July 14, 2011

COUNTING TO 10: The Emmy Nominations

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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The Emmys, of all show-business awards, lend themselves least to surprise.  That’s because they’re the only group that nominate and award continuing series, meaning that the same high-quality shows repeat year after year.  (There was a stretch where it seemed like Frasier had started winning Best Comedy during the Truman Administration.)  You can’t really argue with the group of nominees that result:  this year, all of Big Bang Theory, Glee, Modern Family, Parks & Recreation, The Office and 30 Rock are indisputably deserving nominees for Best Comedy–but there’s not a single new show among them (although for Big Bang and Parks & Rec, this is their first time in the category).  However, even at the Emmys, it’s possible to unearth a few odd decisions worth noting:
10.  HBO Rules.  Actually, this isn’t a surprise–it’s been happening now for years–but it still bears repeating:  HBO received 104 nominations today, more than double the closest broadcast network (CBS with 50, followed by NBC with 46, FOX with 42 and ABC with 40).  It’s an astonishing level of domination, especially considering that the network only broadcasts about half a dozen hours of original programming per week, compared with up to 22 hours on the broadcast networks.
9.   Game of Thrones.  And yet… how can HBO’s Game of Thrones earn 13 nominations and not a single one for Cinematography or Art Direction, when it’s the most epic show on television?  (One reason is that its stablemate Boardwalk Empire got 3 of the Cinematography nominations for various episodes.)  Didn’t the nominators watch the show?
8.   Modern Family.  In the kind of sweep that hasn’t been seen much since those Frasier days, every adult member of the Modern Family cast was nominated for an Emmy:  Ty Burrell, Ed O’Neill., Eric Stonestreet, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Sofia Vergera and Julie Bowen.  Although the show has a fantastic ensemble cast, this had the effect of pushing out people like Nick Offerman of Parks & Recreation and everyone from Community.
7.  Treme.  Not to beat a dead horse about HBO deserving still more nominations, and no one expected the show to break into Best Drama with its anemic ratings, but still:  No cast member?  No writer?  No director?  Quality is supposed to be a factor here, folks.
6.   Network Comedy.  For the first time in quite a while, all the nominees for Best Comedy air on broadcast networks:  the flagship shows from CBS, ABC and FOX (Big Bang, Modern Family and Glee, respectively), and from what remains of NBC’s glory, 3 of its Thursday night line-up:  The Office, Parks & Recreation and 30 Rock.  (We’ll see next year if a post-Steve Carell Office can stay in the hunt.) 

5.   Miniseries Actors.  Despite their lack of popular success, superb performances by Idris Elba in Luther and Edgar Ramirez in Carlos were both nominated in the Miniseries Actor category (although neither of their shows made it to Best Movie/Miniseries).  Some recognition is better than none.
4.   Conan.  It’s not a surprise that Conan O’Brien’s TBS show was nominated for Best Variety/Music/Comedy Series and Jay Leno’s Tonight Show wasn’t.  What is a surprise is that Conan squeezed out perennial nominee David Letterman.
3.   Friday Night Lights.  Now that it’s too late to make any difference (the series finale, having already aired on DirecTV, has its NBC run tomorrow), the Academy finally took note of Friday Night Lights, certainly one of the best dramas to air on network television in the past decade.  (Kyle Chandler and Connie Britten were both nominated again for their iconic performances, but no one in the spectacular supporting cast.)  In this case, better late than never doesn’t quite cut it.
2.   The Kennedys.  One of the worst shows in the history of television–and I don’t care what the viewer’s politics are–somehow managed to get 10 nominations, including for Best Movie/Miniseries and all its major actors as well (except Katie Holmes and her waxworks Jackie Kennedy).  I have no explanation for this, but will just note that the Liberal Conspiracy That Controls Hollywood apparently didn’t send in their ballots this year.  (Less surprising are the 21 nominations for Mildred Pierce, which was a show hardly anyone seemed to like, but in a very respectful way.)
1.   Louie.  The Academy was never going to nominate Louie C.K.’s brilliant, hilarious, scabrous, endlessly daring, sometimes lyrical, often offensive half-hour for Best Comedy.  (If you haven’t seen it–and you should–think Seinfeld meets a John Cassavettes movie meets Taxi Driver.)  But bless those nominators, they gave its auteur nominations for Best Actor and Comedy Script.  So yes, sometimes the Emmys manage the biggest surprise of all:  they do the right thing.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."