5 Stories to Watch in the 2011 Emmy Nominations
July 12th, 2011
After numerous failed attempts at writing about why I was struggling to write about the Emmy Awards, which will go down as a meta fail of epic proportions, I’ve decided just to write about the Emmy Awards now that we’re only two days away from the nominations.
These are the five stories that I’m most interested in heading into the awards, the situations that have the most potential to surprise, infuriate, or otherwise stir emotion within my person. They are not predictions so much as they are a forecast, one that I sort of hope will get to my ambivalence towards this year’s awards in the process (although that might send me back into the spiral that I’ve found myself in for the past few weeks all over again).
1. Playing the Game of Thrones
While I think that Game of Thrones is worthy of Emmy consideration, I don’t know if I’m actively rooting for it over other competitors: while it has some strong acting contenders, and will definitely compete in the craft categories, I think there is tough competition in the drama field in terms of both acting and in terms of series.
However, it is probably the show I am rooting for the most if only because I do not want to hear another word about the Emmy’s so-called fantasy bias. Yes, a number of sci-fi/fantasy shows that should have competed in the past never made it to the big dance, and I think we should lament this as we see fit. That being said, I am generally against narratives that suggest the Emmy voters always do one thing or another. There’s some evidence to suggest that the Emmy Awards fall into particular patterns, rewarding the same shows over and over again, but there are too many variables involved to track previous patterns onto new series without more careful consideration.
While Game of Thrones’ genre might prove a barrier, everything lines up for the series. It aired during the tail end of the eligibility period, even airing its most high-profile episodes right around the time that ballots were due, and it was given a substantial promotional push from HBO that would have reached a large number of Emmy voters. Combine with the HBO bump that the success of The Sopranos provided the channel, as well as the general “hype” factor that met the show online, and you have a show that would be considered a top contender if only it weren’t about dragons and direwolves.
If the show garners a nomination for Best Drama Series, with perhaps a few acting nominations to go along with it, the narrative will be that much sweeter. It will become the fantasy show that broke the streak, capturing the Emmy voters and building strong momentum into subsequent seasons, and as a fan of the show this would be deserved recognition. However, more importantly, I don’t want Game of Thrones to be the show that proved what remains an anecdotal thesis should it not be nominated: while the show’s genre may be part of the handicap it faces, it may be just as likely that not enough voters had time to watch their screeners, or that they simply preferred other shows.
A nomination or two would highlight the strong work done adapting George R.R. Martin’s world, while a dearth of nominations would only inflame existing prejudices that I worry would lead into a defeatist spiral. As a fan, I want to see the show recognized, but as a follower of the Emmys I want us to be able to focus on where fantasy fits into the picture instead of why it can never be nominated: the former is compelling, while the latter just makes me sad.
2. Turning off the Friday Night Lights
Speaking of sadness, Friday Night Lights came to a tear-jerking conclusion in its fifth season, or came to that conclusion for those of us watching on DirecTV – for those on the NBC schedule, those tears won’t be shed until Friday evening, after the nominations are announced. With Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler shockingly showing up in last year’s nominations after a bullish push from DirecTV to get the show some attention, Friday Night Lights has the first Emmy momentum of its surprisingly long life, which means that it has a legitimate shot of breaking into the Drama Series category alongside potential lead acting nominations for its stars.
What works in the show’s favor is that it is still positioned as an underdog, an everyman show competing against prestige cable. The Wire, in a similar position entering its fifth season without a series nomination, was almost too highly-praised to benefit from a farewell nomination, as there was pressure on the Emmy Awards to “do right” by the show for the sake of critics and the show’s vocal supporters. With Friday Night Lights, it feels more like a grassroots effort, even when DirecTV gave into the “Send the Entire Season to Everybody” campaign strategy last year (and this year as well). Something about the show has a real spirit of positivity to it, which would make it a popular sixth contender.
Like with The Wire, I’d argue that the nomination would have best served the show in an earlier season (probably season one, if you were to force me to choose), but I certainly support a nomination for what was a deftly handled final season that hit some truly incredibly emotional beats in its final few episodes, successfully concluding storylines that ran for as little as a single season and as long as an entire series without feeling like it was being pulled in too many directions. I’m not sure that Chandler and Britton will make it back in, with some strong emerging contenders in both categories (especially Chandler’s, even with Cranston’s exit), but I’ll definitely be anxiously awaiting to see whether there’s another name between Dexter and The Good Wife when the nominees are announced live on Thursday Morning.
3. Hell in Cleveland
Of the various pre-nomination talking points, the potential nomination of Hot in Cleveland in the Outstanding Comedy Series category has been the most terrifying. It’s not that I think the show is one of the worst on television, because I truly haven’t seen enough to be able to judge this point. What bothers me, however, is the fact that Hot in Cleveland would be taking the place of shows like Parks and Recreation and Community, shows that deserve to be here and in many ways need the nominations that will be offered.
