Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Drama and Comedy Series
June 1st, 2010
What’s weird about predicting the Emmy nominations (which are on July 8th, for the record) is that it really doesn’t have anything to do with quality: sure, a bad season can certainly hurt your chances at getting an Emmy, and a good season is sure to be of some assistance, but the objective quality of a series doesn’t really matter until they’re nominated. Until that point, it’s one big popularity contest, combining old habits, much-hyped new series, and those nominees who seem particularly newsworthy.
This is why it’s possible to predict the nominees, or at least the long-list of contenders who could logically garner a nomination on July 8th, before the eligibility period even ends (which isn’t really that big a deal this year, as any series which aired the majority of its season before the deadline [like Breaking Bad] will still be able to submit their concluding episodes). And while it may seem a bit premature, I’m pretty Emmy obsessive, and wanted to take some time this week to run down the potential nominees in each category. In the case of the series and acting categories, I’ll single out some who I believe are guaranteed nominations, while I’ll likely be less able to do so with Writing and Directing (which are often much less predictable, outside of a few exceptions).
We’ll start with Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Comedy Series today, both because they’re a bit easier to handicap and because they’re the “big” races. They’re also the categories where I’m willing to put money down on a majority of the nominees, leaving only a few spots remaining for the other series to fight over in the months ahead.
And what a fight it’s going to be.
[Before we start, hats off to the great work of the Gold Derby forum members, especially moderator Chris “Boomer” Beachum, whose work continues to make projects like this a lot easier. Check out their Official 2010 Emmy Campaign Submissions thread for a full list of submitted nominees; you’ll end up there for at least a half hour before you realize how much time has elapsed.]
Outstanding Drama Series
Last year’s Nominees: Mad Men [Winner], Big Love, Breaking Bad, Damages, Dexter, House, Lost
Last year’s Drama category (expanded to seven from six due to ties) had one real surprise: Big Love sort of snuck into the category unheralded, and while its third season deserved the attention the fourth was a unmitigated disaster by comparison, so it’s out. I think the same fate will greet Damages, which followed its low-rated second season with an even-lower rated third season which despite huge star power led to its cancellation. House, also, seems to be suffering from a bit of fatigue, as the show’s ratings and its general hype were well-below recent years.
This Year’s Shoo-in Nominees: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Lost, The Good Wife
Yes, of six nominations, I’m willing to call five of them. Mad Men and Breaking Bad delivered stellar third seasons which will maintain their spot on the ballot, while Dexter delivered a decent season elevated by some series-best work from Michael C. Hall and John Lithgow (who both won Golden Globes, you’ll remember). Lost will get a healthy bump of support in an effort to recognize its legacy after its final season, while The Good Wife is the one new drama series which seems to have that scent of Emmy legacy to it.
The Contenders: Treme, House, Men of a Certain Age, Grey’s Anatomy, Damages, True Blood, 24, Sons of Anarchy
I’m willing to say that Big Love’s drop in quality is enough to take it out of the running, but Damages’ starpower and House’s recent ubiquity mean they could contend for the final spot (or spots in the case of another tie). Meanwhile, two other news shows could contend for the spot quite easily: Treme seems like an opportunity for the Academy to make up for snubbing The Wire (and has a subject matter which the voters can relate to a bit more readily in post-Katrina New Orleans), while Men of a Certain Age was a sleeper hit which in its subtlety could connect with voters of a certain age. I don’t think True Blood is going to be making a huge splash, as its second season seemed to move too far away from Ball’s Six Feet Under roots to undo the first season’s snub, while I don’t foresee 24 being rewarded for its final season, or Grey’s Anatomy being rewarded for another nondescript one – still, all three are big shows, and anything can happen.
Meanwhile, I used to have Sons of Anarchy in the “Painful Omissions” category, but it is the first series featured in FX’s substantial Emmy booklet (per The L.A. Times’ Gold Derby), which give me hope that FX is really trying to push the series in a big way. I still think it’s a long shot, but it’s given me some hope.
