The Cancelled and the Underrepresented
The 2009 Creative Arts Emmy Awards
For those who aren’t particularly interested in the seedy underbelly of the Emmy Awards process, the Creative Arts Emmys aren’t particularly interesting. Generally, the awards tend to be a bit more scattershot than the main awards, meaning that few “favourite” shows take victories and thus there isn’t a lot of mainstream attention generated by them. However, more and more each year there’s interest in terms of smaller shows getting a chance to shine in awards not deemed worthy for network television consumption, and more importantly for us pundits there’s a chance to see if there are any trends emerging (as tenuous as any trend can be when different voting bodies determine each set of awards).
This year, through the joys of Twitter, I was able to both share the news of various winners and be able to get some response (from Todd VanDerWerff, Alan Sepinwall, and in particular Jaime Weinman), which resulted in some interesting discussion. So, to kind of pick up on that, here’s a few of the key areas of interest from the awards that made me pause either out of interest, excitement or concern.
Pushing Daisies wins Big, Still Cancelled
The Emmys were never Pushing Daisies’ problem: although the show wasn’t able to garner a nomination as a series in its first season, it did grab nominations for Lee Pace and Kristin Chenoweth, as well as some attention in the creative arts categories. This year, though, the show received a really fitting swan song as it picked up three awards (art direction, costumes and makeup), showing that even in an ill-fated and shortened season the show was noticed by voters in terms of its craftsmanship. The show has now won six Emmys total (picking up trophies for Directing, Music Composition and Editing last year), which helps cement the show’s legacy as a wonderful if tragic moment in television history.
Battlestar Galactica finds Mixed Bag in Final Year
After two back to back wins in Visual Effects, and a hugely effects-driven finale, one would have expected the show to dominate in that category. However, to my shock at least, Heroes picked up the Special Visual Effects award for the first time, although BSG didn’t go home empty handed. Spreading the love around, the show picked up the award for sound editing, which is well deserved if not quite the award one would have expected them to be contending as closely for. Either way, it’s great to see another part of the show’s great team behind the scenes pick up an award, and its unfortunate that areas where the show should have contended (See: Bear McCreary’s amazing scoring work) were uncontested.
Changes Wreak Havoc on Comedy Guest Acting
Of the changes made to the Emmys this year, the one that sort of slipped under the radar (and didn’t face a lot of pressure from any particular group) is the elimination of the individual performance in a variety/comedy/music special/series. This was the category that Stephen Colbert infamously lost to Barry Manilow, and in which musical performers, talk show hosts, and (most interesting for our purposes) Saturday Night Live hosts contended.
This year, both Tina Fey and Justin Timberlake won awards for their appearances on Saturday Night Live, and in both instances it raises some really interesting questions. Now, in Fey’s case, this actually was a guest performance: she wasn’t the host in that episode, and her stint as Sarah Palin really was a guest spot (albeit in the really strange variety show format, which would have put her in the old category especially since they submitted a clip show of ALL of her appearances). However, Timberlake’s win is an example of something that would certainly have remained in the Variety Performance award, which makes for an interesting test case. Considering how much of each individual episode an SNL host is in, I think it’s a strange comparison with other guest stars, and I can see why voters would lean towards Timberlake in comparison with the other contenders.
It just raises the question of whether the loss of that category has now opened the door for the more showy SNL roles to elbow out some more complex supporting work on the comedy side of things…although, realistically, they probably would have given it to the oldest possible nominee if not to them, so I’d still be complaining. Although, what else is new?
Ellen Burstyn ended up winning the battle of the three award-winning ladies nominated for star turns on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (which is a magnet for the dramatic guest acting categories), but the other side of the coin was more interesting. On the acting side, you had Jimmy Smits in what was really a supporting, season-long role on Dexter and Michael J. Fox as part of a similarly lengthy guest spot on FX’s Rescue Me. I think in some ways the “Guest” distinction hurt Smits, whose character was more about arc than anything else as he turned from friend to foe, while Fox’s performance and pedigree seemed to stand alone better with the judges. I ended up 2/4 on my predictions in these categories (missing Burstyn and Timberlake), so I think it’s respectable enough.
Chuck a Repeat Victor
You probably didn’t even know that Chuck won last year’s Emmy for Stunt Coordination, so you’d be surprised all over again to see the show pick up its second straight Emmy in the category against stiff competition (Burn Notice, 24). I wonder if the show gets extra points because of the comic nature of its stunts, or perhaps that its beautiful/charming/comic cast is made to look so badass in the context of those scenes. Either way, I’m not complaining, and the stunts really were great in Season 2.
