June 1, 2004
As hopefuls manuever for Emmy nominations, there remains a logjam of quality in the drama series category.
By Ray Richmond
As the race to land nominations for the 56th annual Primetime Emmy Awards begins its long march to September, a few things already are clear. One is that rumors of the death of comedy have been greatly exaggerated; another is that there remains a logjam of quality in the drama series category, even with last year's most-nominated show, HBO's "Six Feet Under," out of this year's competition because of a lack of eligible episodes.
And while it seems that fewer longform projects are made these days, there is one -- HBO's acclaimed $65 million miniseries "Angels in America," adapted by Tony Kushner from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play -- that not only is widely expected to haul in a slew of nominations but also possesses the potential to win a large (and possibly record) number of statuettes. "Angels" claimed five Golden Globes in January, and there are predictions of even greater Emmy gold.
Then there are "the Big Questions," namely:
Can NBC's "The West Wing" earn its fifth consecutive outstanding drama series trophy and tie the consecutive outstanding-series win record held by the NBC comedy "Frasier"? Or will this be the year voters finally anoint HBO's "The Sopranos," with the series joining its perennial acting winners Edie Falco and James Gandolfini?
Speaking of "Frasier," can the outgoing series pad its Primetime Emmy-record cumulative total of 31 wins? And will it join the swan-songing "Friends" (NBC) and "Sex and the City" (HBO) for a last hurrah in the top comedy category?
Are we destined to see Donald Trump on the Shrine Auditorium stage Sept. 19 in Los Angeles, accepting the reality/competition series prize alongside fellow executive producer Mark Burnett for NBC's "The Apprentice"?
There are other questions, of course, and many surround the all-important factors of perception and buzz, which don't always help predict Emmy's ways. For example, few expected "West Wing" to cop the drama series honor for a fourth straight time last year following a season of tumult, transition and, many believed, comparatively lower quality -- but it won anyway.
HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" also had momentum in its corner last year but lost out to long-overdue CBS mainstay "Everybody Loves Raymond" in the outstanding comedy series category. So while this year's buzz is behind Fox's "Arrested Development," "Sopranos" and "Apprentice," it might be a completely different tale come September.
Many observers also believe that the continued heavy impact of reality-based programming on the scripted TV business could affect the number of new and relatively new series that debut as nominees. Emmy historically has favored age over beauty, consistency over heat; the hip and happening typically stand a better chance at the Globes. But if we have learned anything about the Emmys through the years, it is that one can never say never -- and nothing is set in stone.
There nearly always is a nomination surprise or two, but contenders will be separated from pretenders as Emmy season kicks into gear. Nominations will be announced July 15 -- same time (5:35 a.m. PDT), same place (the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre in North Hollywood) -- and the highest-profile statuettes will be dispensed during the Sept. 19 ceremony, set to air at 8 p.m. EDT/PDT on ABC.
Since the consecutive run of "Frasier" wins ended in 1998, there have been five best comedies in five years.
By Ray Richmond
Arrested Development (Fox)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Everybody Loves Raymond (CBS)
Sex and the City (HBO)
The Bernie Mac Show (Fox)
Malcolm in the Middle (Fox)
Two and a Half Men (CBS)
Will & Grace (NBC)
Dead Like Me (Showtime)
Gilmore Girls (WB)
Reno 911! (Comedy)
Less Than Perfect (ABC)
Since the run of consecutive outstanding comedy series wins for Paramount TV's "Frasier" ended at five in 1998, there have been five victors in the category in five years: Fox's "Ally McBeal" (1999), "Will" (2000), "Sex" (2001), "Friends" (2002) and "Raymond" (2003). The chances of there being a sixth winner in six years appear better than even-money, what with the critical darlings "Curb" and "Arrested" looking to earn their first Emmy series nod.
But the up-and-comers must first pry the Emmy from "Raymond" executive producer Phil Rosenthal's cold, dead hands. Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration: Rosenthal was thrilled that his show finally won the biggest comedy prize on its fifth nomination in the category, but he has no anticipation of -- nor expectation for -- a repeat.
