By and large, the easiest way to be nominated for an Emmy is to have already been nominated for an Emmy. If you’re lucky, you’ll see maybe one or two new nominees per category each year.
In the 2011-12 TV season, though, there was so much obviously outstanding new work – or, in some cases, work by shows that weren’t eligible a year ago – that there was more turnover in the nominations than in quite some time.
“Breaking Bad” returned after a year off with 13 nominations, just as “Curb Your Enthusiasm” reclaimed its usual spots after some time away with five nods. “Downton Abbey” was forced by logic to be nominated as a drama rather than a miniseries this year and picked up 16 nominations in the process. Showtime’s riveting new thriller “Homeland” couldn’t be ignored, with nine nominations overall, including for drama series and stars Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. HBO’s “Veep” and “Girls” were both nominated for outstanding comedy series, with “Girls” creator/star Lena Dunham being nominated as an actress, a writer, a director and a producer. Fellow “girl” rookie Zooey Deschanel was nominated for comedy actress for “New Girl,” and Showtime even got Don Cheadle a comedy actor nomination for “House of Lies.”
As a bit of karmic balance for the “Downton” category switch, FX figured out an Emmy loophole that somehow allowed “American Horror Story” to be submitted as a miniseries. While it may have struggled to find traction among the other drama series, the minis category is so lightweight that it tied with “Mad Men” for the most nominations this year, at 17. HBO was unable to make the same argument for “Luck,” which won’t be back next season, and as a result the horse racing drama didn’t get a single nomination, not even for Dustin Hoffman. (The TV Academy directed its usual movie star crush on HBO’s heavily-panned TV movie “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” which got 15 nominations, including for Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen.)
All the new and/or relocated blood sent some recent Emmy favorites packing. “The Office” was shut out completely, and “Glee” got only three minor nominations. After doing well for itself last year, “Justified” was sent back to the minor leagues, with a guest star nod for Jeremy Davies the most prominent of its three. “Parks and Recreation” snuck into the comedy series field a year ago and got bounced out by the arrival of the HBO comedies.
(On the plus side, the comedy series writing category’s only nominees were two “Parks” episodes, the “Community” episode with alternate timelines, and the premieres of “Girls” and “Louie” – in other words, the four best comedies on television, even if “Girls” was the only one to also be nominated for outstanding comedy series. I’ll just choose to view the winner of that category as the “real” overall winner.)
Of course, the run on shiny new things only went so far. All six of the adult “Modern Family” castmembers were again nominated. “Mad Men,” as usual, was at the top of the overall nominations list, with the only notable change being Jared Harris taking co-star John Slattery’s usual drama supporting actor slot. (Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss and Christina Hendricks were again nominated; Jessica Paré was not, suggesting that Emmy voters aren’t huge fans of Megan Draper, who was the show’s female lead this year.)
Will all this new blood in the nominations translate into fresh winners? I would have to think Danes is a lock in her category, and the odds might favor Dunham winning one of her many categories. But I still expect to see “Modern Family” and “Mad Men” walking up to the podium for the big prizes, “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston to again leave his competition in the dust, etc. As with nominations, the easiest way to win an Emmy is to have already won one. Every now and then, though, the new blood is so overwhelmingly the best that it can overcome the usual laziness.
Some other Emmy thoughts:
* “Parks and Rec” co-star Nick Offerman was supposed to announce the nominations with Kerry Washington, but his plane got grounded in the Midwest, and a pajama-clad Jimmy Kimmel took his place. Probably for the best, as the actor playing one of the great sitcom characters of the 21st century was again ignored by the Academy. (Bill Hader from “SNL” and Max Greenfield from “New Girl” took the two non-“Modern Family” slots in that category.)
* Fact: Emmy voters love Betty White. This year, they somehow couldn’t make room for her in the comedy supporting actress category for “Hot in Cleveland,” but they made it up to her by putting her up for reality show host for “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.”
* Another pleasant surprise: one of the comedy actresses who kept White out of her usual category was “Nurse Jackie” sidekick Merritt Wever, who gives one of TV’s funniest performances but tends to get overshadowed at awards season by Edie Falco.
* If Jon Hamm couldn’t win the drama actor award last year when Cranston was ineligible and Hamm had “The Suitcase” as a submission episode, I’m beginning to suspect his best chance to win a trophy will be for a role other than Don Draper – in this case, for his hilarious, fearless blackface performance in the live “30 Rock” episode.
* History’s “Hatfields & McCoys” – an actual miniseries, as opposed to shenanigans involving “American Horror Story,” “Missing” (which got a nomination for Ashley Judd), “Luther” and “Sherlock” (which submitted one of its episodes as a movie) – unsurprisingly did very well for itself, with 16 nominations overall, including Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton.
* Despite the arrival of two “Downton Abbey” actresses (Joanna Froggatt and Maggie Smith) into the drama supporting actress category, “Breaking Bad” wife Anna Gunn managed to secure her first Emmy nomination. Also Emmy rookies from that show: Giancarlo Esposito (who will have to beat co-star Aaron Paul and Peter Dinklage from “Game of Thrones,” the last two winners) and, as a guest star, Mark Margolis as the silent, enraged Tio Salamanca. Ding. Ding. DING.
I may update with more bullet points as they come to me, but that’s it for now. What does everybody else think of the nominations? UPDATE: And some more thoughts:
* This is the first year in Emmy history where none of the outstanding drama series nominees were from one of the major broadcast networks, though PBS is technically an over-the-air channel. With “Friday Night Lights” (which was only kinda-sorta a network show its last few years) over and “The Good Wife” bumped by “Downton” and/or “Breaking Bad,” the Big Four got shut out.
* Getting back to reality for a moment, “The Voice” gets nominated and bumps “American Idol” in the process, and that Betty White nomination means that Jeff Probst won’t win the hosting category for the fifth straight year.
* BBC America’s “The Hour” is yet another show that’s submitted as a miniseries but really isn’t. That said, it was terrific, and worth far more than just the nomination for Abi Morgan’s writing. No Romola Garai? No Dominic West, for either this or “Appropriate Adult”?
* While the two veteran AMC dramas cleaned up as usual, “Hell on Wheels” was only nominated for its theme music and “The Killing” was ignored altogether after getting a bunch of nominations last year.
* Though the “Modern Family” women seem like the comedy supporting actress favorites, I wouldn’t count out either the late Kathryn Joosten for sentimental reasons, nor Mayim Bialik, who has a very good chance if she submits the episode that has this scene.
* Neil Marshall not being nominated for directing the “Blackwater” episode of “Game of Thrones” seems silly. I like most of those nominees a lot, but I’d easily bump “Downton Abbey” director Brian Percival for Marshall.
* Glad to see “Bob’s Burgers” get nominated for animated series, but what about H. Jon Benjamin’s other show? Will “Archer” nom put Emmy voters in the Danger Zone?
* Speaking of animation, I’m beyond pleased that Dan Povenmire was nominated for voicing Dr. Doofenshmirtz, the funniest character on the very funny kids’ show “Phineas & Ferb.”
* Other than a guest nod for Uma Thurman and the expected composing and choreography nominations, “Smash” was largely ignored.
* Kelsey Grammer was an Emmy favorite in his Frasier Crane days, but he wasn’t able to crack the tough drama actor field. In a way, his omission is even more surprising than Hoffman’s, in that the way “Luck” ended put a taint on that show above and beyond whatever creative issues voters may have had with it.
* Hardcore Emmy nerditry forces me to note several very interesting contenders for main title design, with “American Horror Story” as the probable (and deserving) favorite, the very cool “Strike Back” credit sequence and the retro dreams of the “Magic City” titles.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org