I wouldn’t say there were a lot of surprises on this morning’s Emmy nominations list, although the comedy series categories offered a lot of fresh meat for the awards show. That is mostly supplied by HBO, which came roaring back in series competition garnering three of the six nods for comedy series – Curb Your Enthusiasm, Girls, and Veep for HBO joining ABC’s Modern Family, NBC’s 30 Rock, and CBS’ The Big Bang Theory – and two of the six for drama series with repeaters Game Of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire. That’s nearly half the complete combined total in those two areas. Don’t expect it to win any of them, though, with Outstanding Comedy Series likely going predictably to favored Modern Family for a third year in a row and Outstanding Drama Series likely going again to Mad Men, which had a sensational fifth season and which co-led the field of nominees with 17 mentions (tying Movie/Mini-Series contender American Horror Story).
Showtime’s Homeland, a critical favorite, could sweep in and upset Mad Men’s attempt to break a record for most Drama Series wins with five in a row. PBS’ switch of Downton Abbey from its winning perch as last year’s best Movie/Mini (see separate analysis here) to the Drama Series category is the great unknown here. The Academy’s continuing love affair with anything and everything British could provide trouble for Mad Men’s quest and steal it all too. Although this was the most predictable category in terms of nominations, it may turn out to be the least predictable in terms of a winner. A close contest could actually provide room for a real upset here — maybe AMC’s hugely deserving Breaking Bad breaking good with a first-time win in the top category? Just sayin’. It had an amazing fourth season and is back in the Emmy competition with its most nominations ever at 13 after being off the air and on the Emmy bench last year due to eligibility dates. Its star Bryan Cranston should easily be the favorite for Lead Actor in a Drama Series, which would be his fourth win since no actor from Mad Men ever seems to win anything. That includes star Jon Hamm, who apparently makes it look all too easy for Academy voters in the actors branch.
Speaking of those acting voters, they tend to go for the tried and true every single year. Predictably, Michael J. Fox is back in the running twice for his guest work on The Good Wife and Curb Your Enthusiasm. He is nominated for anything he does. Kathy Bates again grabbed a pair for the cancelled Harry’s Law and Two And A Half Men. And what can we say about another perrenial Emmy favorite Betty White, who even being passed over for her series Hot In Cleveland after winning a nom there last year still found the Academy couldn’t resist her charms even with two sub-standard projects. She was personally nominated in the Reality Host category for the fairly dreadful Betty White’s Off Their Rockers senior practical jokes series, and the wretchedly produced Betty White’s 90th Birthday: A Tribute To America’s Golden Girl that somehow landed nominations for Best Variety Special and Writing in a Special. Really? Did you see it Academy members. Probably not. But they saw Betty’s name in the title and checked it off on their ballot.
The reality series race produced a surprise in the host category where Survivor‘s Jeff Probst, the only winner four years running, is not on the list, making room for White. That was a bit of a stunner. It also has to sting Fox seeing NBC’s upstart The Voice earn a reality series nod over American Idol, which has been nominated every single year but never won thanks to the near-sweep in this category of The Amazing Race. Otherwise it is business as usual, although Fox did score for So You Think You Can Dance, which was a slight surprise here at least to my eyes. I guess the TV industry, like many viewers, is ready to knock American Idol off its perch.
But back to comedy. The resurgence of female-driven comedy series led to inclusions of HBO newcomers Girls and Veep in the series lineup despite limited episodes for both, a great victory for HBO. Plus their stars Lena Dunham (nominated overall for four Emmys) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus landed two of the whopping seven slots in lead comedy actress. Add another newcomer to the list with New Girl’s Zooey Deschanel and there is welcome fresh blood here. It is puzzling though that there is such a disconnect in the comedy category between shows nominated for Best Comedy Series and shows nominated for Best Writing in a Comedy Series. Only Girls managed a mention in both. Otherwise and unusually, the writers went rogue and nominated critical fave Community, Louie (one of an amazing seven individual noms for star Louis C.K. despite missing out on the big one), and two for Parks And Recreation in a category that completely overlooked the current 800-pound gorilla of comedy series in Modern Family. Hmmm. Sometimes the Emmys gets curiouser and curiouser. Or maybe the writing branch is just a little more adventurous than the Academy membership at large, which tends to like what it likes for years on end.
One of the great pleasures of this morning’s nominations was seeing this year’s Emmy host, Jimmy Kimmel (who also stepped in at the last minute — clad in pajamas — to help with the announcements after Nick Offerman got stuck in NY) get his first nomination for Outstanding Variety Series. Well deserved there. Now he’s a member of the club and will likely show up every year, even though The Daily Show With Jon Stewart has and will continue to have a lock on this category especially in a presidential election year.
Even before a single nomination was announced, Academy members already had signed up for categories they wish to judge via at-home voting. Those DVDs for the telecast categories will be mailed the week of August 13 and are due back August 31. The Primetime Emmy Awards are September 23 and will air on ABC. Let’s hope they get a little more adventurous in the final selections to make this something more than a coronation of the same old, same old. But don’t count on it.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.