The Trick is to Actually Watch TV: The 2010 Emmy Nominations

The Trick is to Actually Watch TV: The 2010 Emmy Nominations

July 8th, 2010

The Emmy nominations (which you can find in full here) are less a sign of what’s truly great on television and a more a sign of what the Emmy voters have actually been watching.

Series and performers are nominated for Emmys for one of two reasons: either the Academy members watched episodes carefully and saw them deserving of an award, or they looked at their ballots and chose a familiar name, a much buzzed-about series, or the first name on the ballot. And, frankly, most years the latter seemed to be their modus operandi, to the point where I’ve started to disassociate voters with any notion of television viewership – I’m not even convinced most of them own televisions.

However, for once, I’d say that the 2010 Emmy nominations seem to have been made by people who actually enjoy the medium, with plenty of evidence to demonstrate that voters actually watched many of the shows they nominated and discovered not only the most hyped elements of that series but also those elements which are truly deserving of Emmys attention. There are still plenty of examples where it’s clear that Emmy voters didn’t truly bother to watch the series in question, and all sorts of evidence which indicates that the Emmy voters suffer from a dangerously selective memory and a refusal to let go of pay cable dramedies, but the fact remains that this is the most hopeful Emmy year in recent memory.

It isn’t that every nominee is perfect, but rather that there is evidence of Academy voters sitting down in front of their television and watching more than a single episode of the shows in question, making them less like soulless arbiters of quality and more like actual television viewers – it might not stick, but for a few moments it’s nice to finally see some nominees that indicate voters aren’t so much different from us after all.

Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler have been deserving of Emmy Awards attention for four seasons, but they had a problem: no Emmy voters were actually watching Friday Night Lights. It’s a problem that has faced numerous Emmy contenders in the past, wherein they’re doing some absolutely stellar work in a place where no one is actually watching it. Like everyone else, I was ecstatic when I heard the news that Britton and Chandler were each nominated for Lead Acting in a Drama Series, but it doesn’t prove that Emmy voters finally listened to our pleas and sat down to see how great these performances were: rather, it means that DirecTV was extremely smart to send the entire (yes, the entire) fourth season to Emmy voters earlier this year. It’s a tactic that Showtime used to garner Huff an absurd number of nominations for a show no one was watching back in 2005, and it’s now a tactic which has righted a long-standing Emmy wrong, which makes me extremely pleased. It’s a fascinating concept, really: Emmy voters sit down and watch an entire season (or substantial parts of a season) of television and reward the performers who gave consistently great, career-defining performances on that series.

And yet, at the same time, their viewing was clearly selective: while the Writer’s branch rewarded the series for “The Son,” one of the best hours of television all year, Zach Gilford was shut out of the Guest Actor in a Drama Series category for his stunning work at the heart of that episode. One presumes, based on the writing nominations, that voters watched and loved the episode, but they didn’t reward Gilford accordingly because there were bigger fish (like guaranteed winner John Lithgow, former nominees Gregory Itzin and Ted Danson, etc.) in the category. In Guest Actor, which is filled with film actors and former TV stars, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that voters can watch as much TV as they want, but sometimes they’re simply going to find a familiar name and mark it off. While Chandler and Britton have been part of the conversation before, and were elevated from a dark horse position to grab nominations, Gilford had no name recognition, and so he stands as a sticking point. And, considering the love for the series’ stars, that the show didn’t garner an Outstanding Drama Series nomination feels like an oversight. If voters watched enough of the season to reward Chandler and Britton, didn’t the show deserve a spot over the pleasurable, but ultimately uneven, True Blood (which garnered no other nominations)?

