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Hard-Boiled or Sunny-Side Up: The Divisive but Satisfying 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards

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Hard-Boiled or Sunny-Side Up:

The Divisive but Satisfying 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards

How do you like your Emmys?

Oh, don’t pretend as if you don’t have an opinion. Anyone who is reading this column has some sort of an opinion about the award show and its brethren, lavish ceremonies designed to recognize the very best in a specific industry. However, the Emmys are not a universally accepted success story, and while there are some who view the awards as a valuable institution for recognizing talent others see them as an antiquated and slow-minded organization hellbent on refusing to accept that which is different in favour of more traditional “awards” fare.

As such, Emmy producers really have two entirely different bodies of viewers to be concerned with (throwing out those who would never watch the show in the first place). On the one hand, they have those people who believe in the dignity of the Emmy Awards, who highly respect the work of the Academy and believe quite strongly that this is a serious occasion meant to honour the very best in television. On the other hand, you have those who are angry that Battlestar Galactica never won a major award, and that The Wire and The Shield got snubbed for their final seasons, and who are convinced that any time the Emmys do make a good decision it was by some sort of fluke.

What host Neil Patrick Harris and producer Don Mischer put together for the 61st Annual Emmy Awards was what I would considering to be the Sunny-Side Up version of the Emmy awards. With a charming and self-deprecating Harris at the helm, and a sarcastic and rarely serious John Hodgman playing the role of announcer, they staged a show which spent nearly every moment not taken up by awards being self-deprecating or dismissive of something, whether it’s the future of broadcast television or Harris’ own bitterness over his loss in his own category.

For those who have little to no faith in the Emmy institution, this was an ideal point of view which gave them an entertaining show that one almost feels joins in on their frustration, if not directly. However, for those who look for a more hard-boiled and serious awards ceremony, chances are that they viewed this year’s Emmys as an ill-conceived attempt to pander to younger audiences.

Me? I’m just happy they weren’t scrambled.

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Cultural Learnings’ 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards LiveBlog

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2009 Primetime Emmy Awards LiveBlog

September 20th, 2009

For Cultural Learnings’ complete review of the show, CLICK HERE. For the full live blog, read on below.

I was kind of on the fence about liveblogging the Emmys this year, I really was. Twitter has provided an outlet for quippy remarks and observations that I might have while watching the event, and I ultimately end up writing a huge 2000-word rundown when the show ends so it’s not as if a LiveBlog is going to stand as my only coverage of the big event here at Cultural Learnings.

However, ultimately I want something to be able to refer to when piecing together my final rundown of the night’s festivities, and a LiveBlog seems like the kind of setup that will capture my reaction to the various winners/moments in the ceremony for those who want to know how everything is going down as it’s going down.

So, if you want to follow along with the show or check back later to see my subjective take on a particular moment in the show, here’s where you’re going to want to be. Meanwhile, if you want things elaborate and substantial, check back later tonight for my full analysis of the evening’s winners, losers, and everything in between.

7:20pm: As we wait for the show to begin, feel free to check out my predictions for the big night (the acting categories all link to long analysis pieces of each category): Cultural Learnings’ Full Emmy Predictions.

7:54pm: Enjoying Christine Baranski’s guest spot in a pre-Emmys airing of The Big Bang Theory – an omen for Jim Parsons? Baranski was always going to lose to Tina Fey, but she was damn good in this episode.

8:00pm: And we’re off and running. Television: useful science of the electronic age, indeed. Making fun of Wipeout as “Unsophisticated” is a bit low of CBS, but I guess they don’t have anything quite as lowly…except for Big Brother. Anyways, time for NPH.

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Cultural Learnings’ Complete 2009 Emmy Awards Predictions

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2009 Emmy Awards Predictions

September 18th, 2009

We’ve been predicting the various acting awards throughout the week here at Cultural Learnings, but now it’s time for the biggest categories at all (and the smallest) with our complete, scientific, nondenominational, likely mostly wrong Emmy predictions. For categories I covered previously, click on the category to check out my complete rundown of the category and the justification for my decision, and then stick around for the rest of the awards (including Outstanding Drama and Comedy Series) after the jump.

