When it comes to comedy, cablers are more interested in creating a show that’s unique and brand-building than one that necessarily appeals to the masses.
That doesn’t necessarily explain why the only cable skein ever to win the comedy series Emmy was HBO’s “Sex and the City” in 2001, but it offers a factor.
“We want to make shows that are funny, smart and different from any other comedies that are on the air,” says John Landgraf, prexy of FX prexy, offers “Louie” and “Wilfred” among its offbeat shows. “In general, we aren’t trying to make comedies that have a broad base or the accessibility that a typical network comedy has. We don’t need to aggregate as large of an audience, and we don’t need as many total viewers.”
Mass appeal isn’t a prerequisite for Emmy glory. Each year since 2007, a cable drama — either “The Sopranos” or “Mad Men” — has taken home the Emmy for drama series. Last year, four out of six drama nominations — “Mad Men,” “Dexter,” “Game of Thrones” and “Boardwalk Empire” — came from cable.
But even though such as HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Entourage,” and “Flight of the Conchords” and Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie” and “Weeds” have been nominated in past years, comedy has largely remained broadcast’s domain. Last year, no cable comedies were tapped.
“I think the Academy has a traditional sense of comedy series that skews toward the sitcom end of the spectrum,” says TV Acad senior awards veep John Leverence. “Last year, you didn’t see ‘Weeds’ nominated. You didn’t see ‘Nurse Jackie’ nominated. There’s more a tradition of the sitcom style of comedy series as opposed to the more variant versions.”
Even with a wide array of critically acclaimed options to choose from on cable, ABC’s “Modern Family” has a good shot at taking home its third trophy in a row.
” ‘Modern Family’ makes it easy for everyone,” says one cable exec. “It has the credibility, relevance and freshness that you want and expect from a cable comedy, but the broad appeal of a network sitcom.”
Every other 2011 comedy series nominee is a broadcast sitcom that is eligible again this year: NBC’s “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation” and “The Office,” CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” and Fox’s “Glee.”
If one nevertheless might expect some turnover in the noms, some cable producers aren’t counting on figuring in the mix.
“Nurse Jackie” exec producer Richie Jackson notes that when he and Edie Falco were looking to do a show, they “never talked about wanting to do an hour or a drama or a comedy.”
Says Jackson: “We had always only been interested in what story we wanted to tell, who the character would be, and the form of storytelling. We never had a conversation about the show being a comedy or a drama until it became time to designate it for the awards shows. I actually feel very comfortable with the amount of Emmy recognition that we’ve gotten.”
Not having to worry about broad appeal or Emmy recognition can be freeing for cable comedy writers, who tend to be more concerned about what makes them and their friends laugh than what the masses think.
“I can honestly tell you that having spent four years writing for ‘Seinfeld,’ where we lost to ‘Frasier’ every year, we never once considered whether Emmy voters would like what we were doing,” says Jeff Schaffer, who created and exec produces FX’s “The League” with his wife, Jackie.
Schaffer, who also wrote for “Curb,” offers a realistic take on the situation.
“Having now worked on network, premium and basic cable, I can say that HBO makes Emmys a priority, as they should because they aren’t ad-supported — they want the lure of Emmys to drive people to their channel. The basic-cable dramas are big brand-builders, so a lot more money is spent on them. For the basic-cable comedies it’s more like ‘here’s a little money, go do you whatever you want and have fun.’ The resources are less.”
In the meantime, cable’s comedy scribes plan to just keep on doing what they’ve been doing and hope Emmy catches up.
“I think the world is big enough for everyone, and the fact that there’s freedom to play with the form on cable is exciting,” says Jackson. “I think Emmy will recognize that at some point. Actually, I think they already have.”
A grander gander
at gender| Emmy spotlight neglects cable comedies | New kids in town enter sitcom race | 2011-12 TV comedy moments to remember | Sitcom standbys in kudo contention |Defending champ ‘Modern’ impresses past TV toppers