For every moment of clarity the Emmy voters offer, they respond with a decision which reflects either poor taste or a lack of television viewing experience. I hadn’t even considered that the Academy would nominate Nurse Jackie for Outstanding Comedy Series, considering that the series is a far stretch from a comedy and had an uneven first season which failed to impress me beyond Edie Falco’s performance, Merritt Wever’s brilliance, and a couple of guest turns. We knew Falco was garnering a nomination, but the series was a surprise, and so we wonder: does this mean that the voters actually watched and loved Nurse Jackie? Or does this simply mean that they are so in love with Falco and pay cable channels like Showtime that they sort of just presumed the show was of high caliber? Based on the fact that Wever didn’t garner a nomination for her legitimately comic role, I’m willing to say that voters didn’t see enough of Nurse Jackie to place it into this race over shows like Parks and Recreation and Community, which is an unfortunate circumstance which limits my praise of the Emmy voters and their choices – I’d be saying the same about Damages, which racked up a huge collection of acting nominations, were it not for the fact that it was rightfully bumped from the Outstanding Drama category.

In a show like Glee, meanwhile, the Emmy voters giveth and the Emmy voters taketh away. On the one hand, there is evidence to suggest that they went beyond the hype to see what parts of Glee truly work: while Jane Lynch was a sure bet for a nomination, Chris Colfer and Mike O’Malley are the heart of this show, and with little to no name recognition they each garnered a nomination for their work in “Wheels,” which was featured in the series’ Emmy mailer and which is likely the series’ showcase episode. It demonstrates that the Emmy voters are not necessarily sheep, and that when they see an episode like “Wheels” (also nominated for Paris Barclay’s direction), they see something beyond the musical numbers and the series’ stars, which is a strong reflection on their objective analysis. However, at the same time, the nominations for Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele feel somewhat less progressive, reflecting more the hype surrounding the show than the show itself – I don’t mean to suggest that they didn’t do fine work this season, but the amount of “Lead Acting” they did was fairly limited, and they are out of place in their categories in terms of the quality of non-musical material they were given. Emmy voters clearly watched Glee, but they also watched the way people were responding to Glee, and the series’ huge number of nominations reflects both of these modes of viewing.

We could say the same about Modern Family, which picked up a string of acting nominations but not one for Ed O’Neill, the family patriarch – while the other performers are deserving, that O’Neill didn’t garner a nomination either shows that the Academy only watched the pilot (where O’Neill’s character isn’t particular interesting) or that they thought he was a Lead Actor and didn’t find him on the Supporting Ballot. We could say the same about Breaking Bad – while voters nominated the series as well as Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, Dean Norris wasn’t rewarded for his stunning work in “One Minute” (nominated for Direction) and Anna Gunn was similarly shut out of her category. Plus, Vince Gilligan deserved a nomination for his work crafting some absolutely stunning television, and yet the series couldn’t break into the writing category.

These are shows worthy of nominations for Outstanding Comedy and Drama Series according to the Academy, but the nomination pattern for the rest of the awards demonstrates what the Academy was really paying attention to, and in some cases this shows that they weren’t willing to nominate the equivalent of a Chris Colfer from other series (like perhaps Rico Rodriguez over Jesse Tyler Ferguson). On the Drama side, they were actually quite successful on this front: The Good Wife earned an expected nomination for Best Drama Series, and expected attention for former winners Julianna Margulies and Christine Baranski, but Archie Panjabi plays a bit role in the series’ pilot but became the series’ breakout character over time. Her nomination (as well as a guest nomination for Dylan Baker alongside more high-profile Alan Cumming) is demonstrative of the Emmy voters seeing what viewers will seeing, which is probably true in the case of The Good Wife because it hits the Academy’s demo square in the nose. I just wish that the voters had extended this to other series, as Colfer and Panjabi are the only two choices which demonstrate this level of close viewing.

However, there are some situations where I feel like the Emmys got it just right: Lost’s final season was uneven at points, but “The End” was some fantastic television, and I’m very pleased to see Lindelof, Cuse and Bender get rewarded for their work on the episode (and the series, which was also nominated). However, the Academy’s Lost love extended into both expected (Emerson and O’Quinn in Supporting Actor) and unexpected (Fox in Lead Actor, Elizabeth Mitchell in Guest Actress) places, and in a way which I think really reflects the strengths of that finale. Fox did some absolutely great work all season, and this is especially noteworthy considering just how much Jack fell off the radar as a character in seasons four and five. That he finally grabs his first nomination now feels like more than the Academy rewarding a series in its final year, as he was the perfect choice to reflect the series’ performances this year – throw in Mitchell grabbing a nod to make up for her snub in Season Three, and you have a fitting goodbye to a series that deserves one (a goodbye not extended to other canceled series like 24 and Law & Order).

