Drama series producers agonize over their selection of up to six episodes for 2011 Emmy nomination consideration. Here’s insight from Deadline TV Contributor Diane Haithman into why these particular episodes were thought to impress Emmy voters:
BOARDWALK EMPIRE – PILOT EPISODE
Story line: It is January 1920, on the eve of Prohibition. Atlantic City’s treasurer Enoch “Nucky”Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi and based on a real-life crime boss) publicly condemns alcohol while plotting to make a tidy profit selling bootleg liquor.
The period drama entered the 75-minute pilot episode because it was directed by Martin Scorsese and reportedly cost $50 million (which would make it the most expensive pilot episode ever produced). About the selection of this and the other episodes, creator Terence Winter explains, “We wanted to make sure we gave a representative selection of the show and be sure that the narrative arc didn’t leave voters completely confused.”
MAD MEN – “THE SUITCASE”
Story line: This episode deconstructs one evening in the life of Don Draper and Peggy Olson, weaving the fictional events with a real-life May 1965 World Heavyweight boxing match. Don forces Peggy to work all night on her birthday, Duck Phillips has a drunken fistfight with Don, and Peggy comforts Don when he learns of Anna’s death.
“The Suitcase” is generating buzz not only for the drama series but also for Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss to strut their Emmy stuff. “It’s about two lost souls who, through the course of one alcohol-infused evening together, slowly shed their protective veneers to reveal their raw, messy cores,” says Jennifer Getzinger, who directed the episode written by show creator Matthew Weiner. “The beauty of these two lonely people reaching out to each other with such rare honesty touched people in a very unique way.”
GREY’S ANATOMY – “SONG BENEATH THE SONG”
Story line: Callie and Arizona are rushed back to Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital after a car accident. The doctors must act quickly to save both Callie and her unborn baby, while tensions rise between Mark and Arizona over whose life should receive first priority. The high drama is set to music, with the characters singing various Top 40 hits.
Showrunners joke about how episodes with Emmy aspirations tend to include main characters getting hit by trucks. Co-Executive Producer Tony Phelan, who directed this episode, says he and show creator Shonda Rhimes have wanted to do a musical episode since the show’s 2005 launch and believe the twist helps Grey’s stay Emmy competitive.
HOUSE – “AFTER HOURS”
Story line: The doctors are followed for one night during their off hours. House discovers that the experimental medicine he’s been taking is causing tumors, and he tries to remove them in the bathtub. Thirteen’s surprise visitor is a prison inmate who has been stabbed and refuses to go to the hospital. Taub is shocked by the news that his latest fling is pregnant.
Executive Producers Russel Friend and Garrett Lerner believe this episode allowed them “to explore relationships and motivations, but with a shot of adrenaline as everything was heightened and immediate.” The pair also felt Hugh Laurie’s performance was “as powerful as anything you’ll see on television. Standing on the set, watching Hugh cut into his leg, even knowing it was all pretend, the intensity was unbelievable.”
THE KILLING – “THE CAGE”
Story line: The series, set in the rainy Pacific Northwest, tracks one case: the murder of a young girl named Rosie Larsen. This episode pauses to examine the effect the killing had on the community and, specifi cally, on the girl’s parents.
Show creator and showrunner Veena Sud chose this episode she wrote because of its intimate focus on the aftermath of a murder, rather than the murder itself. “Too often in cop shows, we skip over the price of a life. And too often the family are the props, but not where the story resides. This is truly what murder looks like. It’s not glamorous.”
THE GOOD WIFE – “VIP TREATMENT”
Story line: Alicia and the partners must decide whether to take on the case of a massage therapist who accuses a Nobel Peace Prize winner of sexual assault. Meanwhile, Peter and Eli try to figure out what Wendy Scott-Carr’s candidacy means for their campaign.
Robert King calls this episode “cool on a lot of fronts, one of which is that it really takes place in four hours and uses the case structure to a very good effect, and all ends in a surprising way.” And because some of the action takes place at a gala fundraiser, there’s the added fun of seeing all the characters in formal duds.
DEXTER – “IN THE BEGINNING”
Story line: Dexter hides Lumen Pierce (Julia Stiles) from captor Jordan Chase (Jonny Lee Miller), who has discovered their vigilante partnership. Dexter has already eliminated three of Lumen’s five attackers, and the bond deepens between them. Lumen declares to Dexter that she’s ready to commit her first kill.
This “brings us to the crux of the relationship between Dexter and Lumen,” says Executive Story Editor Scott Reynolds, who wrote the episode. “This is Dexter at his most vulnerable. He’s truly putting himself on the line here. When Lumen fully embraces him, Dexter has a rare moment of feeling a genuine part of the world around him.”
THE WALKING DEAD – PILOT EPISODE
Story line: Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) awakens from a coma after being shot to fi nd a hellish world where zombies have taken over. Grimes searches for his wife and son, tracking a rumor that some humans have formed a community in Atlanta.
The 90-minute pilot titled “Days Gone Bye ” fittingly premiered on Halloween night. Showrunner Frank Darabont had a particular emotional attachment to this episode. “It was a crazy, great 14 or 15 days. I never had more fun directing anything.”
JUSTIFIED – “BROTHER’S KEEPER”
Story line: The residents of Harlan, Kentucky, celebrate Mags’ important land deal. Loretta learns the truth about what happened to her father, leading to a deadly confrontation between Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens and Mags’ son.
For show creator Graham Yost, this was a pivotal episode story-wise. Directed by Tony Goldwyn and written by Taylor Elmore, Yost says, “There was a lot of craft to it. And there’s a couple of turns that are not scripted. And when you see it — wow.”
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS – SERIES FINALE
Story line: As futures begin to unfold for many Dillon residents, the Taylors must decide whether to stay in Texas or move to Philadelphia for the job Tami was offered.
It was a bittersweet experience for showrunner Jason Katims to write the episode titled “Always,” which wraps up five seasons. “What we wanted to do in the finale was to honor everything we’ve been doing the recent seasons of the show. We looked back to where the show began and brought back a lot of the characters from the beginning. We really wanted this series to have an ending; we sort of owed that to the audience.”