Most Painful Omissions from Contenders: Friday Night Lights
Friday Night Lights had a fantastic fourth season, but no one on the academy has probably seen it (it aired on DirecTV), and since they weren’t watching the show to begin with it’s clear that it’s officially never getting any Emmy attention, which is a damn shame. DirecTV did send out the entire fourth season of the show to Emmy voters, but it’s a busy year, so I just don’t think it’s going to be enough.
Outstanding Comedy Series
Last Year’s Nominees: 30 Rock [Winner], Entourage, Flight of the Conchords, Family Guy, The Office, How I Met Your Mother, Weeds
My mind still boggles at this category, and it’s weird enough that you can pretty much throw out four nominees right away: Flight of the Conchords ended its run after the second season, Entourage is no longer in the position of being the token long-running HBO comedy in the category and thus takes its much-welcome exit, Family Guy’s novelty campaign about breaking into the “real” comedy category is unlikely to be repeated amongst tense competition, and Weeds fifth season was worse than its fourth and the show is sort of riding off into the sunset at this point. I’m less willing to “throw away” the other nominees, but I do think this is going to be a category with some significant turnover.
This Year’s Shoo-in Nominees: 30 Rock, Modern Family, Glee, Curb Your Enthusiasm
30 Rock, despite a pretty average year, has pitched its tent, which means that it isn’t going anywhere. However, you’ll note that the other three series weren’t in the category last year, which is going to make for a very different competition. Curb Your Enthusiasm was nominated in 2008, and simply didn’t air during last year’s eligibility period; this year, with a big Seinfeld reunion storyline and a lot of buzz, consider it a guaranteed nominee. The same goes for Modern Family and Glee, the year’s most hyped new series which come into the race with very different pedigrees. Modern Family comes from noted sitcom producers and has revitalized the family sitcom for a new generation, while Glee has reinvented what people thought could be done on television and is breaking down barriers. Both are great stories that Emmy voters will love, and they’ll be stories that will face off in August.
The Contenders: The Office, Parks and Recreation, The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother, Community, United States of Tara, Nurse Jackie, Entourage, Bored to Death, Hung, Weeds.
Yes, that’s a grand total of 12 shows competing for two spots. You could technically make a pretty worthy set of nominees from these shows alone, so it’s an incredibly deep category that is going to result in some upsets. It’s why I haven’t put The Office into a guaranteed spot: it’s been nominated since its second season, but it had a particularly off year and I don’t know if “Niagara” will be enough to secure its spot. I think How I Met Your Mother will have to be happy with last year’s nomination, falling off in terms of hype this year and replaced by the surging Big Bang Theory (which didn’t make it to the dance last season despite Jim Parsons’ acting breakthrough). Two and a Half Men, meanwhile, got shut out last year, and while I’d normally suggest that Charlie Sheen’s scandal will hold the show back I don’t have quite that much faith in Emmy voters (hence why Entourage remains).
I’d love to think that Parks and Recreation, which had the best comedy season this year, would be a contender, but it’s not clear whether Emmy voters are willing to embrace the show’s second season surge the same way it greeted The Office in its second season, especially since Parks’ ratings haven’t sparked and it lacks the “Steve Carell’s a movie star now” factor. As for Community, another show I love, I think it’s too wacky for Emmy voters to latch onto, and it has been superseded by both Modern Family and Glee in the new show column. I’d normally think that Showtime would contend for one of the spots (as Weeds broke in for a pretty weak fourth season last year), but Nurse Jackie and United States of Tara have become defined by their lead performances, and it remains unclear whether the Academy will embrace them beyond that (or whether Weeds could ever return). I’d normally discount both Hung and Bored to Death, but then Flight of Conchords got nominated last year, and I learned to never rule out HBO’s power within this process.
Most Painful Omissions from Contenders: Better Off Ted and Party Down
I want to live in a world where a wonderfully quirky show like Better Off Ted has a shot at an Emmy nomination, but it just never caught on with anyone beyond critics and a small subsection of the population, leaving it as yet another Victor Fresco cult classic. Party Down, meanwhile, is seen by even fewer people, which doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of television’s finest comedies and deserves to be part of this already crowded discussion.
Next up: a look at the races for the Lead Acting awards, where things become a bit more open.