Obviously, there are disappointments in terms of what the Academy wasn’t watching, period. The Academy was unwilling to accept that Parks and Recreation and Community were the best two NBC comedies to air this year, and while Amy Poehler garnered a nomination for the former there was no such luck for Nick Offerman, whose Ron Swanson was the season’s best character. Similarly, Sons of Anarchy was FX’s best drama series by a country mile this year, and yet the series and its star (Katey Sagal) were shut out, a bitter pill to swallow even with a couple of personal favourites breaking into her category. There were also some surprises in terms of what the Academy weren’t watching: I was sure that The Big Bang Theory would break into Comedy Series, but Jim Parsons and Christine Baranski garnered the series’ only major nominations, which isn’t a huge problem considering the season’s uneven quality but it is a surprise.

My biggest issue with the Emmy awards in the past has been their laziness, and for the most part that seemed absent this year: Simon Baker didn’t make it back in for The Mentalist, Family Guy failed to repeat in Comedy Series, and Entourage went without a single acting nomination and was finally dumped from the Comedy Series category. These are all good changes reflecting of the dynamic television development scene at the moment, and even if their replacements were uneven there were, at the very least, replacements. In a year with a lot of big new shows, the Emmy voters rewarded those big shows in a big way, but often in a way which showed they were actually paying attention (although Ed O’Neill might beg to differ); they may have accepted certain pre-determined favourites, and their one bit of major service to critics may have come as a result of a bold network decision to send an entire season rather than an independent judgment of a series’ quality, but the fact remains that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Emmy voters actually watched, and perhaps even enjoyed, a season of television in a way reflective of something more than a bunch of stuffshirts who kept nominating Jeremy Piven and James Spader against our wishes.

And while there will surely be plenty of “mistakes” on August 29th, I feel as if the Emmy voters have to this point surpassed my low expectations for their decisions, which makes me at least a little bit hopeful that the best in television will truly be rewarded – someone pinch me.

