According to this year's Emmy nominations, which contained some pleasant surprises among the usual annoying snubs and omissions, there's two sure-fire methods to scoring an Emmy nod: Do a costume/period drama, or be on HBO.
As expected, PBS' Downton Abbey (relocated from the world of miniseries) shook up the drama field, while the Western miniseries blockbuster Hatfields & McCoys blazed new trails for History. And after being justifiably shut out last year, HBO (as usual the nomination leader among all networks) reclaimed half the slots in the best-comedy category, for better or worse. Here's a rundown of some of the happier, and not-so-happy, shockers and possible game changers from this year's list.
For a fuller list of nominees, go here.
Four-time winner Mad Men is still TV's most nominated drama with 17 (inexplicably tied with American Horror Story, which lucked out by qualifying in the movie-minis arena), but its streak could be threatened on several fronts: by the insurgence of Showtime's thrilling Homeland (9 nominations), with front-runner Claire Danes and co-star Damian Lewis; by all the love shown to PBS' marvelous Downton Abbey (with 16), including acting nods for many of its titled and servant characters — including, to my delight, Anna and Bates (Joanne Froggatt and Brendan Coyle); and by Breaking Bad roaring back after a year off, with Giancarlo Esposito and Anna Gunn in the mix along with past winners Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul.
Yay for Downton, but boo for CBS' The Good Wife being bounced off the best-drama list (though many of its stars, mostly female, were nominated) in favor of the lackluster second season of Boardwalk Empire (whose most impressive asset, Kelly Macdonald, was passed over). Justified also deserved better, with only guest actor Jeremy Davies (a scream as Dickie Bennett) getting noticed. Other notable snubs: House's Hugh Laurie for his final season, meaning he'll never have won for this iconic role; Boss' Kelsey Grammer, whose bold embrace of gritty drama deserved attention (even when the show is almost laughably downbeat); and let's not go to that Fringe place again. It's just too painful.
Surprises: Mad Men's John Slattery (a four-time nominee) a no-show for one of his best seasons, replaced by co-star Jared Harris for Lane Pryce's tragic downfall (he was also terrific as Fringe's ill-fated Big Bad this year), although I was jazzed to see Ben Feldman in the guest category as scene-stealing upstart Michael Ginsberg. Kathy Bates repeats for the defunct Harry's Law, again unseating past winner Kyra Sedgwick, who's enjoying a powerful swan song on The Closer. (Bates is also nominated for her arguably more successful sitcom guest shot, channeling Charlie on Two and a Half Men.)
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Though it's hard to imagine anything upending TV's most dominant and popular comedy, Modern Family (with all six adult co-stars nominated again), HBO came on strong with three nominees: the return of the uproarious Curb Your Enthusiasm (a no-brainer), plus the arrival of Girls and its groundbreaking auteur Lena Dunham making a splash with well-deserved acting, writing and directing nods. Another happy hyphenate is Louis C.K., who earned acting, directing, writing nominations not only for his FX series Louie but for his Beacon Theater stand-up special. Louie itself didn't make the best-comedy cut, passed over for a third HBO comedy, Veep, which I enjoyed, but not at the expense of Louie. Or Parks and Recreation (which deserved 30 Rock's slot). Or (beating an old battered drum) the underappreciated The Middle and the endangered, embattled Community. Or even Fox's New Girl, which did score nominations for Zooey Deschanel and (joy of joys) Max Greenfield as the hilarious Schmidt.
Surprises: The lead actress field expanding to seven names to make room for Dunham, Deschanel and Veep's caustically hapless Julia Louis-Dreyfus. (But not Golden Globe winner Laura Dern for the shut-out Enlightened. There apparently are limits, even for HBO shows.) Jon Cryer graduating to lead-actor status for Two and a Half Men, beating out co-star Ashton Kutcher — but more aggravatingly, The Big Bang Theory's Johnny Galecki. Glee pretty much falling off the Emmy map (only guest actor Dot-Marie Jones as Coach Beiste made the cut). Betty White (who we'll return to in the reality section) failing to get a repeat nod for Hot in Cleveland in the supporting category, which instead made room for Big Bang's wry Mayim Bialik, Nurse Jackie's delightful Merritt Wever and Desperate Housewives' late, great Kathryn Joosten (who previously won twice for playing Karen McCluskey in the guest category).
It was a good year for PBS' Masterpiece. Besides the warm reception for Downton Abbey, the second cycle of the fantastically entertaining Sherlock mystery series (specifically, A Scandal in Belgravia) earned 13 nominations, including for the terrific Holmes-Watson tag team of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. FX's American Horror Story (with 17) and History's Hatfields & McCoys (16), representing the extreme polar opposites of entertainment — one offers shock-for-shock's-sake lurid sensation, the other old-fashioned (if grim) Western saga storytelling — are neck-and-neck in total nominations, but Horror Story's best shot at a win is for Jessica Lange's already much-honored supporting performance. Hemingway & Gellhorn (with 15) has the glamour factor, but is no more likely to win the big prize than last year's turgid star vehicle Mildred Pierce. With the one sure bet being Julianne Moore's sensational Sarah Palin impersonation in HBO's Game Change (with 12), I find myself rooting for top honors to go to either Sherlock or BBC America's riveting Luther (starring Golden Globe honoree Idris Elba), or, for old time's sake, Hatfields (a huge evolutionary step up from last year's The Kennedys).
Final thought: If the otherwise wonderful Connie Britton can get nominated for her work as the long-suffering heroine on American Horror Story, where she did every scene as if she were holding her nose between takes (and who can blame her), then the TV Academy must really love her. So if ABC's new Nashville is even halfway successful (as it deserves to be), expect her to be a slam-dunk nominee again next year.
Everyone loves Betty White, but ousting Survivor's veteran winner Jeff Probst from the reality-host race? Voters must have been off their rockers. The shunning of Survivor continues to puzzle me — it's at least as good as The Amazing Race these days, and certainly more memorable than the recent seasons of Top Chef or Project Runway. But the real shocker is the snub of another reality pioneer: American Idol, which has had much worse seasons, though never one this crowded with competitors, and there's no question the splashy launch of NBC's The Voice with its rotating chairs and charismatic judges upstaged the granddaddy of the genre. The X Factor? Not remotely a factor. I'm just sorry there's not room for The Glee Project to make some noise here.
How much are we looking forward to Jimmy Kimmel's introductory stand-up as this year's Emmy host? More than ever, as we watched him work this morning's Emmy announcements in his PJs (from the "Husky Baby" collection) — a last-minute sub for a weather-delayed Nick Offerman (another of this year's snubs). Jimmy Kimmel Live has earned its place in this category, alongside fellow former "new kid" Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (pushing Leno and Letterman out of the running), although no one's likely to beat The Daily Show for the foreseeable future. Thankfully for those of us called upon to handicap the unpredictable Emmys every year, some contests are easy to call. (A lot easier than trying to figure out who the Emmy voters will choose to nominate, or not, each year.)
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