Comedy is an incredibly non-competitive field this year, with only Steve Carell’s exit offering anything close to a compelling new narrative: Modern Family and Glee remain the only real contenders for Comedy Series, Chris Colfer and Jane Lynch will again square off against the men and women of Modern Family for the supporting trophies, and another non-comic Showtime leading lady will walk away with the Best Actress trophy. Given this, the remaining nominees in these categories don’t really matter, which is why nominations for Joel McHale, Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, and the NBC comedies in which they star would be absolutely harmless.
I’m aware that nominations don’t work this way, and that chances are the remaining slots will go to shows with large audiences (The Big Bang Theory) entrenchment in this category (The Office, 30 Rock), or the allure of prestige cable (Nurse Jackie, The Big C). But Hot in Cleveland would be the one show that I couldn’t take replacing one of the NBC comedies, as I refuse to believe that its ensemble nomination from the SAG Awards is a signal of strong academy support. I believe Betty White will garner a nomination for her work on the show, but those kinds of legacy nominations are not uncommon (even if they are usually consigned to the guest category, where she happened to win just last year for her work on SNL). For that nomination to carry an entire series to this category would be too much for me to handle, and perhaps even more infuriating than Nurse Jackie getting nominated in the same category.
And that is saying something.
4. Main Title Magic
One of my favorite categories that you have to dig for in the nomination announcement, I am interested to see who is going to eventually lose to Game of Thrones. The list of contenders was fairly diverse, and this is a space where a canceled show like Rubicon could find some traction (with main title music being another possibility for the fallen AMC series). I would also expect that Showtime’s Shameless will compete here, as a good combination of music and image make for a striking and fitting opening that packs a lot of information into a short running time. Meanwhile, I’d expect the awful Boardwalk Empire main title is a potential “WTF” nominee along the same lines as Nurse Jackie last year, based simply on the added length offered HBO compared to network contenders. There is a definite art to these title sequences, and even if the sophistication and technical prowess of the Game of Thrones opening is likely to blow away the competition I think it’s a category we should be watching carefully.
Similarly, while Game of Thrones will also be a strong contender for main title music, don’t count out a number of other projects. The Music nominees are juried, so we didn’t get to see the list of final contenders, but the category’s recent rescue from Emmy category purgatory will hopefully give some gifted composers a chance to be rewarded for their melodic stamps that often set the tone for an entire show.
5. The Moviniseries Mashup
Honestly, I am more excited about this than anything else during the Emmys, even if I do not expect any surprises at this stage in the game. It’s somewhat strange that they are merging the TV Movie and Miniseries categories in a year where both would have been viable categories, but such is the consequence of a couple of weak years for the Miniseries in particular. With PBS’ Downton Abbey, HBO’s Mildred Pierce, and Sundance Channel’s Carlos all competing, we have a fairly epic showdown between some popular trends within these categories. British Miniseries have performed well in the past, and Downtown benefits from a large scale, a showy performance from Maggie Smith, and a length more befitting of a series (in part because it is one, which makes its presence in this category a bit controversial). Meanwhile, Mildred Pierce is yet another in a line of high-profile, star-studded HBO projects (and is sure to garner Kate Winslet an Emmy), while Carlos is a bit of a wild card but comes with a sense of cinematic prestige.
In terms of nominations, the big question is whether Downton has enough momentum to garner nominations outside of its Dame – Smith seems like a lock, but HBO is usually more successful at winning acting nominations, and Mildred Pierce and their stable of TV Movies (including Too Big to Fail, The Sunset Limited, and Cinema Verite) will fill out a large number of spaces as they have done in the past. Throw in PBS Great Performances stars like Patrick Stewart, who often fill out a few spots, and you’ve got a stacked field that may leave Downtown Abbey looking like a dark horse even though my gut tells me it’s the feel-good favorite heading into the awards themselves.
Sure, some part of me thinks they picked the wrong year to merge the categories given that no TV Movie has a chance in hell of competing with the Miniseries in the category, but it’s stirred up some more interest, which I hope will drive even more people to the delightful Downton.
- I remain unconvinced that it will make a big splash, but I’d be curious if FX’s pedigree and its definite rise in critical/popular support could get Justified into some major categories. I am certainly rooting for the show as well as stars Olyphant/Martindale/Goggins, but I don’t know if an FX show without Glenn Close can break through.
- As was pointed out on Twitter by Tim Yenter, the fate of Men of a Certain Age is another story that has some traction leading into the awards, but I wrote more about that situation yesterday so it didn’t quite make the cut above. In short: Braugher’s got a great shot at a nomination, but the show is out of contention and Romano’s going to have a tough time getting close to getting into drama actor.
- In the Guest categories, I’m watching Glee most closely: with Neil Patrick Harris not recurring and Mike O’Malley moving to supporting, it leaves a gap should the academy want to reward a male from the show. I’ve been scoffed at when I put forward Darren Criss before, and I understand that his acting is not the reason for his success, but I really think the voters want to reward some from the show here and he remains the most likely candidate in my eyes.
- For more thoughts on the Emmys, friend of the blog Cory Barker did some exhaustive Emmy coverage over the past few months, with both a set of predictions and countless “Dream Ballots” that offer further insight.