Leverence Sees Wide-Open Emmy FieldATAS executive expects shake-ups in several categories 6/20/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
The Emmy races are heating up, with nominating ballots due to
the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences on June 24. This year, the
drama categories are white-hot across the board—from the overall program
to all of the acting categories—and comedy promises some surprises. The
academy made one small rule change this year—merging the category for Best
Movie or Mini-Series—and it is taking at least one risk, inviting Jane Lynch of
‘Glee’ to host the show.
John Leverence, ATAS senior vice president of awards, took some time to talk
about the Emmys with B&C Contributing Editor Paige Albiniak. An edited
Last year, all the buzz was in comedy with two
big shows breaking out, ABC’s Modern Family
and Fox’s Glee. This year, especially this spring,
everything new and fresh seems to be in the
drama category. How do you see this dynamic?
In drama, you have automatically two nominated slots
from 2010 that are going to come open. Lost and BreakingBad both were nominated in 2010 and they are not in
the competition this year. That means that automatically
a third of the nominees won’t be the same as they
were in 2010. You then of course also have the opportunity
to move some programs back in that were not
nominated in the prior year, which can happen.
For example, Big Love was nominated in 2009, but
not in 2010. This year was that show’s last season. It’s
already shown an ability to get nominated, so it’s definitely a contender with a nominated history.
You’ve also got House, which in 2009 was in, but was
out in 2010. You have a situation where you’ve got a
seasoned professional in the lineup that has shown an
ability to be nominated.
You’ve also got that with The Good Wife and True Blood,
two new shows that came in last year and are both
back again this year.
You’ve got Friday Night Lights, which has never seen a
nomination but had a very strong fifth and final year. And
with its two stars being nominated last year, the show
certainly has come to the attention of Emmy voters.
You also have Southland, Sons of Anarchy, The Walking
Dead, which is certainly something that has surprisingly
gotten a lot of attention. You also have Rescue Me, Parenthood,
The Killing, Justified, Dark Blue—it’s quite a field.
There is the possibility of a really big shake-up in
the drama series category this year because it’s such a
strong year. If the patterns of nomination history remain,
a couple more might be moved out, and then
that means that two-thirds of the drama nominees will
be new this year.
Meanwhile, the comedy field seems less dynamic.
Glee and Modern Family seem as strong as they
were last year, and there don’t seem to be any
new shows breaking out to challenge them.
One significant thing in 2011 is that Curb Your Enthusiasm
is not in contention this year, so one of the six
slots is guaranteed to go to something new. Last year,
we had three new comedies get nominated: Glee, Modern
Family and Nurse Jackie.
In terms of the general quality of what you’ve got
over on the comedy side, comedy is in a rebuilding
program to a certain degree. You also have programs that the press
and critics generally agree are maturing.
Parks and Recreation is an example of that—that’s
a maturing show that’s really moved up on its game.
Hot in Cleveland is a show that’s coming in new this
year and really hit the ground running.
Another one that’s gotten a lot of critical attention
is The Middle. In this economy, The Middle rings pretty
true. And there’s a similar maturity to Cougar Town.
We don’t have Two and a Half Men in contention this
year, but Chuck Lorre is strong with both Big Bang Theory
and Mike and Molly. Big Bang has not yet made it
into program nomination, but it’s the same with Friday
Night Lights: one year you will get notice for performers
and that will carry on into notice for the programs.
The acting categories—particularly the supporting
acting categories—just seem wide open.
What’s your take on the acting races?
The total number of performers on the ballot this year
was in excess of 1,200 across all the different categories,
so you have a huge field. Veteran actors with great
TV Q scores and name recognition, such as Tom Selleck
on Blue Bloods, tend to have an edge.
But voters also like it when all of a sudden someone
comes out of the blue. For example, The Killing’s
Mireille Enos has been a big surprise in terms of being
the journeyman performer with very good street cred
who all of a sudden has become a major part of the
primetime pantheon of really significant actors.
It’s one of those situations that is very difficult to
call, especially in support, but even in the lead area.
One of the raps about the Emmys is that the performer
situation tends to be a popularity and name
recognition sort of thing. You see a lot of the same
people getting nominated and people wonder if it’s for
a particular show or general body of work. The voters
this year are going to have to come to terms with
the fact that there are some extraordinarily talented
performers who are doing very good work and doing
it as freshmen. I would not want to be voting on the
I think what some people would say is that we need
more nominations here, and that six nominations don’t
accommodate all of the great performances.
Would you ever expand the nominations from
six to 10, like the Oscars have done with movies?
I doubt it—we already went from five to six in a lot
of those categories. I think that the
[ATAS] board of governors is very
concerned about proliferation. They
feel that if there were a proliferation
in the number of nominations, perhaps
the value of each would diminish.
The board would err on the side
of restricting rather than expanding.
What do you and the academy
think about the choice of Jane
Lynch as Emmys host this year?
That’s a choice between a production
company, the network and the board
of governors. She’s so multi-talented.
You recall all of those Christopher
Guest movies that she was in, and
her performance in The 40-Year-Old Virgin—I think she
was kind of working on her Sue Sylvester character
in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. You’ll probably see a bit of
Sue in her hosting performance, because it will be expected.
I think that she can do so many things that she
will de! nitely be able to hit it on all eight cylinders.
Last year, the Television Academy made a
change to the nonfiction and reality categories,
clearly delineating any nonfiction show that included
any reality elements as reality. What are
some changes to the rules that we should be
paying attention to this year?
The biggest change this year is the consolidation in
the program area of mini-series and movies. There
have been numerous years in which we fell short of
the requisite number of entries in order to have five
nominations in the mini-series category. Movies have
remained pretty strong, but minis have been going
downhill in terms of their number. Last year, there
were only two: HBO’s The Pacific and Masterpiece Theater’s
Return to Cranford on PBS.
This change just brings programs into line with the
rest of this category. We already had consolidated the
general categories, such as lead actor in a mini-series
or movie. The exception to the rule was the program
categories, so now there will be one winner in the category
of Outstanding Mini-Series or Movie.
How has the industry reacted to this change?
I think that people in the mini-series area were concerned
that they were losing their category, while people
in the movie category were concerned that these
big juggernauts, like The Pacific, were going to move
in. It’s hard for a television movie to
stand up against a 10-hour epic.
What the board of governors did
was revise the way the voting is done
in the final round, so instead of asking
the voters to rank the movies and
the minis one against the other, which
they thought was apples and oranges,
each program is given a grade from 1
to 5, with five being best as to its quality.
In a situation where you have big
blockbusters, again like The Pacific,
rating the shows based on their quality
means the minis would not structurally
automatically swamp the boat.
They also kicked up the category
from ! ve to six nominees.
Last year, there were five movies nominated and two
minis for a total of seven. We’re going to six this year,
so it’s not that much different in terms of total quantity
How has the industry reacted to last year’s
change delineating reality from nonfiction?
That was essentially just a clarification so that a program
that had elements of reality would stay in the
reality category, even though we had very few instances
in which we had that kind of blend. Most documentaries
are documentaries, and most reality shows are
reality. Overall, I don’t think there was a tremendous
amount of impact.