SAG Awards TV nominations favor the familiar over the new

One of the defining traits of The Quality TV Deluge of 2013 has been the arrival of so many impressive new series to add to a landscape that already included the shows of HBO, AMC, FX, et al. The likes of “Orange Is the New Black,” “Masters of Sex,” the different Sundance series, “The Americans,” and more added so much vitality to television – and so many indelible performances, like Tatiana Maslany playing a half dozen roles on “Orphan Black.”

If showbiz awards are designed in part as a historical record of what a particular year was like, then today’s Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations didn’t do a great job of telling the story of 2013. It featured most of the usual suspects(*) like “Breaking Bad” and “Boardwalk Empire” and “Modern Family” and “Downton Abbey,” and as a result there was virtually no room to recognize newcomers.

(*) One notable omission from that group: “Mad Men,” which didn’t get any nominations at all (though Elisabeth Moss was recognized for her work in “Top of the Lake”) is losing support from all the awards groups at this point.

Kevin Spacey from “House of Cards” was the only acting nominee from a new series, and if that show had starred someone who wasn’t a two-time Oscar winner, it’s easy to wonder if that actor would have been acknowledged. The combined movie star power of Spacey and Robin Wright wasn’t enough to get “Cards” an ensemble nomination, nor did SAG recognize “Orange Is the New Black,” the sort of show with such a wide and deep bench of great performances that you would think the ensemble award was made for it. (You can be sure Netflix will submit the show to the Emmys as a comedy, where it will have an easier path to nominations. UPDATE: Or not. I’m told they will, in fact, submit the show as a drama for Emmy consideration.)

I suppose “Arrested Development” sort of qualifies as a new series, as it’s been off the air for seven years, but it was nominated twice for comedic ensemble back in its FOX days. (It lost both times to “Desperate Housewives.”) The most notable newcomer in the comedy nominations is Mayim Bialik for “Big Bang Theory,” and that’s a show in its seventh season.

As I said when the Emmy nominations came out in the summer, there’s just too much good TV at this point to come close to recognizing it all, and it’s especially hard because SAG doesn’t distinguish between lead and supporting performances. So Peter Dinklage, who is wonderful in “Game of Thrones” but appears very briefly in most episodes, gets considered alongside Kevin Spacey, Bryan Cranston and company, just as Maggie Smith does on the drama actress side, leaving no room for the likes of Maslany, Lizzy Caplan from “Masters of Sex,” Vera Farmiga from “Bates Motel,” Keri Russell from “The Americans,” Emmy Rossum from “Shameless” or even perennial (deserving) nominee Julianna Margulies.

Awards show voters trend towards the familiar, especially when the familiar features so much great work. I assume “Breaking Bad” is going to win everything it’s eligible for in drama, so objections on that side will ultimately be moot. But this is a really predictable list of nominees in what was a marvelously unpredictable year in television.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at