The Emmys vs. The Internet
In an effort to appear more hip with the kids as it relates to online entertainment, the Emmys have started handing out awards for interactive experiences online, including short form programming that debuts in the online arena (or elsewhere that could be considered “broadcast” in some form). In the end, it was internet juggernaut Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog that took home an Emmy for Joss Whedon (his first, after getting only a single writing nomination for Buffy the Vampire Slayer) over a set of Battlestar Galactica webisodes, while Lost’s “The Dharma Initiative” interactive web experience and Jimmy Fallon’s pre-debut online material picked up creativity awards.
The Power of PBS’ Little Dorrit
Going into the ceremony, everyone was expecting for HBO’s Grey Gardens to dominate the various creative arts categories like art direction, costumes, and cinematography amongst the Miniseries/Movie/Special categories. However, to the surprise of at least me, PBS’ miniseries Little Dorrit has been more dominant, tying or taking all of those categories and quite a few that one would have expected Grey Gardens to dominate in. Perhaps there’s some backlash against the slightly glossy nature of Grey Gardens (which I really liked, but which does seem very much “produced”), or perhaps it’s just that Dorrit is that good. Either way, it’s changed my sense of the Movie/Miniseries races in a major way.
The Curse of David Simon and Ed Burns
One thing it does tell me is that Generation Kill isn’t going to set the Emmy world on storm, and is unlikely to defeat Dorrit next weekend. I was hoping this would be a chance for Simon and Burns to avenge the Emmy-less Wire, and while the miniseries did pick up well-deserved wins for sound editing/mixing as well as Visual Effects there isn’t really a chance of them picking up the award for Best Miniseries when they didn’t pick up cinematography or Casting or picture editing (all of which it could have easily won). The buzz just isn’t there, and Dorrit seems like too much of a slam dunk with voters.
Questions of Casting
Jaime Weinman had a lot of valid points about just what criteria voters are using when deciding, for instance, that 30 Rock has the best casting for a comedy series. Since the award goes to a series in any year, it can’t be for the regular cast itself (unless it’s the show’s first year, as it was for Drama winner True Blood), so it means it’s a question of guest stars. However, as Jaime noted, 30 Rock’s casting directors don’t have to work particularly hard to get in the kind of celebrities they do thanks to Fey and Lorne Michaels’ industry clout, and the way the show handles guest stars (see: not well, most of the time) would tend to indicate that parts are written for people rather than some sort of wish fulfillment “I hope we get X for this part!”
It’s tough to know exactly what their criteria is, but almost all of the show nominated fit into the same category of not really have to work very hard in terms of pulling together a casting department. Really, the winner of this award should of been Starz’ Party Down, which despite leaning heavily on Rob Thomas’ personal connections really relied on the strength of its guest stars and was really only able to survive as a series on their strength.
- EDIT: Forgot to make note that for the first time in a few years So You Think You Can Dance goes home Emmy-less. Perhaps it was the spectacle of Hugh Jackman, but the Oscars’ Salute to Musicals picked up the only choreography award (they can award as many as they feel are deserving), defeating Mia Michaels (Mercy), Tyce D’Orio, Tabitha(r) and Napolean and Dmitry Caplan from the FOX series.
- Edit again: turns out that the press release goes against the website, and Tyce D’Orio won an Emmy for his work on the show. Just goes to show you that you can’t always trust sources.
- Dan Castellaneta picked up his fourth voiceover Emmy, beating first-time nominee Harry Shearer – The Simpsons, however, lost the short-form animation Emmy to South Park.
- Interesting to see Mad Men get almost entirely shut out – I don’t think it really impacts its chances at next week’s ceremony, but the Creative Arts Emmys are supposed to be its showcase, and yet it lost Art Direction (for the evocative and stunning “The Jet Set”) to the cancelled Pushing Daisies, which I don’t think anyone saw coming. It did, however, pick up an Emmy for hairstyling.
- Chris Rock won the battle of the comedians (including the Academy Awards writing team, Louis CK, Ricky Gervais and Will Ferrell) for his writing work on his HBO Special Kill the Messenger, although he and everyone else lost the Variety/Comedy special category to the Kennedy Center Honours.
- Kathy Griffin, who won the last two awards for Reality Program for her Life on the D-List show, was hosting this year’s awards, and went home empty handed: she lost the Comedy Special category, and then lost Reality Program to A&E’s Intervention. Many had expected TLC’s Jon and Kate Plus 8 to compete in this category, but it wasn’t nominated and as it turns out the Academy went for some more serious fare this year.
- Interesting that a number of Alzheimer’s themed programs (including HBO’s Memory Loss Tapes and Grampa, Do You Know Who I Am?) won awards, but The Alzheimer’s Project (HBO’s critically acclaimed documentary) lost out in Nonfiction Special. A real headscratcher, that one.