Analysis: The 61st Primetime Emmy Awards nominations

07.16.09 9 years ago


You’ll excuse me if this analysis piece took slightly longer to write than usual. I had my “Emmy voters keep nominating the same stupid stuff” column almost entirely pre-written, but then I had to pause, reevaluate my main thesis and change to “Emmy voters keep nominating much of the same old stuff, but this year’s nominations included a number of pleasant surprises.”

[Analysis after the break…]

The Television Academy chose the right year to expand the fields in most categories to six nominees. Because last year’s Emmys honored so few departing shows, there was almost no attrition in most of the major categories. That meant that there was a very real possibility that the Emmys could have become an echo chamber of entrenched nominees. Because of the extra nod, nearly every category this year had room for at least one or two oddball or out-of-left-field nomination.

So yes, the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy field has familiar faces like Alec Baldwin, Steve Carell, Tony Shalhoub and Charlie Sheen. Those guys were never going anywhere. But Jim Parsons for “The Big Bang Theory” and Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords”? Those nominations are fun! Predicting Mary-Louise Parker, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Christina Applegate and Tina Fey for Lead Actress in a Comedy? Easy. But welcome to the party, Sarah Silverman and Toni Collette.

It would be too easy to say that the Emmy voters only injected new blood thanks to that extra nomination slot. Three-time winners Jeremy Piven and James Spader, both regularly derided as symbols of Emmy complacency, dropped off the rolls this year, allowing new nominees like Simon Baker, Jack McBrayer and Tracy Morgan to make the field. 

[Of course, McBrayer and Morgan and Jane Krakowski, all first-time “30 Rock” nominees, were able to ride on that NBC comedy’s ample coattails. Among the  22 nominations for “30 Rock” were utter domination of the Outstanding Writing and Directing for a Comedy Series categories (seven of 11 nominations) and Guest Actor and Actress in a Comedy Series (five of 10 nominations). Biggest surprise: Of the four “30 Rock” writing nominations, none were for Tina Fey.]

Even the expansion to six nominations proved insufficient for the Academy, as both the Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Drama Series fields had to be expanded to seven nominees apiece. Seven nods? What do the Emmys think they are? The Oscars?!? The swell to seven allowed for quirky newbie nominees like “Flight of the Conchords,” “Family Guy” and “How I Met Your Mother” on the comedy side and “Big Love” and “Breaking Bad” for drama.

While last year’s ceremony was light on opportunities to honor departing shows — Emmy voters just continued to ignore the last season of “The Wire” like each of the previous seasons — this year saw a number of long-running and Emmy decorated shows go off the air. The Academy responded with varying levels of nostalgia.

The series finales of “E.R.,” “Battlestar Galactica” and “Boston Legal” all earned nominations for their respective directors (Rod Holcomb, Michael Rymer and Bill D’Elia), but the exiting glow around the three acclaimed dramas was limited. “Battlestar Galactica” earned five nominations, but failed to secure a going away nod for Mary McDonnell or Edward James Olmos. “Boston Legal” had four nominations, including nods for William Shatner and Christian Clemenson, but both Spader and Bergen failed to repeat. “E.R.,” once a reliable Emmy juggernaut, limped off the stage with only two nominations.

At least those three shows did better than “The Shield,” which was shut out in its final go-round.

If Emmy voters weren’t overwhelmed with respect for their exiting elders, at least you can’t accuse them of being overly enamored of shiny and new programming. Of the 14 slots for Outstanding Comedy and Outstanding Drama Series, not a one went to a show in its first year. Of the 24 available nominations for Lead Actor and Actress in a Comedy and Drama, only Baker and Collette come from new shows. Of the 24 Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress nominees, zero come from new shows (though many were new actors on returning shows).

“The Mentalist,” TV’s most-watched new show, earned only the nomination for Baker. “Fringe,” TV’s most-watched new show in the 18-49 demographic, was only nominated for visual effects. HBO’s exhaustively hyped “True Blood” received only three nominations in its first year of eligibility.

Wait. So does that mean that I’m ultimately saying that Emmy voters failed to honor either the newest or oldest shows? See? And you thought they were boring and predictable!

And yet, looking forward to the actual ceremony, you may wonder if the fresh blood will even matter. The leading nominees for comedy and drama are “30 Rock” and “Mad Men,” which were both series winners last year and appear to be favorites again this year. 

Let’s look at a few oddities from the nominations before I start putting together photo galleries:

*** Kiefer Sutherland may have been nominated, once again, for his role as Jack Bauer, but the former winner in the Lead Actor Drama Series category picked up his nomination for the telefilm “24: Redemption” this time around.

*** The CW received only two nominations as a network, a cinematography nod for “Everybody Hates Chris” and a sound editing nod for “Smallville.” Hey, at least The CW beat “According to Jim,” which received its annual nomination for cinematography.

*** Five of the 10 writing nominations for drama and comedy included guys named Weiner, with Matthew Weiner picking up four “Mad Men” nominaitons and Ron Weiner getting one for “30 Rock.” Yes, I’m aware that’s something that only interests me. 

*** Ellen Burstyn, whose nomination for a three-second (not quite literally) role in “Mrs. Harris” set off a firestorm two years ago, is back with a nod for “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” I hope somebody checked her screentime there. Meanwhile, with guest nods for Burstyn, Carol Burnett and Brenda Blethyn, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” continues to be a go-to show for women of a certain age looking for Emmy love.

*** Who isn’t looking forward to seeing Ernest Borgnine and Ed Asner going head-to-head for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series? Actually, we’d guess that Michael J. Fox is going to beat both of them for his turn on “Rescue Me.”

*** Other frequently nominated actors who were left off this year include Rachel Griffiths and recent winners Jean Smart and America Ferrera.

*** And if you were curious, of my 48 predictions for Emmy acting nominees,  I appear to have only gotten 29 right, proving that I’m a total moron.

What’d you think of the nominations?

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