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Hope Springs Intermittently: Stories of the 2011 Emmy Nominations

Stories of the 2011 Emmy Nominations

July 14th, 2011

My favorite thing about Emmy nomination morning is the sense of hope.

It lingers in the air before the 5:35am PT announcement – last night, as both coasts drifted off to sleep, people on Twitter were posting lists of contenders that they were crossing their fingers for, still believing that shows like Fringe or Community had a shot of breaking into their respective categories. This is not a slight on either show, or on their fans who choose to believe. As always, some part of me wishes that I didn’t know enough about the Emmy nomination process to logic away any chance of sentimental favorites garnering a nomination.

My least favorite thing about Emmy nomination morning is the moment the bubble bursts. When the nominations are actually announced, it’s this constant rollercoaster: one nominees brings excitement while another brings disappointment. The bubble hasn’t burst yet, at that point, as there are often enough shifts in momentum that no one emotion wins out, leaving us struggling to figure out just how we feel.

The moment it bursts is when you open the PDF and see all the nominations laid out before you, and when the math starts adding up. Twitter has quickened this process: you don’t need to wait until critics and reporters break down the nominations, as everyone is tweeting the sobering details by the time 8:45am rolls around. Excitement in one area turns to disappointment in another, with one favorite’s surprise nomination becoming deflated when you realize that other favorites were entirely shut out.

As always, I was one of those people sorting through the list of nominations, and the bubble did burst at a certain point. It was the point when I remembered that surprise nominees are often unlikely to be surprise winners, and that for every category with a surprising amount of freshness there’s another that reeks of complacency and laziness. These are not new narratives, of course, but they’re narratives that overpower any sense of hope that could possibly remain after a morning of sobering reality, and that temper any enthusiasm that might nonetheless remain.

Although we cannot say that there is no enthusiasm to be found. While there are no real dominant narratives at this year’s Emmys, I do want to focus on a number of stories that I consider important based on the nominations, some of which involve excitement and others which involve that defeatist Emmy spirit we cynics hold so dear. One deals with how a network fights to remain relevant after giving up its Emmy bait, while another deals with the failings of an oft-derided set of categories. The others, meanwhile, look at the difference between being nominated and being competitive, as well as why it might be that an entire set of categories can’t help but feel like a disappointment.

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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.

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David vs. Goliath vs. Laziness: Potential-filled 2010 Oscars Lack Suspense, Muddle Triumph

David vs. Goliath vs. Laziness

March 8th, 2010

If you were going to watch a television show where two characters reach for the ultimate goal in their chosen field, one as the popular frontrunner and one as the almost-forgotten underdog, I think there’s a lot of dramatic potential there. There is something about the battle between David and Goliath that should automatically draw us in, and while Avatar and The Hurt Locker are not multi-dimensional characters (cue 3-D joke) they are fairly compelling award show narratives.

And while normal people, according to lore, only watch award shows to see things they like be liked by stuffshirts, people like me watch them because of the politics, because of the predictions, and because of the sense of surprise and anticipation. We watch them because we see a narrative in their story, able to chart momentum as the show goes on, moving towards the big award of the night with the pulse of a great year in film…ideally.

The 2010 Oscars will go down in the books as a rather colossal failure, the polar opposite of the simple and understated Oscars that followed the year before. In some ways, the show took risks not that dissimilar from last year’s show, but a few major missteps combined with some absolutely disappointing material from hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin resulted in an infinitely cynical response that, unfortunately, became the pulse of this show.

What was supposed to be thrilling and exciting, the story of two films in an epic fight for victory, became the story of how the show’s producers chose interpretive dance over cinematic integrity, and the predictable winners in most categories did little to keep this Oscars from being tepid, uninteresting and, perhaps worst of all, uneventful. A show like this should be an event, and this…this was just sad.

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Television, the Aughts & I – Part Four – “Reality Doesn’t Bite”

“Reality Doesn’t Bite”

December 16th, 2009

[This is Part Four of a six-part series chronicling the shows which most influenced my relationship with television over the past decade – for more information and an index of all currently posted items, click here.]

In Part One, I suggested that I had no real vivid memories of television before 2001, and while this is effectively true I do have a memory about reality television that predates that time. I was watching Entertainment Tonight (I swear, at one point this was a perfectly logical thing to do), and they had a short news blurb about how a Scandinavian reality show concept was coming to television amidst controversy. The show was, in fact, Survivor, and when they talked about the premise (people stranded on a pacific island left to fight it out for a million dollars) I thought it was one of the stupidest things I had ever heard.