The 61st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards air Sunday, September 20th, at 8pm Eastern. I’ll be doing some sort of live coverage (either a live blog or some sporadic live tweeting), and then will have a full recap/review of the proceedings once they come to an end.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Glenn Close (Damages)

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Hugh Laurie (House)

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Steve Carell (The Office)

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Toni Colette (United States of Tara)

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

  • Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

  • Hope Davis (In Treatment)

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Kristen Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies)

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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

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Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the nominees are…

  • Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords)
  • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
  • Steve Carell (The Office)
  • Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men)
  • Tony Shalhoub (Monk)
  • Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

This is a battle that I have spent a lot of time thinking about, and even spent an entire post handicapping the category very carefully. There are three major contenders in this race (Baldwin, Carell and Parsons), and all have really compelling cases for their victory. While Shalhoub has won before (too many times), and Sheen is on a very popular show, and Clement is hilarious in his submitted episode (Carol Brown FTW), they are all out of this race that boils down to the safe, the overdue, and the next big thing.

As you’ll see in my handicap post, I think all actors have something going for them. Baldwin has a gimmicky performance that is integrated into all of the stories in his episode (which would be screened in its entirety for voters), Carell displays a pivotal moment for his character while nicely straddling that line between idiot and genius, and Parsons provides the single-most satisfying scene in the show’s two seasons. When you balance those things out against each other, it’s tough to pick a winner based on their tapes alone, especially as they all have their downsides (like Baldwin lacking subtlety, Carell lacking in broadness, and the rest of Parsons’ submission proving less effective).

So, then, it becomes about stories. Baldwin is a safe choice since he won last year and there are no signs of the 30 Rock train slowing down any time soon. And Parsons is (rightly) considered the next huge comic talent that could really breakthrough with a win here. At the same time, Baldwin is too safe a choice in some respects and his submission isn’t as good as last year’s, while Parsons is still young and one feels he is going to have plenty more opportunities to win this award.

As a result, my mind goes to two years ago. It was Alec Baldwin’s first year competing for 30 Rock, before the show really picked up, and the award seemed like a battle between his celebrity and the celebrity of Steve Carell, who was competing for the second time for his work on The Office. However, to the surprise of just about everyone, Ricky Gervais took home the award for his time on Extras, a decision which genuinely shocked people (even Gervais, who didn’t attend the ceremony).

And, as such, I think Steve Carell is going to pull a Ricky Gervais, just as I thought after watching their three submitted episodes. It’s a likeable performance for a character who some may view as unlikeable, and it’s an emotional performance from a show that some people might think cruel and cold. It’s the kind of performance that proves how vital Michael Scott is to the show and how crucial Carell’s characterization is to ensuring its success. And, while Baldwin might be the safe bet and while Parsons might be the epitome of a dark horse, I’ve got my money on the main in the Woman’s suit.

Predicted Winner: Steve Carell (The Office)

The Michael Scott Paper Company arc was the best thing about a strong season for The Office, and its conclusion was one of those moments where the show’s subtle qualities (especially in Carell’s performance) were on full display.

Dark Horse: Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Emmy2009Title

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the nominees are…

  • Christina Applegate (Samantha Who?)
  • Toni Colette (United States of Tara)
  • Tina Fey (30 Rock)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (New Adventures…Christine)
  • Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds)
  • Sarah Silverman (The Sarah Silverman Program)

I’ve been wrestling with this category for a while, although let’s be entirely clear: this is a duel.

While Louis-Dreyfus is a past winner, and Parker is a consistent nominee, and Applegate contended for the award and could have won it last year, there is no one in this category who can challenge Fey outside of Toni Colette (Silverman might as well not be nominated). Fey has been the toast of the town with her work on 30 Rock, and as my brother put it yesterday she has in many ways “saved” television in the mind of some people. While some “cult” success stories like Arrested Development had some Emmys buzz independent from viewership levels, those shows did not have such a definitive individual in front of and behind the camera on whom the credit could be laid so cleanly.

And it’s not as if Fey had a poor year on 30 Rock this season or anything similar. She was as good as she ever was, in particular in her submitted episode. “Reunion” is a great showcase for Fey’s talents, the kind of showcase that can easily win the award. She gets to indulge in Liz Lemon’s deliciously vindictive side, always a highlight, as well as play up a sense of self-discovery and the really quite fun setting of the high school reunion. It’s an episode that I actually didn’t like at first glance (I came around), but Fey’s performance is undeniably great.

