“Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog,” E.B. White once wrote. “Few people are interested, and the frog dies of it.”
Awarding comedy writers, on the other hand, can help sustain them, as Emmys have done for writers on once-precarious shows like “30 Rock” and “Arrested Development.”
This year’s comedy writing category is refreshingly diverse, thanks to freshmen shows “Glee” and “Modern Family,” which may break the lock NBC writers have had on this Emmy for the last four years.
This is the first nomination as a writer for “Glee’s” Ryan Murphy, who got a nod for directing “Nip/Tuck,” and it’s the maiden Emmy nom for Murphy’s co-writers, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan.
“The Office” writers Greg Daniels and Mindy Kaling are up for one of their show’s landmark episodes, the long-awaited marriage of Pam and Jim. Though Kaling has been nominated before as a producer, this is her first Emmy as a writer, and Daniels’ second.
The 800-lb. gorilla in the category is “30 Rock,” which so dominated last year that its writers claimed four of the five slots and won the Emmy. This year, they’ve got two nominations: Seven-time winner Tina Fey co-wrote one of the nominated episodes with Emmy newcomer Kay Cannon, while two-time winner Matt Hubbard penned the other.
In a battle of old favorites vs. new faces, the advantage may belong to a show that has both. A fresh take on the family sitcom, “Modern Family” is written by veterans Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, who both took home Emmys while working on that Academy darling, “Frasier.”
Greg Daniels, Mindy Kaling
“The Office” (“Niagara”)
Emmy pedigree: For Daniels, five wins plus 11 other noms; for Kaling, three other noms.
Best scene: When Pam and Jim get hitched, even the obligatory overwhelmed bride scene has that unique, “Office” zing. The only reveler sober enough to cope with a co-worker’s dancing injury, five-months pregnant Pam shudders, “I know way too much about Andy’s scrotum.”
Why they might win: The double-episode is a high point for the series, the culmination of Jim and Pam’s five-year romance.
Maybe not: Many critics and fans feel the typically risk-taking show has otherwise been in a rut.
“30 Rock” (“Anna Howard Shaw Day”)
Emmy pedigree: Two wins.
Best scene: Jack’s appearance on the fictional CNBC show “Hot Box” is a brilliant send-up of cable news, where lightning-round banter passes for in-depth analysis and a glam host (Elizabeth Banks) tosses to “this ad aimed at the elderly.”
Why he might win: Momentum … last year Hubbard won, and the show took four of the category’s five nominations.
Maybe not: “30 Rock” is getting a reputation with critics for coasting on laughs alone and skimping on story.
Tina Fey, Kay Cannon
“30 Rock” (“Lee Marvin vs. Derek Jeter”)
Emmy pedigree: For Fey, seven wins and eight other noms.
Best scene: “30 Rock” is at its best when poking fun at its own network, as in Will Ferrell’s 10-second cameo in this episode promoting a crass NBC show called “Bitch Hunter” (co-produced by Ben Silverman!).
Why they might win: The Academy loves it some Fey (count those seven prior wins).
Maybe not: Did we mention those seven prior wins? It may be time for Fey to make room for the new kids.
Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Ian Brennan
Emmy pedigree: For Murphy, two other nominations.
Best scene: When the misfit glee-clubbers from William McKinley High belt out Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” they inspire their glum adviser, threaten the dictatorial cheerleading coach and cheer up anyone with a pulse.
Why they might win: The pop/satire hybrid may be rewarded for its novelty.
Maybe not: It’s easier to appreciate “Glee’s” big production numbers than the show’s writing, which doesn’t draw attention to itself with sitcom-style one-liners.
Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd
“Modern Family” (Pilot)
Emmy pedigree: Levitan, one win and one other nomination; Lloyd, six wins and four other nominations.
Best scene: When the family converges for dinner, gay couple Cameron and Mitchell drop the news that they adopted a baby girl in Vietnam. Old-fashioned patriarch Jay pivots on his earlier assertion that all kids need a mom — “She’s one of us now!” he declares. “Lemme see the little potsticker!”
Why they might win: This fresh and, well, modern take on the family sitcom, comes from two “Frasier” writers with serious Academy clout.
Maybe not: “Glee” and “Modern Family” could split the newbie vote, leaving the win to that old Emmy bastion — NBC’s Thursday night.
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