"I never expect anything, to be perfectly honest," Rosenthal says. "The only reason I won't be quite so nervous sitting there this time is that I won't be so scared if, God forbid, I have to get up and speak -- I know that I can do it now. The worst thing that can happen is that we win again, and I have to put my stage fright aside and speak again -- and I guess that's not so awful."
Should "Raymond" win again, it would come as a surprise to Tom O'Neil, author of the book "The Emmys" and founder of the awards-handicapping Web site Goldderby.com. While "Raymond" beat what he calls the "blue-collar curse" once, twice in succession is asking a lot.
"'Raymond' will, of course, be nominated, but it's a highly competitive year," O'Neil says. "There's supposed to be this dearth of good comedy, but competing for a series nomination this year you've got the last years of 'Sex and the City,' 'Friends' and 'Frasier'; and you have 'Arrested Development' on Fox, which appeals to a more mature demo. Then there's 'Scrubs,' which gets snubbed year after year."
The quirky BBC America show "The Office" surprised many observers at the Globes by winning the musical/comedy series trophy and the comedy actor statuette (for star and creator Ricky Gervais). But the Globe win is no predictor this time: "Office" failed to submit enough episodes to qualify for this year's Emmys.
"Curb" was thought by many observers to have enjoyed another banner season, with sad-sack star Larry David reaching new depths of tactlessness and despair. Executive producer Bob Weide already is feeling pressure to motivate David to attend the Emmys if he and the show are nominated as expected.
"Larry sees it as sort of a lose-lose situation, as you might imagine," Weide says. "If the show wins, he's got to get up there and make a speech, and he can't enjoy the evening because he's thinking about getting up and performing; if we lose, then he feels like a loser. All in all, he's not thrilled with the whole thing; it ranks about on a par with getting poked in the eye with a shish kebab skewer."
"Friends" executive producer David Crane sees the Emmys as a slightly more positive experience. He was "thrilled" with his show's 2002 series win and has "not a single complaint about the way the Emmys have treated us. If there's more to come, it would just be amazing."
"Sex" executive producer Michael Patrick King feels the same way and adds that any attention received following his show's final season would be "the icing on the icing of the cake. But I also have to say (that) everyone thinks Sarah Jessica Parker has won before -- (but) she hasn't (won an Emmy for acting, on five nominations). It would sure be nice for it to happen in our show's last year; she so deserves it."
With "Office" out of the running, another show whose hefty critical buzz could carry it to multiple nominations is the low-rated "Arrested," a prospect that is gratifying and a bit shocking to creator/executive producer Mitchell Hurwitz.
"To be thought of in terms of the quality shows of TV is really encouraging and uplifting," he says. "I mean, it's like we've been working in a submarine all year: We shoot all day and night on this single-camera show, writing every day and on weekends; we're not out in the world enough to gauge a reaction to the show. This kind of talk is our tie to the outside world, and we're fortunate to have it."
Of course, "Arrested" as easily could join a list of well-produced comedies that are overlooked by the Emmys year after year, including NBC's "Scrubs" and the WB Network's "Gilmore Girls." Several other comedies also might have a rightful claim to Emmy attention, including USA Network's "Monk" (which earned an acting statuette last year for star Tony Shalhoub), Fox's "Malcolm in the Middle" (still a very funny show and a previous Emmy winner for its writing and direction) and the freshman CBS series "Two and a Half Men."
"Gilmore" creator/executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino admits that her never-nominated show -- an hour entered as a comedy -- is caught between a rock and a hard place.
"We're a hybrid, but we have to be closer to 'Sex and the City' than (we are to) 'The Sopranos,' so we enter ourselves as comedy," she says. "There is no right answer: A lot of our shows are light and funny, and then we hit with a tearful, F'd-up family moment. I guess we're sort of beyond categorization; that can be a problem."
Among comedy performers, "Frasier's" Kelsey Grammer in 2003 failed to earn a lead actor nomination for the first time in 10 years (though co-star David Hyde Pierce earned a 10th straight nom in the supporting actor category). Grammer could bounce back into the category after a final "Frasier" season that is considered among the show's best. He could be joined by Shalhoub, Ray Romano for "Raymond," David for "Curb," Bernie Mac for Fox's "The Bernie Mac Show" and perhaps Matthew Perry for "Friends" or Jason Bateman for "Arrested."
