'30 Rock' faces deeper competition

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The competition for this year’s comedy series Emmy will be anything but funny. Even though “30 Rock” has won the series kudo for three years’ running, there are well over a dozen potential nominees spread across network, basic cable and premium cable, setting up a race for the crown that might be even more fierce than the typically cutthroat drama category.

Established comedy contenders like “30 Rock,” “The Office” and “Two and a Half Men” have been joined in the competish by potential first-time nominees including “Glee,” “Modern Family,” “Parks and Recreation” and “The Big Bang Theory.” Several explanations for the explosion exist — including the notion that it has been in the works for much more than the past year.

“Personally, I think TV has, taken as a whole, been really good for a while now,” “30 Rock” exec producer Robert Carlock says. “But if there is a ‘boom,’ then great. And of course the same thing has been happening on the drama side. I won’t pretend to understand the business, but in our thousand-channel universe there are clearly more outlets, and that means more voices can be heard.”

“Party Down” co-creator John Enbom also thinks the broader TV frontier has strengthened the comedy category.

“We were really lucky to work with Starz because they have a different approach than a network,” he says, “and we’ve been given time to develop the show and find our voice.”

Veteran sitcom actress Megan Mullally, who now appears on “Party Down,” believes there’s a spirit of camaraderie at work that’s feeding many of the shows.

“You have a lot of people who are also working on each other’s shows, giving each other jobs, and really the only criteria seems to be if you’re talented and funny,” says Mullally. “I don’t get the sense that there’s a lot of competition as much as they just want to make each other laugh.”

“Modern Family” co-creator Steve Levitan thinks there’s an openness to telling stories about more recognizable characters that has given shows more resonance.

“We … and a lot of shows are telling stories about characters that seem real, that have real problems and that look a little more real than some TV characters did in the past,” he says.

This sense of realism may also be inspired from other television genres.

“I think comedy has been most influenced by reality television,” says B.J. Novak of “The Office.” “The ways shows are shot and the way characters are shown has a lot to do with what we’ve been seeing in reality TV over the last 10 years.”

Count the rise of the single-camera format among those effects.

“I do think there’s been a single-camera revolution,” says “Parks and Recreation” star and producer Amy Poehler. “That’s created opportunities to tell stories in new ways.”

Adds Sarah Silverman of “The Sarah Silverman Program”: “Single camera is more intimate because the camera can go right into someone’s face, and you can take the show in directions that make it feel more authentic for the audience.”

Before anyone gets too comfortable with the idea that it’s all about single camera, you have to consider that “The Big Bang Theory” and “Two and a Half Men” are routinely pulling in big ratings going a relatively more traditional route.

“I was initially reluctant to go back to a multicamera comedy,” says Johnny Galecki of “Big Bang.” “But this format has worked for audiences since ‘The Honeymooners,’ and it’s still working now.”

Still, “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy points out that formats come and go, but letting the audience connect with characters that struggle against a handicap or problem is what makes great television.

“For a while shows were clever but they were a little cold, and I think ultimately audiences want to feel something,” says Murphy.

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