elisabeth Moss contended
in the supporting actress category last
year, but with episodes like “The Suitcase,”
she could possibly be bumped up to leadcategory
consideration.

Newcomer Mireille Enos is a popular
choice of critics for her understated work as
a police detective on The Killing, while Shameless
Emmy Rossum has a shot at a nomination
for her portrayal of Fiona Gallagher, a
girl who has been forced to become mother
to her many siblings.

Best Actor in a Comedy

The comedy field feels thin, with lots of
actors likely to score repeat nominations.

Last year’s winner, Jim Parsons of Big Bang
Theory
, remains a favorite.

30 Rock’ s
Alec Baldwin
won this category
in 2008
and 2009 and
was nominated
in 2007. Steve
Carell has been
nominated five
times for The
Office
but has
never won;
hav ing just finished up his
last season, it
could finally
happen. And Glee’s hyper-talented Matthew
Morrison, still riding high on the success of
Fox’s singing spectacular, also could earn a
repeat nom.

Less likely but possible nominees in this
category include Joel McHale for Community
and Andre Braugher for Men of a Certain Age.

One thing is guaranteed: Two and a Half
Men
’s Charlie Sheen will not be winning! this
category.

Best Actress in a Comedy

Some of the industry’s most talented actresses
are showcased in comedic roles.

Showtime’s trio of Falco, Collette and Linney
already have been mentioned. Linney is
already something of an awards favorite. In
January, she won a Golden Globe for The Big
C
, and her shelf currently holds three Emmys
(most recently for her 2008 performance as
Abigail Adams in HBO’s John Adams) to go
with her two Oscar nods.

Tina Fey, triple threat of 30 Rock, can never
be counted out, nor should her good friend,
Parks and Recreation’s Amy Poehler, who
manages to turn bureaucracy into good fun.
Glee’s Lea Michele was nominated in this category
last year and could repeat, although
her role isn’t particularly funny.

Possible newcomers in the category include
Melissa McCarthy (Mike and Molly), coming
off an unlikely star turn in Bridesmaids, and
Patricia Heaton (The Middle), who is hardly
a newcomer to Emmy (having won two for
Everybody Loves Raymond) but who has not
been nominated for her current show. Cougar
Town
’s Courteney Cox, a primetime mainstay,
would love nothing more than to finally
nab a nomination.

Best Reality Series

The TV Academy divided nonfiction series
into two categories in 2010: Reality Series
and Nonfiction Series. The
latter includes any show that
is purely factual, such as PBS’
Frontline, while any show that
manipulates the truth in any
way automatically becomes a
reality series.

Most broadcast reality series
are of the competition variety,
in which someone wins a prize,
and those shows fall into a third
Emmy category.

Broadcast mostly steers clear
of the non-prize reality shows,
but popular series such as CBS’
Undercover Boss and Discovery’s
long-running Mythbusters are likely to be
nominated again.

Cable will be competing across the board,
with several networks preparing entries.
Lifetime will submit Coming Home, which
sees military spouses reunited with their
families. A&E’s The First 48, which has a
loyal fan base, follows real-life homicide detectives
as they try to solve cases within the first 48 hours of a crime’s occurrence.

Best Nonfiction Series

Nonfiction is PBS’ playground, with highquality
offerings such as American Experience,
American
Masters
, Nova,
POV, Antiques
Roadshow
and
Great Performances  all
on the slate.
PBS won this
category last
year with Ken
Burns’ six-episode
National
Parks
series.

Discovery also usually posts a slew of series
nominated in this category. Last year, Deadliest
Catch
and Life were each contenders.
History should be a player here as well
courtesy of its 12-part series The Story of Us,
and TLC might have an opportunity with
Sister Wives, a show that was more sensationalistic
in concept than execution.

E-mail comments to
palbiniak@gmail.com
and follow her on Twitter: @PaigeA

 

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