In the supporting comedy actor category, Pierce is expected to join previous winner Sean Hayes ("Will") and last year's victor, Brad Garrett ("Raymond"), along with the long-overlooked Bryan Cranston ("Malcolm"). In addition, most observers agree that John C. McGinley has been passed over criminally for a nom for "Scrubs," an oversight that must be rectified.
The contenders for lead comedy actress are expected to include 2003 winner Debra Messing ("Will"), 2002 winner Jennifer Aniston ("Friends") and "Raymond's" Patricia Heaton, who won in 2000 and 2001. Parker ("Sex") and Jane Kaczmarek ("Malcolm") could hold down the other nomination slots as they seek their first wins following multiple mentions. Other possibilities include "Friends'" Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox and "Gilmore's" Lauren Graham.
The supporting comedy actress nominee roster could feature three-time winner Doris Roberts ("Raymond"), 2000 winner Megan Mullally ("Will") and, in a repeat of last year's category field, "Sex's" Cynthia Nixon and Kim Cattrall and "Curb's" Cheryl Hines. Another possibility is "Arrested's" Jessica Walter.
New blood is poised to enter with race, with "Without a Trace" and "The Shield" poised for possible Emmy breakthroughs.
By Ray Richmond
Law & Order (NBC)
The Sopranos (HBO)
The West Wing (NBC)
Without a Trace (CBS)
Joan of Arcadia (CBS)
Judging Amy (CBS)
The Shield (FX)
American Dreams (NBC)
Cold Case (CBS)
Crossing Jordan (NBC)
CSI: Miami (CBS)
The L-Word (Showtime)
NYPD Blue (ABC)
The Practice (ABC)
The Wire (HBO)
With "Six Feet" not in the running this year, its 16 nominations from 2003 theoretically are up for grabs. That could mean that new blood will enter the outstanding drama series category, with CBS' "Without a Trace" and FX's "The Shield" and "Nip/Tuck" the shows most often mentioned as poised for an Emmy breakthrough. Then again, it could as easily lead to the return of Emmy mainstay "Law & Order" (NBC), which failed to gain a series nomination last year for the first time in a dozen years (and thereby failed to set a consecutive-nom record for scripted series).
Was "Law" creator/executive producer Dick Wolf disappointed about his show not being nominated in 2003?
"You bet I was," he says. "To be there 11 years in a row and then suddenly out of the running was very disappointing -- I'm not going to lie. I still don't know of five shows that are better than us, and I'll tell you this: Anyone who says it's not important to get an Emmy nomination is a liar. It's voted on by the people who do this every day for a living -- so, hell yeah, I'd like to be nominated again."
Time will tell, as it will for "West Wing" and its bid to tie "Frasier's" consecutive outstanding-series trophy record. The political drama has 24 statuettes to show for 73 nominations through its first four seasons; its win total is two more than that for CBS' 1970s sitcom "All in the Family" and only two shy of the 26 pulled in by "Hill Street Blues" during its NBC run.
Not that such facts dominate the thinking of "West Wing" executive producer and showrunner John Wells, who has been "surprised every year" his series wins -- and would be surprised again were it to happen for a fifth straight time in September.
"Even though we weren't supposed to win last year, I wasn't any more surprised than usual," Wells says. "There is a lot of other great work being done out there, and to be judged as the best four times in a row is quite a thrill. But, you know, we never won with (ABC's) 'China Beach,' and I was just as proud of that show as I am of 'West Wing.'"
In handicapping the drama series race, O'Neil sees CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Sopranos," "West Wing" and Fox's "24" as near-lock nominations. "Then you've got the others bubbling underneath the surface like 'Nip/Tuck' (a Golden Globe series nominee), 'Law & Order,' 'The Shield' or maybe HBO's 'Deadwood,'" he says. "And, of course, 'Without a Trace' has buzz in its favor; you can never underestimate that."
