Friday, July 18, 2008

Emmy Awards – An Overview

The Emmy Award nominations were announce on Thursday and it's time to give an overview of the "big stories." And there are some interesting stories, mainly around the drama categories and who and what was nominated, and where the shows came from. In this overview I'll look at eleven categories and you'll see what I mean. The Emmy Awards will be broadcast on September 21, on ABC.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy

  • Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies)
  • Jean Smart (Samantha Who?)
  • Amy Poehler (SNL)
  • Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men)
  • Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty)

The only real surprise here is the inclusion of Amy Poehler, who will be starring in the Office spin-off which as it turns out isn't really a spinoff, for her work in Saturday Night Live. Is it me or is it rare for a member of the ensemble cast of SNL to be nominated in an Emmy category. My best intuition (okay, my best guess) is that it's going to be Kristin Chenoweth.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama

  • Candace Bergen (Boston Legal)
  • Rachel Griffiths (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Chandra Wilson (Grey's Anatomy)
  • Sandra Oh (Grey's Anatomy)
  • Dianne Wiest (In Treatment)

This is the category that last year's winner Katherine Heigl refused to be nominated in because she said that her storylines in the season weren't good enough. She was right but she came off sounding like an ego-driven bitch who wants to be the star, which I'm pretty sure is not what she wanted when she said it. I think it could come down to Rachel Griffiths or Dianne Weist. Bergen is nominated because she's always nominated and while I think that Chandra Wilson's storyline was the strongest on Grey's Anatomy I'm not sure the show was at its best. I haven't seen either Brother & Sisters or In Treatment but I don't think you can get a bad performance out of either Griffiths or Wiest.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy

  • Jeremy Piven (Entourage)
  • Kevin Dillon (Entourage)
  • Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)
  • Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men)
  • Rainn Wilson (The Office)

Not hard for me to pick the two top contenders in this one – either Neil Patrick Harris or Rainn Wilson. Jon Cryer is great as the straight man in Two and a Half Men, and the show always picks up nominations (see Holland Taylor above) but those nominations always seem to come off as an acknowledgement that the show is the highest rated comedy around, and that's the only reason why that show is even mentioned. I don't really know Piven or Dillon's work in Entourage but I think that Harris and Wilson's performances are first rate. Go with the two broadcast guys and you pick'em.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama

  • William Shatner (Boston Legal)
  • Ted Danson (Damages)
  • John Slattery (Mad Men)
  • Zeljko Ivanek (Damages)
  • Michael Emerson (Lost)

Now here's where we start to see the big trend in this year's awards. Three of the five nominees are from cable shows, and one is from a show on a network not renowned – at least recently – for original production. Ignore Shatner; he's nominated because he's always nominated. I haven't seen Damages, even though it's been shown on Showcase up here, but it's always good to see Ted Danson in a dramatic part. John Slattery is suitably slimy for his role in Mad Men. Still I think it's most likely to go to Michael Emerson for his deeply unsettling turn as Ben Linus in Lost.

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy

  • Christina Applegate (Samantha Who?)
  • Tina Fey (30 Rock)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (New Adventures of
    Old Christine)
  • America Ferrera (Ugly Betty)
  • Mary Louise-Parker (Weeds)

I want to say Tina Fey for this one but I could definitely see Mary Louise-Parker taking it. From what I've seen Christina Applegate's part seems to be oriented towards slapstick and people underestimate how hard that is to do, while I think the scheduling of New Adventures of
Old Christine have hurt Julia Louis-Dreyfus's chances. As for America Ferrera, I've been left with the impression (from what I've read) that this hasn't been an outstanding season for Ugly Betty. Definite edge to Tina Fey.

Outstanding Actress in a Drama

  • Glenn Close (Damages)
  • Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)
  • Holly Hunter (Saving Grace)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)

Another Drama category where there are more cable shows than broadcast series. Ignore Field and Hargitay and (and I hate to say this) Kyra Sedgwick. This one is going to come down to Glenn Close for her part as no holds barred litigator Patty Hewes, and Holly Hunter for the self-destructive Grace Hanadarko. I've seen more of Saving Grace than I have Damages and I have to say that Close's role would have to be something special to take this one from Hunter. Then again this is Glenn Close and I can't imagine her coming to TV as a regular except in an outstanding role. Three Oscars in this category and amazingly Glenn Close has none of them even with the most nominations.