Cultural Observations

  • I didn’t focus on the two defending champions above, but 30 Rock and Mad Men got their expected nominations: the only major difference is that Tracy Morgan and Jack McBrayer dropped out of acting races for 30 Rock, while Mad Men broke out in the acting races with January Jones, Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery and Robert Morse garnering nominations for the series – if they had grabbed a Guest Actress nod, they would have hit for the cycle (which only Glee was able to do this year).
  • While many are pointing out that voters are “Team CoCo” for rewarding Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show, the fact of the matter is that they’ve always preferred Conan to Leno so this isn’t a statement in his favour so much as a trend. However, O’Brien’s Late Night didn’t make it into this category last year, so I do think that Conan’s notoriety helped get him into this category, and will likely help him win it.
  • Very pleased to see Andre Braugher grab a nomination for TNT’s Men of a Certain Age (another show I’d have liked to see in True Blood’s place, joining Treme, Sons of Anarchy and Friday Night Lights) – it’s a brave performance of a man who struggles with his weight and is woefully insecure, and while I don’t think voters watched the show (in that it wasn’t nominated, and Ray Romano’s work was ignored) and simply chose Braugher based on his previous wins, they got lucky with this one.
  • Speaking of basic cable, the biggest shocker in the major acting categories is Sharon Gless, who grabs USA Network an acting nomination for her work on Burn Notice. A few years ago, when Gless made the Top 10 runoff for the series, I was frustrated: the show, at that point, didn’t know what to do with Madeline, and so the nomination felt at odds with the series’ best qualities in favour of their love for Gless’ pedigree. However, at this point, Gless has evolved into an important part of the ensemble, and she did some really tremendous work in the third season that may not be more Emmy worthy than some of the snubs (like, for example, the Grey’s Anatomy ladies), but is a nice inclusion in the category. The odd thing, though: that her Cagney and Lacey partner, Tyne Daley, didn’t pick up a guest nod for the show.
  • I have written extensively about my hatred for Nurse Jackie’s credits sequence, but I’m not too upset with its nomination in the Main Title Design category: its problem is that it is thematically oppressive to the show, restating the Pilot’s themes without any real connection to the character’s evolution beyond that point. However, voters would have seen it on its own, and there it’s impressive at a technical level, so I sort of understand. This was before I realized that the best Main Title sequence of the year, HBO’s How to Make it in America, wasn’t nominated, and that the series’ absolutely awful 70s porn theme song was nominated as well. If it beats The Pacific, Human Target, or Parks and Recreation, I will honestly quit the Emmys forever – you have my word.
  • Double nominees include Christine Baranski, Neil Patrick Harris, Tina Fey, and Jon Hamm – Andre Braugher and John Goodman both had legitimate shots at it, but failed to break through in Guest Actor and Supporting actor, respectively.
  • Speaking of Goodman, Treme picked up directing and song nominations, but yet another David Simon series gets ignored by the Emmys, even with some tremendous performances from Khandi Alexander, Melissa Leo, Kim Dickens and Goodman. A real shame, although hopefully they wake up in Season 2 (not that that helps everyone in that list…).
  • I think it’s fair to say that Tony Shalhoub is no longer the best comic actor on television, but this was Monk’s final season, and so I’m not surprised or even that angry to see him return to the race – he’s a good actor on a good show, and he deserves a final farewell. He has no chance of winning, but the show could pick up a win in Outstanding Music and Lyrics, where Randy Newman’s finale song competes against Steve Early, the Lonely Island’s “Shy Ronnie,” and HIMYM’s “Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit.”
  • Saturday Night Live continues its dominance with nominations for Tina Fey and Betty White’s hosting duties along with Kristen Wiig (whose ubiquity is becoming a liability more than a benefit, but the voters didn’t seem to notice this) – however, oddly, Jon Hamm was nominated for his work on 30 Rock as opposed to his hosting gig on SNL, which is particularly strange since 30 Rock’s guest acting dominance died off this year (with Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Matt Damon, James Franco, and many others missing out).
  • In terms of Reality Competition, there is literally no change: Survivor failed to break into Reality Competition Series, and Cat Deeley was unable to unseat non-host Heidi Klum in the Reality Host category. In the latter case, it’s an injustice that grows worse with each passing year, but in the former case I’m not surprised. Yes, Survivor had two great seasons this year, but they were great seasons for fans of the game rather than laypeople, and I think their appeal was more or less inside baseball to an Academy who has soured on the show beyond Probst, who will likely win his third straight Emmy.
  • Speaking of So You Think You Can Dance, the series grabbed two nominations in the Choreography category, with Mia Michaels and (Canadian!) Stacey Tookey representing the show. I’m a bit surprised to see that Travis Wall wasn’t nominated, but I’m thrilled that Tyce Diorio’s Cancer Dance didn’t make it into the category, and SYTYCD alum Chelsie Hightower is present representing Dancing with the Stars. Also note the showdown between judges, with Michaels competing against Adam Shankman’s Oscars choreography.
  • Pleased to see Michael Giacchino garner a nomination (his first in a while) for his work during the Lost finale (which should, hopefully, win him a second Emmy), but Bear McCreary deserved to be there for his work on Human Target – his consolation prize, a Main Title Theme nomination, is nice, but it’s an unfortunate snub.
  • On the animation front (weird, I know), glad to see Prep and Landing garner a nomination (and potential win) in short form, while Batman: The Brave and the Bold is nominated for Music Composition (Dramatic Score) for their musical episode featuring Neil Patrick Harris, which is a bit bizarre and could technically make it stand out in the category.
  • The always interesting casting awards show no big surprises: only standout is United States of Tara, which was otherwise shut out beyond Toni Colette’s repeat nod.
  • A bit surprised that Chloe Sevigny couldn’t garner a nod for Big Love, but I was pleased to see the series prove unable to make it into any major categories for a weak season, and was very pleased to see Mary Kay Place join the expected Sissy Spacek in Guest Actress: Adaleen’s a great character, and had some good material this year.
  • Two and a Half Men stays out of the Comedy race and Charlie Sheen’s legal troubles kept him out of Lead Actor, but returning winner Jon Cryer is oddly joined by Holland Taylor: while Supporting Actor (Comedy) went with some major turnaround, Actress didn’t experience the same sort of change, which is a bit strange in Taylor’s case considering that she wasn’t nominated last year.
  • We end with my biggest gripe of all, and one that I’ll probably expand to a full post: that The Pacific could garner 24 nominations (including every single sound editing nomination) without a single acting nomination is as much of a travestry as when Band of Brothers did the exact same thing. I get that TV Movie/Miniseries is the domain of the Oscar-winners and thespians, but that James Badge Dale, Joseph Mazello, and Jon Seda went unrecognized for serving as the heart and soul of that miniseries suggests that it was only memorable for its technical merit, a short-sighted and ignorant perspective which tarnishes Emmy’s reputation.
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8 Comments

