Breaking down the Television Critics Association Awards nominations

Senior Television Writer
06.03.10 86 Comments


One of the perks and/or burdens, depending on your point of view, of membership in the Television Critics Association is the chance to nominate, and then vote for, the Television Critics Association Awards, which are presented each summer during the TCA press tour. (This year’s ceremony will be on July 31.)

On the one hand, because TV critics watch a whole lot more TV than Emmy voters, we get to give nominations and awards to shows like “Friday Night Lights” and “Homicide” that are ignored by the Academy. On the other hand, we’re still voting as a group, and because our opinions are not in lockstep with each other, there will be times when the group consensus goes wildly against the views of some members. (I still cringe at the thought that we gave “Heroes” the Program of the Year award in 2007 over, among other things, season four of “The Wire,” arguably the best season of any TV drama ever.)

Still, I’m quite pleased by the list of nominees that was released today. Not all of my favorites were nominated (“Community” was ignored), we showed signs of the same short-memory syndrome that plagues the bigger showbiz awards, and I’m sure a number of winners won’t be ones I would pick (I’m bracing myself for a whole lotta “Glee” love). But overall, we got it right a lot more than we didn’t, with “Modern Family” leading the pack with five nominations and “Breaking Bad” right on its heels with four.

The nominations, and my thoughts on each category, coming up after the jump…

Individual achievement in drama:

Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad,” AMC)

John Lithgow (“Dexter,” Showtime)

Julianna Margulies (“The Good Wife,” CBS)

Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad,” AMC)

Katey Sagal (“Sons of Anarchy,” FX)

No “Mad Men” or “Lost” actors – “Mad Men” in general seemed to suffer from having aired so long ago during a particularly rich period of quality TV, as it got only one nomination – but hard to argue with the inclusion of anybody here. Because the TCA doesn’t differentiate between lead and supporting actors, we get Cranston and Paul, and we get Lithgow (who was the main reason to watch “Dexter” season four) over (the still-excellent) Michael C. Hall. One of several categories where I will have to think long and hard on a winner, with Paul and Sagal probably my two favorites right now.

Individual achievement in comedy:

Ty Burrell (“Modern Family,” ABC)

Jane Lynch (“Glee,” Fox)

Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation,” NBC)

Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory,” CBS)

Eric Stonestreet (“Modern Family,” ABC)

Ron. Effing. Swanson! It’s nominations like Offerman’s that makes me particularly happy to be a member of this group, since I doubt he has even an outside shot at an Emmy nomination. For that matter, I suspect the only way Stonestreet gets noticed by the Emmys is if “Modern Family” essentially sweeps the comedy supporting categories, since I suspect Ed O’Neill and Burrell will be higher on most Emmy ballots. I’m voting Swanson, but I suspect the TCA as a whole will love Lynch.

Outstanding achievement in news & information:

“30 for 30” (ESPN)

“America: The Story of Us” (History Channel)

“Life” (Discovery Channel)

“The Daily Show” (Comedy Central)

“The Rachel Maddow Show” (MSNBC)

Happy to see “30 for 30” (which I also would have considered for a Program of the Year nomination under different circumstances) get nominated, as well as the eye-popping “Life.” If “Daily Show” wins again, Jon Stewart can once again scold us for placing the show in this category.

Outstanding achievement in youth programming:

“Dinosaur Train” (PBS)

“iCarly” (Nickelodeon)

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (Cartoon Network)

“Word Girl” (PBS)

“Yo Gabba Gabba” (Nick Jr.)

My command of children’s programming is limited to what my daughter watches, and “Word Girl” is the only one of those shows on this list. I’ll likely abstain here.

Outstanding new program:

“Glee” (Fox)

“Justified” (FX)

“Modern Family” (ABC)

“Parenthood” (NBC)

“The Good Wife” (CBS)

“Community” was unfortunately shut out here, as well as every other category. It would’ve gotten my vote if here. This category, like many, seems like it will be a TCA toss-up between “Glee” and “Modern Family,” whereas my vote will be torn between “MF” and “Justified.”

Outstanding achievement in movies, miniseries and specials:

“Life” (Discovery Channel)

“Temple Grandin” (HBO)

“The Pacific” (HBO)

“Torchwood: Children of Earth” (BBC America)

“You Don”t Know Jack” (HBO)

“Torchwood” or “Temple Grandin” would be easy choices for me in a lot of other years, but there is only one acceptable choice in this category, and that’s “The Pacific.”

Outstanding achievement in drama:

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

“Lost” (ABC)

“Mad Men” (AMC)

“Sons of Anarchy” (FX)

“The Good Wife” (CBS)

“Mad Men” gets its only nod in a loaded category (one that didn’t have room for “Treme” or “Parenthood” or “Friday Night Lights,” among others, though the latter did well for itself). Great as “Mad Men” and “SoA” were this year, and moving as much of the final “Lost” season were, season three of “Breaking Bad” has been a cut above pretty much everything else on television for me.

Outstanding achievement in comedy:

“Glee” (Fox)

“Modern Family” (ABC)

“Parks and Recreation” (NBC)

“Party Down” (Starz)

“The Big Bang Theory” (CBS)

Another loaded category, with no room for either “Community” or the “Seinfeld” season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (which, like “Mad Men,” aired a very long time ago). On the other hand, I’m very pleased we recognized “Party Down” (that it was airing during the nominating period helped, I’m sure), and while I suspect this will be another “Glee”/”MF” shootout, my vote’ll be for “Parks and Rec.”

Career achievement:

James Garner

Bill Moyers

Sherwood Schwartz

William Shatner

Dick Wolf

Betty White got it last year, or else she’d be a shoo-in. An eclectic bunch, including one of the all-time great TV stars in Garner, a respected newsman in Moyers, an icon across multiple decades and roles in Shatner, a producer of enduring and critically-acclaimed series in Wolf and the creator of two critically-reviled but demographically-beloved sitcoms in Schwartz. Hard as it is to go against The Shat, I’m too much of a “Rockford Files” fan to not vote for Garner.

Heritage award:



“Law & Order”


“Twin Peaks”

Since it was created, this award (which “recognizes a program whose content has had a positive impact on society and popular culture beyond the boundaries of TV”) has tended to go to a long-running series that just ended its run. Problem is, we have three of those here. I imagine it’ll come down to “Lost” vs. “L&O,” which turns into a bit of a Peak vs. Career debate. At its best, “Lost” blew away the best of “L&O,” but “L&O” was better for longer (and on much longer, period) and arguably had more impact, both on TV and off it. Tough call.

Program of the year:

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

“Friday Night Lights” (DirecTV/NBC)

“Glee” (Fox)

“Lost” (ABC)

“Modern Family” (ABC)

Due to quirks in the nomination process (and how the categories are constructed), we tend to get at least one nominee a year in this category that wasn’t recognized elsewhere. This year, it’s “FNL,” which had itself a pretty great fourth season, but will have to accept the nomination as its reward. My vote goes to “Breaking Bad,” but “Glee” and “Modern Family” both have very rabid fans among the membership, and we may see voters split the difference between “Lost” and “L&O” in heritage by voting for “Lost” here. (That, or Dick Wolf might win Career and “Lost” Heritage.)

So what do you guys think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at

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