But I don’t know if it’s as showy, or as dramatic, as what Toni Colette did on United States of Tara. The show itself didn’t get much love, but Colette’s nomination was assured quite early. Tara’s multiple personalities (or alters, as the show calls them) are not simply alterations of costume or voice, but are based entirely in separate mannerisms. What draws me towards Colette over Fey is how dependent the show is on her performance, to a degree that Fey can’t match; while I can’t imagine 30 Rock without Fey, I can’t even conceptualize Tara without Colette. The pilot shows her transforming from a regular mother and wife into first a thong-wearing teenager and then into a grizzled and foul-mouthed (male) Vietnam war veteran.

It’s a performance that defines everything the Emmys should, in theory love. The question is whether the gimmick (which is not gimmicky, if that makes any sense) is overshadowed by the continued coronation of 30 Rock and its creator/star extraordinaire.

Predicted Winner: Toni Colette (United States of Tara)

It’s going out on a limb, but she’s a well-respected actress in a showy performance that remains grounded and controlled in a way that makes the show possible. It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s something I’m willing to predict.

White Horse: Tina Fey (30 Rock)

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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Emmy2009Title

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the nominees are…

  • Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies)
  • Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live)
  • Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live)
  • Elizabeth Perkins (Weeds)
  • Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)
  • Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty)

With last year’s winner Jean Smart out of the race, let us take a moment to remember that nobody in their right mind really predicted Jean Smart to win this award last year. This means that there is a definite air of unpredictability around this award that makes for an interesting battle.

I think that Perkins and Williams are out of the running at this point: I don’t think either of them have the material or the buzz factor to be able to successfully mount a competitive fight here. I’m also going to suggest that Wiig is probably not going to make it either. I like her, and I think that she was better overall on SNL this year, but I think her lack of name recognition will keep her out of the winners’ circle as known entities tend to do better in the Supporting categories.

That leaves Amy Poehler (favoured to win last year but shut out), Kristin Chenoweth (whose show is cancelled) and Jane Krakowski (whose show dominated the Emmy nominations). Part of me thinks that all have something working against them that could let one of the other sneak in. Poehler was supposed to win last year, but didn’t even when her profile (due to Baby Mama) was at an all-time high. This year, her profile wasn’t enough for her to sneak into Lead Actress Comedy for Parks and Recreation, and she’s been overshadowed by Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin performance in terms of SNL. That’s a tough situation to balance, but she’s well-liked and remains a major player.

Chenoweth and Krakowski have the exact opposite problem, really. In Krakowski’s case, I don’t think she had the same kind of strong material this year (when she and her co-stars picked up on the 30 Rock Emmy train with supporting nods) as she did last, with her fat period providing a lot of great comic material overall. Jenna was a bit more all over the place this season, but on a show with that much buzz it might not matter. Chenoweth’s Olive Snook, meanwhile, was in fine form on Pushing Daisies, in the midst of deeply personal but hilarious storylines played out in the show’s trademark zany and surrealistic environment. However, no one watched Pushing Daisies, and for all of her Tony-winning brilliance the cancelled show factor could weight heavily on her ability to win the award.

Predicted Winner: Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies)

All of that being said, going with my heart and my gut on this one: I think Emmy voters appreciated Pushing Daisies enough and find Chenoweth charming enough in a winning submission to give her and the show the sendoff they deserve.

Dark Horse: Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)

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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

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Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the Nominees are…

  • Kevin Dillon (Entourage)
  • Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)
  • Rainn Wilson (The Office)
  • Tracy Morgan (30 Rock)
  • Jack McBrayer (30 Rock)
  • Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men)

The absence of Jeremy Piven really makes this category a particularly difficult one to really “predict” in a traditional fashion. It means that rather than the Academy looking for a change (which I feel would have happened if Piven had been nominated), they don’t even have a choice in the matter, which means their minds could go to any number of candidates as opposed to one logical non-Piven contender.

The logical choice would be Neil Patrick Harris, who I feel will win (and who would have won this award by a hair even if Piven had been nominated). He’s been big in the news with his stint hosting the Tony Awards, and he is also hosting this year’s Emmy ceremony. It’s an example of an actor who people in Hollywood generally like, giving a performance that has been consistently great since his first nomination for the show’s second season. He’s due for a win, and with Piven out of the way this award is most likely to go to NPH.