And then I watched 19 seasons of it.

What I quickly discovered was that I love what we’ve now come to call the Reality Competition genre, shows which capture the thrill of, you know, competition with the added dose of, well, reality. To use other words is convenient to help justify watching the shows, equating them to a social experiment or a chance to live vicariously through others, but there is something about seeing people you come to know and care about compete against one another for a cash prize that continues to see me tuning in week in and week out.

Now, when analyzing the decade as a whole it may seem strange – more than strange, it’s probably a bit misrepresentative – to limit the limitless reality genre to only its competition format, but for me the competition format has been the far more important and positive television force. While there is, in fact, something borderline exploitative about some elements of the reality genre, competitive reality is the unique mix of casting and a cleverly designed structure, shows which utilize various narrative tools (especially editing) in order to welcome viewers into experiences that are not their own in a way that empowers us to, in a limited form, psychoanalyze our social interactions, race around the world, or care about something about which we know extremely little.

And while it isn’t in fact for everyone, it’s definitely something that has been an important part of my television experience over the past decade.

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The Cancelled and the Underrepresented: The 2009 Creative Arts Emmy Awards

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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).

Complete Winners List – 2009 Creative Arts Emmys

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?

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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 Awards Nominations Predictions: The Tale of the Tape

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The Tale of the Tape

July 15th, 2009

Heading into tomorrow morning’s nominations (5:30 Pacific Time, so 8:30 Eastern and 9:30 for me in the Atlantic time zone), there are a few certainties, and a few question marks. I talked before about the uncertainty of the popular vote, which places a show like Lost somewhere in between an equilibrium of popular shows like House and Grey’s Anatomy and more critical/industry favourites like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Here, it’s tie to take a look at some of the big stories that could emerge from the nominations, as well as a glimpse at some of the categories that I didn’t get to during the week. So, let’s get the Tale of the Tape.

Mad Men = The New Sopranos?

Last year, Mad Men racked up an Emmy for Drama Series, a nomination for Lead Actor and Best Supporting Actor, and five other statues (including Writing for Matthew Weiner). The question now really comes down to just how much the show’s second season is going to increase those odds. Chances are that one of the show’s two leading women will break through, now much more household names when it comes to the show’s success, and there’s room for more supporting players at well. If it follows the Sopranos pattern, it could break through big – if it, however, gets held back by being on AMC, it could end up with roughly the same nominations.

The Year of CBS?

It may be unlikely, with far more popular shows in terms of Hollwood and the Emmys in the category, but How I Met Your Mother is at the point where its breakout year might be upon us. Neil Patrick Harris is hosting, the show’s ratings have solidified it as a hit in its own right, and it is no longer in fear of cancellation which makes it seem like the kind of show that will be around for a while. It has to compete with stablemate The Big Bang Theory, which has Jim Parsons breaking out in a big way, and Two and a Half Men, but that two more legitimate Emmy contenders than the network had a year ago (and, in my mind, two more than it should have, but that’s neither here nor there). Combine with a chance for The Mentalist’s Simon Baker, and CBS is maybe not just the people’s network anymore.

Breaking Bad Breaking Through?

Last year, Bryan Cranston won in a bit of a shocker in the Lead Actor category for his work on the other AMC drama, Breaking Bad. Many have taken that win and viewed it as a sign that the show, which got even better in its second season, has a chance of breaking through in its own right. I’m of the mind that it will, but Cranston’s win was as much for his lack of a win for Malcolm in the Middle than it was for his brave performance, so it will be interesting to see if the show can join Cranston in the Emmy race. It has the benefit of having aired fairly recently, but it’s yet to be seen if it can break through on the popular vote.

The Final Chance for Battlestar Galactica

A real chance of breaking into the Drama Series race, or the various acting categories, just isn’t in the cards; Battlestar Galactica may have had an amazing finale, and its actors may have stepped up more than ever before, but in a popular vote competition it just isn’t going to get the support it needs. Mary McDonnell is going to get pushed out of her category, although remains a long shot candidate if things get really weird, but the show’s real chance lies in both writing and direction. There’s probably room in those categories for Ronald D. Moore and Michael Rymer, as they’ve been represented before, so it will be interesting to see if they can pick up those nods. They’ll also dominate the special effects categories, with the Visual Effects team easily picking up their third Emmy.

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