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy

  • Steve Carell (The Office)
  • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
  • Lee Pace (Pushing Daisies)
  • Tony Shalhoub (Monk)
  • Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men)

Comes down to Steve Carell or Alec Baldwin, with Lee Pace having only a slightly better chance than Sheen (who has one of those "we hate this show, but it's the top rated comedy around so we'd better acknowledge it" nominations) and Shaloub, who gets nominated as a matter of course. It's still a two horse race and I'm not sure who'll win.

Outstanding Actor in a Drama

  • Gabriel Byrne (In Treatment)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
  • James Spader (Boston Legal)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)

Six nominees in this one (the Emmys do that if there's something that resembles a tie in their voting; it doesn't have to actually be a tie, it just has to be very close). Two thirds of them are for shows on Cable. Two of those shows are on AMC and only one is on HBO?! Three of the shows are in their first season. Again, you can practically eliminate the broadcast shows. Much as I love Hugh Laurie he's in a deep field on this one. I'm going to say Michael C. Hall for Dexter but there's a part of me wants to say Jon Hamm for his conflicted but amoral advertising man in Mad Men. Give it to Hall though.

Outstanding Reality-Competition Series

  • Amazing Race
  • American Idol
  • Dancing with the Stars
  • Top Chef
  • Project Runway

Bet the house on The Amazing Race and wonder at the stupidity of CBS for not ordering a second series in the 2007-08 season.

Outstanding Comedy Series

  • 30 Rock
  • The Office
  • Entourage
  • Two and a Half Men
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm

NBC has the best comedies around. Not the best rated (Two and a Half Men and most of the CBS Monday line-up) but consistently the funniest and most sophisticated. It comes down to the low rated 30 Rock and the veteran The Office. I think maybe The Office this year.

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Boston Legal
  • Mad Men
  • Dexter
  • House
  • Lost
  • Damages

Again there are six nominees. Three are from cable and guess where I think the winner is going to come from? My heart says Mad Men but my head and my gut instinct say either Dexter or Damages and I don't know which.


If anything is apparent from these nominations it is that for this season at least Cable has taken charge in the drama categories. And it's not just HBO this time around. In fact none of the Drama Series, only one of the Actors (in both Drama categories) and one of the Actresses is in an HBO series. In fact most of the nominated cable series and acting nominees are from Basic Cable networks – AMC, FX, and TNT. And given the lacklustre performance of the broadcast networks this past season it shouldn't be a huge surprise that this is the case. Sure, they were hurt by the strike but there has to be more to it than that. And I think that there is; the networks are running scared. They're running scared because when they try something that's a bit "out there" like Jericho or Friday Night Lights or (dare I say it) Studio 60 they get hit in the ratings. Sure, ABC took a different tack last season with Pushing Daisies and Dirty Sexy Money and were generally rewarded. But let's face it, it's easier and safer to put on another procedural, or a hospital show, or a lawyer series, than it is to push the envelope. And let's admit it; thanks to FCC regulation (or rather the seemingly capricious way the current FCC has chosen to rule) and the pestering protests of organizations like the Parents Television Council and the American Family Association the broadcast networks aren't in a position to push the envelope with edgier stories and the sort of language and images that some of those edgier stories need in order to be told well. And the Emmy Awards in drama are reflecting this, by taking the term "Outstanding" seriously. The sad but true fact is that in Drama there is little that is truly outstanding on Broadcast Television. The network productions dominate the Comedy categories of course but this is even as the sitcom, which used to be a dominant form, is effectively restricted to one night a week on each of the five networks.

I'm putting up the first of the Emmy polls. The polls for the four acting categories I'm doing this year will run for a week, while the polls for the three series categories (Comedy, Drama and Reality Competition) will run for ten days. This time around it's Outstanding Actress in a Comedy. As always vote for the actress that you think should win, not necessarily the one you think will win.

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