However, because of the openness of the category, there may be a sense that someone like Rainn Wilson (who like Harris has been nominated multiple times during the Piven era) could be as worthy a candidate. Dwight hasn’t stopped being a funny character between now and Wilson’s first nomination, and that consistency could be his ticket to an Emmy. The supporting categories are always the toughest to predict, and it’s difficult to be able to know how good the memories of voters are, and to what degree they see NPH’s stardom as his ticket over Wilson’s lesser profile.

And that doesn’t even take into account the elephant in the room, mainly the sheer power of 30 Rock in terms of the other awards. Its staggering number of nominations and its sweep of last year’s awards (with Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey and the show all winning) shows that the show holds a lot of support among voters, which brings both McBrayer and Morgan into the fray. I think vote-splitting is likely to hurt them, but there’s always that chance.

As for Dillon and Cryer, I think they’re out of the game: Cryer’s show didn’t even grab a series nod so he won’t have the support to beat buzz-worthy contenders, and Dillon’s time to contend for an Emmy is long gone (although I’ve felt his worth in Season Six of Entourage has been an improvement over Season Five).

Predicted Winner: Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)

He’s the one contender who has a lot of buzz around him, and submitted a strong performance that highlights the emotional complexity of a character who’s at his best when he appears vulnerable but remains hilarious.

Dark Horse: Rainn Wilson (The Office)

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Handicapping the 2009 Emmys: Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

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Handicapping the 2009 Emmys

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Earlier today, as part of my catchup with The Big Bang Theory’s second season (which I’ll talk about in greater detail once I’m done), I came to the episode that Jim Parsons, nominated for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series at this year’s Emmys, has submitted for consideration. Then, sorting through some shows kicking around, I stumbled upon Alec Baldwin’s submission from 30 Rock in the same category, “Generalissimo.” Considering this crazy random happenstance, I figured it was only fitting that I sit down and rewatch “Broke,” Steve Carell’s submission for his work on The Office, in order to complete the trifecta.

Yes, there are six nominees in this category, but realistically the only three that have a chance are the ones listed above. The only two acting races where I would say there are three or less potential candidates are both comedy lead categories, as a combination of tape quality and prevailing opinion will shut out the other three nominees (Charlie Sheen, Tony Shahloub, Jemaine Clement). Once you get to these three, however, things become quite complicated: each has a fairly compelling narrative for victory, and perhaps more importantly they have three very different submission tapes that cover some diverse territory.

At the end of the day, all three actors deliver funny performances, but I think it’s going to come down to which tape best combines the award show narrative and a performance worthy of the Academy’s attention.

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2009 Emmy Nominations Analysis: Power to the People?

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Power to the People?

2009 Emmy Nominations Analysis

The people have the power, and the people have pretty darn good taste.

That’s the story out of this year’s Emmy award nominations (click here for Cultural Learnings’ list, and here for the Academy’s) where a few key surprises and a couple of major snubs indicate that the popular vote was not in any capacity an absolutely travesty for the Academy, as some quite logically predicted. I spoke earlier this week about just what the definition of popular would end up indicating, and the answer appears to be a healthy combination of an appreciation of great television and an eye for trendy selections. The result is an Emmys where nearly every category has a silver lining, and where a few snubs are not enough to give the impression that there’s going to be some very deserving winners in this field.

Mad Men and 30 Rock Dominate

There is no surprise here, don’t get me wrong: no one expected the iron grip of these two shows to stop after dominating last year’s proceedings. However, the scale of that domination is quite ludicrous. 30 Rock has 10 acting nominations, 4 writing nominations, 3 directing nominations, plus its nod for Best Comedy Series and all of its other technical nods. The result is an absolutely staggering number of nominations, and I’m happy about it: I like seeing Tracy Morgan, Jack McBrayer and Jane Krakowski all get nominations for their work along with Fey and Baldwin, and although the four writing nominations kept other shows out of the running they are four pretty fantastic episodes.

Mad Men, meanwhile, didn’t add quite as many nods, although it did pick up a Lead Actress nomination for Elisabeth Moss, which makes me extremely happy. As I said in my preview, I really expected January Jones in the category, but I prefer Moss’ less showy role at the end of the day. Still, combine with Hamm (also nominated for his guest stint on 30 Rock) and Slattery returning (I’d have preferred Kartheiser, but I’ll take it), and its own four writing nominations (plus a directing nod), and the show is without a doubt dominating on the drama side of things.