Filed under Emmy Awards

8 responses to “The Trick is to Actually Watch TV: The 2010 Emmy Nominations

  1. Pingback: Emmy Nominations 2010 « Sarah Loves TV

  2. Pingback: The 2010 Primetime Emmy Award Nominations « Cultural Learnings

  3. karinrg

    The continued snub of Cat Deeley infuriates me. Heidi Klum shouldn’t ever be nominated – what hosting does she actually do? And Phil Keoghan, while I like him, does very little as well. Cat Deeley is arguably the best Reality Host out there, yet she never gets nominated? The Reality host and show nominations are just flat out lazy if you ask me. They never change. Ugh.

  4. Abe

    Fantastic analysis, as always! I’m taking the categories one at a time and posting reactions every half hour today.

    I agree with pretty much all of what you’ve said. I left “Nurse Jackie” after not liking the pilot, and I feel exactly the same way about Sharon Gless, then vs. now. I don’t particularly like “Community” or “Men of a Certain Age,” though I was surprised by the total shut-out for the show given the fact that they liked McHale enough to have him announce, and Braugher’s nomination makes it seem like he can get nominated for anything (he was up for a one-season medical drama in 2000, right?).

    I am a very big “True Blood” fan, so its inclusion excites me, but besides Amy Poehler, there’s not much to be too excited about since I never watched more than the pilot and a select few episodes of “Friday Night Lights.” I agree about Morrison’s inclusion but not Michele’s – while she may not have stayed a lead throughout the season, I do think she was great; she just wasn’t given that much to do.

    Anyway, looking forward to winner predictions! This should be a fun ceremony.

  5. lmss

    There are some excellent nominations this year that you pointed out, but I do take offense at your comment regarding James Spader. I for one was thrilled with each and every one of his nominations. There are very few actors who could perform those tremendously long closings so brilliantly given the short amount of time available to learn and process the lines during the shooting schedule for each episode. On top of that in almost every episode he would take his character from screwball comedy to dramatic…the show and character demanded an amazing actor and they had it in James Spader. Unfortunately the Academy does not have a category for dramedy (what a shame) and that was the problem. Also his win in 2004 for The Practice garnered much approval from the critics…he was excellent. If it is actors who do the voting than I can see why they as professionals would look at Spader’s performance and say…”Wow, how does he do it?” and because they were impressed they voted for him.

  6. John

    Jane Lynch is also a double nominee.

    And I’m surprised you’ve dismissed Tony Shalhoub. Never doubt the Shalhoub. This nomination means he has been nodded for every season of his show (with three wins!).

  7. Jeremy

    Not nearly enough Parks and Recreation love. It was my favorite show of last season and while I’m happy to see Amy Poehler nominated, I really wish the show had more of a presence in this year’s nominations.

    And Jon Hamm nominated over Michael Sheen for 30 Rock’s guest stars? You’ve got to be kidding me.

  8. Brr

    You didn’t mention the nominations for Dirty Jobs and Mythbusters, 2 of my family’s favorite shows! I was curious to know if splitting the competition shows into two categories was a new development this year–does anyone know?

    Also, on the lack of nominations for actors in “The Pacific”, perhaps this was due more to the ensemble nature of the piece rather than to an intentioned slight.

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