O'Neil also would not be surprised to see the much-praised CBS offering "Joan of Arcadia" enter the drama series inner circle "because it sends a political message that Hollywood wants to champion wholesome fare. It would show that the TV industry isn't just comprised of ungodly heathens."
It would mean a lot to "Trace" creator/ executive producer Hank Steinberg and "Nip/Tuck" creator/executive producer Ryan Murphy to land Emmy attention.
"It's very flattering, but I'm also realistic enough to understand that trying to compete with the shows on cable is very difficult," Steinberg says. "We operate on a different playing field than a 'Sopranos,' which need only do 13 episodes every 18 months and has the time, budget and creative freedom to keep the quality high. They can push material that's as edgy as they want with language and nudity; we can almost do the same with violence, but there's a clear double standard.
"But obviously, any Emmy attention would be incredible," he adds. "The idea that voters might be responding to what we've tried to do here -- which is a character-driven show that's broader than just solving crime -- makes us feel like we're accomplishing what we set out to do."
Murphy, whose show not only was singled out for a Golden Globe nom but also was named one of the American Film Institute's 10 best shows of the year, maintains that while the Globe attention has helped put "Nip/Tuck" on the map, an Emmy nomination would do much to help establish it for a long run.
"I remember how, after 'West Wing' got all of those Emmy nominations its first year, the show really took off -- it helped the rest of the country catch up to what critics already knew," Murphy says. "I hope we might find something similar. Even just getting our actors nominations would mean so much."
In the reverse situation, Emmy attention for "CSI" began to arrive after the show was established as a top-rated hit -- but that has not stopped executive producer Anthony Zuiker, a self-described "awards whore."
"Every time we get nominated, it's a big win," he says. "But just once, it would be nice to take one of these things home because I believe we've helped change television. But it's tough to win that big ring."
The large number of deserving drama series contenders means that such deserving shows as ABC's "Alias," CBS' "Judging Amy," HBO's "The Wire," the WB's "Everwood" and NBC's "Crossing Jordan" and "American Dreams" stand to be passed over amid the quality clutter.
The recent lead drama acting races have been the closest things that exist to slam-dunks, with Gandolfini and Falco -- both three-time winners -- the heavy favorites going in. Gandolfini figures to be joined in the actors group by 2002 Emmy winner Michael Chiklis ("Shield"), 2002 Globe victor Kiefer Sutherland ("24"), William Petersen ("CSI") and either Martin Sheen ("West Wing"), Treat Williams ("Everwood"), 2004 Globe winner Anthony LaPaglia ("Trace") or Timothy Olyphant ("Deadwood"). Also receiving big pushes are the "Nip/Tuck" duo of Dylan Walsh and Julian McMahon.
The supporting actor field undoubtedly will be filled with castmates from "West Wing" (John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff) and "Sopranos" (Dominic Chianese, Michael Imperioli, Steve Buscemi, Tony Sirico), along with Victor Garber ("Alias") and Eric Close ("Trace").
Among lead drama actresses, Falco and red-hot newcomer Amber Tamblyn ("Joan") are virtual locks. Their competition is likely to include three-time winner Allison Janney ("West Wing"), Joely Richardson ("Nip/Tuck"), Jennifer Garner ("Alias") and five-time Emmy nominee Amy Brenneman ("Amy"; the star was shut out of a nom last year). "CSI's" Marg Helgenberger also is a good bet, with Jill Hennessy of the resurgent "Jordan" and the underrated Kathryn Morris of CBS' "Cold Case" given outside shots. Falco's "Sopranos" castmate Lorraine Bracco also cannot be discounted.
The supporting actress lineup is topped by "Amy's" Tyne Daly, a six-time Emmy winner (including a 2003 nod); Stockard Channing (the category's 2002 winner) and Janel Moloney for "West Wing"; Drea de Matteo and Aida Turturro for "Sopranos"; Penny Johnson Jerald for "24"; Poppy Montgomery for "Trace"; Mary Steenburgen for "Joan," and Parminder Nagra for NBC's "ER." CCH Pounder, overlooked consistently for her role on "Shield," also should factor into the supporting category.