Procedural performers try to crack award case

Sure, it’s easy to win an acting award when it’s all about you. Your character. Your emotions.

But sometimes, it’s all about the clues. Closing the case. Chasing the medical malady. What’s an actor to do while spouting legalese or bio-jargon?

Not win awards, apparently. Some ceremonies are shutouts for procedural performers. The Golden Globes are rare in honoring at least a few case-driven actors, notably Hugh Laurie of “House” and Kyra Sedgwick of “The Closer” two years back. Mariska Hargitay of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and Anthony LaPaglia of “Without a Trace” have also taken recent TV drama Globes.

But more often, that gold goes to performers in shows built specifically around them (Glenn Close last year in “Damages”) or in sagas probing the inner lives of their characters (Jon Hamm for “Mad Men”).

“Any time an actor wins for a crime drama, it comes as a huge surprise,” says TV Guide critic Matt Roush. “The thing is, there are too many (procedurals), and too few of them stand out. There’s really good work being done in the genre, but unless it’s a sort of over-the-top character like ‘The Closer,’ where Kyra Sedgwick gets to play it with flamboyance and humor, it tends to get ignored.”

Which is frustrating, too, for the creative team trying to showcase those performances. “House” executive producer Katie Jacobs says she’s thrilled Laurie’s idiosyncratic work has been honored, but discouraged by less notice for his crucial colleagues, including Robert Sean Leonard and Lisa Edelstein.

“What does ‘procedural’ really mean? It means you have a spine on which to hang the stories about your people,” Jacobs says of her diagnostic what-dunit. “There’s not a single scene that’s purely about medicine, and that makes it harder for an actor. They have more than one thing going on.”

That versatility can emerge as procedurals go deeper into their runs — and thus their characters. In the fourth season of “House,” Leonard watched his lover die, and Edelstein tried to have a baby.

“As the audience has gotten to know the characters, you can tell more emotional stories, peeling away more and more layers,” Jacobs says. “One of the great things about having a procedural as your spine is it gives you latitude to veer away from that, because the audience knows you’ll always return.”

Even if some of the actors don’t. An exit can stir awards consideration. William Petersen’s poignant segue out of “CSI” is “a pivotal year for him,” says Roush, “as a major actor on a major show going through a huge transition.” And transition is certainly the watchword with the revolving-door cast of “Law and Order,” where Roush sees a newly arrived attention-getter.

“Linus Roache has been spearheading the rejuvenation there,” Roush says, adding that he’s been particularly good at bringing a new energy to a drama known for eschewing showy moments among its ensemble.

Newer case-driven dramas are hitching their wagons to stars. Roush thinks Simon Baker, a 2001 Golden Globe nominee for “The Guardian,” has a chance at Globes recognition this year, “because they’ve structured ‘The Mentalist’ for him to be head-and-shoulders the star of the show. They write to him and write big stories around him.”

It might help that there is only one “Mentalist.” The multiple series in procedural franchises like “Law and Order” and “CSI” are apt to cancel each other out when it comes to balloting, says Globes voter Jenny Cooney Carrillo, who writes for TV Week Australia and TV Guide New Zealand.

Yet procedurals may otherwise be a step ahead of the game at the Globes, Cooney Carrillo notes, thanks to the way those awards are determined. Where the Emmys ask voters to weigh a single submitted episode, “We vote on the whole year, and we’re much more likely to vote for what we watch” — a boon for crowdpleasing case-solvers.

“We’re not in the industry; we’re journalists — outsiders — so we don’t vote for our studio or who our friends are,” Cooney Carrillo says. “We’re all voting as viewers.”

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