Emmy empathy for 'Glee,' 'Modern Family'

Reactions |
Nominees list: part I | Nominees list: part II
Blog: On the Air | Blog: BLTv

A conspiracy theorist might find the broadcast networks’ Emmy resurgence — with nominations for “Glee,” “Modern Family” and “The Good Wife” — extremely convenient. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences seemed to offer something for everyone, from big hits to obscure critical favorites, in the 62nd annual Primetime Emmy Awards ballot unveiled Thursday.

The major networks, however, appear to have reaped the rewards of stepping up their creative games — especially in comedy — to meet cable’s challenge, which won’t necessarily prevent this year’s telecast from becoming what broadcasters have in the past derided as “a three-hour primetime infomercial for HBO.”

This year’s kudocast will play out against the separate question of where the Emmys will be going forward as an eight-year deal ends that saw the rights rotate among the four major networks. This year, each of the Big Four come away from the nominations with something to crow about, which probably won’t hurt when the negotiations begin.

Still, the awards structurally remain committed to the “breadth and depth” of television. And commercial broadcasters (with PBS representing the nonprofit exception) have largely abandoned longform programming, which remains a prominent component of the Emmycast.

For the third time (and the first in six years), HBO cracked the 100-nomination plateau — quite a feat considering the fierce competition that Showtime, AMC and FX, among others, have mounted with their aggressive push into series in recent years.

Breaking down that tally, however, finds HBO amassing 54 nominations for three longform projects: Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg-produced WWII miniseries “The Pacific” (a companion to “Band of Brothers”) and the biographical movies “Temple Grandin” and “You Don’t Know Jack.” With the latter starring Claire Danes and Al Pacino, respectively, the Emmys could once again see a parade of feature-film talent under the HBO banner, endorsing the channel’s strategy of building prestige through such events.

Even with occasional misses on the series front, HBO’s dominance of movies — an area in which the major nets no longer really compete — virtually ensures its continuing status as the most-nominated network, as it has been for a decade.

Among the questions that the TV Academy faces — and which could figure into future Emmycast negotiations — is whether its priorities need to change. In particular, the major networks have pressed for more attention to unscripted TV and less to movies and miniseries. The miniseries race fielded just two competitors for the second consecutive year — a David-and-Goliath matchup, seemingly, pitting “The Pacific” against a two-part PBS sequel, “Return to Cranford” — reflecting how out of favor that genre currently is.

Small wonder that last year’s aborted push to streamline the telecast by “time-shifting” various awards targeted movies in addition to writers and directors, who lack the public profile of their acting brethren.

Such structural issues notwithstanding, this year’s Emmy ballot — with the 513 nominees to learn whether they have won on Aug. 21 (at the creative arts ceremony) and Aug. 29 — appeared to address some past gripes about the repetitive nature of the nominations.

Only two-time winner “30 Rock” and “The Office” were repeats among comedies, while half the dramas are new vs. a year ago — even if one of them, “Lost,” is a previous winner.

Such recognition eluded two other veteran shows that signed off in May, “24” and “Law and Order,” indicative of the Emmys’ ongoing tension between introducing fresh blood and honoring consistent excellence — a thorny proposition that doesn’t nettle other academy-backed ceremonies, like the Oscars and Tonys.

The acting honors included long-in-coming bids for Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton of “Friday Night Lights,” along with noms for multiple winner Tony Shalhoub and Matthew Fox (plus supporting co-stars Michael Emerson and Terry O’Quinn) for the final seasons of “Monk” and “Lost,” respectively.

In an act of solidarity, the “Modern Family” gang chose to uniformly enter the race as supporting actors and came away with five bids; however, “Married … With Children” veteran Ed O’Neill — perceived as a possible lead contender had he gone that route — wasn’t among them.

“Mad Men” also claimed five acting noms — including for leads Jon Hamm and January Jones — with four going to “Glee.”

Given that it’s always nice to have stars at the Emmys, there’s also a glittering lineup of performers in the TV movie categories, which in addition to Pacino and Danes include Jeff Bridges (fresh off an Oscar for “Crazy Heart”), Maggie Smith, Joan Allen and Judi Dench.

Increased competition also halved writing nominations for “30 Rock” and “Mad Men” after last year, when they each claimed four of five noms in their categories, which some within the TV Acad saw as an embarrassment of riches.

Symbolizing that TV remains a writer-driven medium, series noms for “Glee,” “Modern Family” and “The Good Wife” were accompanied by writing recognition for the shows’ pilots.

“Good Wife” creators Robert and Michelle King were very surprised their freshman drama landed a nomination.

“You’re always worried that cable (shows) will just take over,” Robert King said. “But this was such a good year, not just for pilots but for the work that was done on continuing series. And it’s always tougher when you’re on (a broadcast) network doing 23 episodes a year like we did.”

Despite fresh faces, a slew of contenders in marquee categories will have a chance to score a three-peat at this year’s awards. They include “Mad Men”; “30 Rock”; actors Alec Baldwin, Glenn Close and Bryan Cranston; and reality host Jeff Probst.

Of course, those players and programs are relative pikers compared to “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Amazing Race,” whose shared record for best program in their areas could in 2010 climb to eight straight years.

“Daily Show” has overshadowed higher-rated network competitors — and this year goes against “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien,” whose host, having left NBC (and eclipsed Jay Leno in the voting), invades Stewart’s timeslot this fall on TBS. For its part, “Amazing Race” has outpaced TV’s most-watched series, “American Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars,” to remain the sole winner thus far in its relatively new category.

In addition to the scripted breakthroughs, CBS’ freshman hit “Undercover Boss” and ABC’s “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” join the reality program party.

“The Pacific’s” two dozen nominations barely surpassed the bid count for another historical drama from Hanks’ company and HBO, 2008’s “John Adams,” but fell short of the 37 showered on “Roots” in 1977.

Following in the footsteps of “Desperate Housewives” and “Ally McBeal” — hourlong shows that entered the Emmy race as comedies — “Glee” led all series with 19 noms, followed by 17 for “Mad Men.” No traditional multicamera sitcom earned a best-series bid, although Jim Parsons and Julia Louis-Dreyfus did get recognized for CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” and the already canceled “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” respectively.

Some competitors were quick to suggest that HBO’s gaudy overall total obscured a less-impressive presence in episodic series categories, as Showtime and AMC — with a high of 26 nominations, led by the dark dramas “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” — have crowded in. Showtime, for example, drew 23 noms — a network-record eight of those for “Nurse Jackie” — but was represented in the drama, comedy and lead acting cate
gories.

Among the broadcasters, ABC emerged with the most bids for the fourth time in five years, with 63, and CBS posted its highest total (57) since 2005.

(Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.)

See the list of nominees for this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more