Pete Hammond

Thursday night’s lively Emmy-nominee cocktail reception for the writers branch at the Television Academy was the 20th nightly peer group gathering taking place there during the past month, “an incredible pre-Emmy marathon,” said writers branch co-governor Margaret Nagle, who gave special mention to the Academy’s Barbara Chase for organizing each of the events.

The Academy transformed the interior lobby of the Goldenson Theatre into something that looked like a New Orleans bordello — “What better setting than to celebrate writing, the world’s true oldest profession,” said one wag –  and there was an elaborate setup outside as well in the plaza area for nominated and non-nominated writers to network and talk business.

Midway through, guests and nominees were shepherded inside the massive 600-seat theater for a breezy clip reel showcasing all the noms from the five writing categories and then the presentation of nominee certificates presided over by the evening’s host, The Office‘s Kate Flannery. The event made everyone feel like a winner before Sunday night, when the majority of them will become “losers.”

As he entered the party, Modern Family creator/executive producer Steve Levitan (heavily favored to win again for Comedy Series and also nominated with Jeffrey Richman for the “Caught in the Act” episode), joked that he “doesn’t like to go to any of these events now unless he gets to leave with something,” so he seemed happy to get his official certificate presented by co-stars Julie Bowen and Ariel Winter, although he noted “receiving this in such a big room that’s only a quarter full seems somehow appropriate for writers.”

Mad Men creator Matt Weiner told me he was just as excited about this year’s Emmys as he was the first time. He’s won eight, including six for Mad Men. This year, he is up for his fourth consecutive Best Drama Series award as well as his fourth consecutive Drama Series writing award for Mad Men‘s  much-praised “The Suitcase” episode, which could also finally bring acting Emmys to stars Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss — for whom it was specifically written. In fact, Moss presented Weiner with his certificate by remarking, “They say you are only as good as the actor you’re working with, but I think you’re only as good as the writer who’s writing for you” as she thanked Weiner for the episode.

In his remarks, frequent winner Weiner laughed and said, ” At the risk of being like the person in Las Vegas on a tear and saying ‘I can’t lose,’ well, I can’t.” He clearly was kidding and later emphasized to me  his feeling that “no matter what happens, I have already won.” On a serious note in his speech he added: “The only credits I ever cared about were the writers. To be in the company of them is all I ever wanted. For me the writers room is a dream environment.”

An avid Deadline follower, Weiner had earlier cornered me asking what I thought the chances for another drama series win were, particularly considering HBO’s rival Boardwalk Empire swept the Creative Emmys with seven wins to Mad Men’s one, for hairstyling. The fact is Mad Men has often come up short at the Creative Emmys only to ultimately prevail on the big night. With Boardwalk shut out of the writing category (Mad Men is also repped there with Andre and Maria Jacquemetton’s Blowing Smoke episode — they were on hand to accept their certificates from series co-star Aaron Staton) and Mad Men shut out of the directing category, where Boardwalk has two nods (including the pilot helmed by Martin Scorsese — you know he’s gotta win), it could be a horse race depending on who made up the pool of Drama Series voters this year. My guess is Mad Men will pull it out for proving it could be as good or even better in Season 4 as it was in Season 1. This year there is one big difference, though, since a new season of Mad Men has been off the air during the Emmy voting period for the first time ever because Season 5, which normally would have debuted in July, was delayed into next year due to  protracted contract negotiations.

Also at the event Thursday was Best Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy nominee Matt LeBlanc, presenting certificates to his nommed Episodes creator/writers David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik (who also did Friends with LeBlanc). They thought they wouldn’t have to make a speech, “because we can never win,” but added praise for all the comedy series writing nominees, saying, “You are the funniest shows on TV. We TiVo all of you.”

LeBlanc told me he’s going to England in October to shoot a second season of nine episodes for the Showtime series. He ideally wants to do 13 since there were only six in the first season, but the BBC plays by different rules. Showtime managed to convince them to add an additional three episodes, so he’s satisfied with the compromise. LeBlanc loves the show, in which he plays a fictionalized version of himself, especially since he says, “I’ve done a lot of turds before, and it’s hard to turn a turd into something good. It’s nice to do this.”

If there’s a sleeper lurking in the category, look for Crane and Klarik to upset Modern Family and Steve Carell’s final episode of The Office written by Greg Daniels. Their cleverly titled Episode 7 is catnip for writers and could pull off a surprise win.

Oscar winner Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), after receiving his certificate for writing in a movie or mini-series for Downton Abbey from co-stars Joanne Froggett and Michelle Dockery, told me he is excited about Season 2, which will debut imminently in England. Next year, the mini will be eligible instead in the Drama Series category. (It snuck into movie/minis before it was announced it would be continuing into a second season, something that rarely happens with entries in this category.)

Among others on hand Thursday were Peter Gould, nominated for HBO’s movie Too Big To Fail, presented by co-star Tony Shalhoub; and Jason Katims, up for the final episode of Friday Night Lights, presented by a trio of that series’ co-stars. Writers Branch Co-Governor Kirk Ellis, an Emmy winner himself for John Adams, noted in his introductory remarks that it was especially nice to see so many actors show up to honor their writers.

Considering the past attempts to downgrade or even move writing (and directing) awards off the primetime telecast, where they have been since the Emmys began 63 years ago, it was nice to see the nominated writers, win or lose, get their moment Thursday night.

Tonight’s party for performer nominees at the Pacific Design Center marks the 21st and last of the Academy’s pre-Emmy nomination celebrations. Then all that’s left is revealing who gets to actually take one of those Emmys home Sunday night.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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