Out with the “Popular,” In with the Popular

In the biggest shocker of all considering the popular vote, the Comedy Series category had one shocking exclusion and one suprising (but oft predicted) inclusion. The exclusion is the most popular comedy on television, in terms of viewers – Two and a Half Men failed to secure a comedy nod, something it has done in years previous. This makes me question the definition of popular, especially with the inclusion – Family Guy, the first animated comedy series since The Flintstones to make it into the category. While The Simpsons always chose to compete in the Animation category because it also reflects the work of the animators, Family Guy chose to cut out the animated part and compete with the big boys, and it paid off. However, unlike last year where they could submit their Star Wars special in order to get credit for the animators, this year they’re left off entirely, so MacFarlane’s ego is being boosted at the expense of the show’s direction.

The Sophomores Triumph

No one was quite sure what would happen with Breaking Bad, a second year show that won Emmys last year but without much support around it. Well, we have our answer: although snubbed out of both directing and writing, the series picked up a nomination for Drama Series, and Aaron Paul snuck into the highly competitive Supporting Actor (Drama) category for his work on the show, in addition to Bryan Cranston’s nomination for Lead Actor. Damages also impressed, delivering nominations for William Hurt (undeserved, but whatever), Rose Byrne, Glenn Close, Ted Danson (Guest), as well as Series and Directing nods.

The Freshmen Fail

True Blood had a real shot at some awards love, but it was empathically shut out of the proceedings: it’ll probably contend with United States of Tara for best Title Sequence, but with no Drama Series or Lead Actress love, it’s clear the Emmys didn’t find its vampire story appealing. That’s unfortunate for the show, but it’s a trend: no Freshman series broke into the series categories, and only Simon Baker (The Mentalist) and Toni Colette (United States of Tara) made their way into the major categories.

HBO “Domination”

In a popular vote, nobody quite knew where HBO would end up, but the answer is in far better shape than people anticipated – although Mad Men and Breaking Bad have AMC as the new “it” network, HBO is still holding some cache. Not only did Big Love score a huge surprise nomination as the 7th contender in the Drama Series race, but Flight of the Conchords is honestly the biggest story of the awards. With a Comedy Series nomination, a shocking Lead Actor nomination for Jemaine Clement, plus both writing and directing nominations, the show blew onto the radar like it wasn’t struggling with growing pains in its second season. While everyone saw the show’s Carol Brown getting an Original Song nod, the love wasn’t anticipated. The network also performed well with In Treatment, which missed the Drama Series race but picked up three acting nods (Byrne, Davis, Wiest).

The Year of How I Met Your Mother

I let out an extremely girlish “Yay,” nearly dropping my computer, when How I Met Your Mother was listed as one of the nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series (and I even predicted it!). I know it has no chance in the category, but its nomination is a vindication of the highest order that voters went with the popular vote, and that it jumped from not even being in the Top 10 to being in the Top 7. I call it the Year of HIMYM, though, because Neil Patrick Harris has an open door to pick up an Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Comedy – long live Barney Stinson.

After the jump: Surprises! Snubs! Etc.!

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2009 Emmy Nominations: And the Nominees Are…

Emmy2009Title

And the Nominees Are…

2009 Emmy Nominations

For analysis of the surprises, the snubs, and everything in between, check out:

Power to the People?: 2009 Emmy Nominations Analysis [Link]

However, in list form, the nominees for the 61st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards are…

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Big Love
  • Breaking Bad
  • Damages
  • Dexter
  • House
  • Lost
  • Mad Men

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

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

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Gabriel Byrne (In Treatment)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)
  • Simon Baker (The Mentalist)

Outstanding Comedy Series

  • Entourage
  • Family Guy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Office
  • 30 Rock
  • Weeds

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords)
  • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
  • Steve Carell (The Office)
  • Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men)
  • Tony Shalhoub (Monk)
  • Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Christina Applegate (Samantha Who?)
  • Toni Colette (United States of Tara)
  • Tina Fey (30 Rock)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (New Adventures…Christine)
  • Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds)
  • Sarah Silverman (The Sarah Silverman Program)

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