Road to the Emmys 2012: Drama

There is no good reason for Damon Lindelof to root for “Mad Men” at the Emmys. His show “Lost” suffered defeat three times at the hands of the four-time drama series winner, so perhaps more than most, he could be excused for having a bit of a grudge. But that’s not the case.

“As much as I love ‘Mad Men,’ when ‘Lost’ and ‘Mad Men’ were competing in that spot I absolutely hated it,” he says. “I wanted to find every rationale for why it should not win again, but I was unable to. And so were the Emmy voters.”

The secret to the Emmy success of “Mad Men” isn’t much of a secret: well-written, excellently cast, sui generis. But so are the other usual suspects that often go up against it. Why does it keep tickling that sweet spot for Emmy voters?

To no one’s surprise, a variety of reasons. Former network executive and author Tim Brooks says it’s so voters can think well of themselves:

“Anything that deals with serious subjects, politics and social movements tends to attract Emmy voters,” he says. “They feel they’re doing something important in the world.”

A less-cynical view comes from Steven Bochco, who has four Emmys from his “Hill Street Blues” days.

“A show that stakes out uncharted territory for itself — there’s something special about that,” Bochco says. “The Academy recognizes that, and rewards it.”

Yet “Mad Men” is the beneficiary of changes in television that have little to do with the quality of the show. Back when broadcast TV ruled the awards, by the time a show could rack up four Emmys — as John Wells did for “The West Wing” — it would have pumped out close to 100 episodes. “Mad Men” has about 60% of that.

“The more episodes you’re doing, the more difficult it is to keep expanding the show without overextending the show’s narrative welcome,” Wells says.

By the time most shows have racked up a clutch of awards, not only might the storytelling get tired, but actors and writing may also start getting better offers or wanting to do independent projects. “Mad Men,” with its short season and extended hiatuses, avoids the issue because there’s plenty of time for, say, Jon Hamm to pop over to “30 Rock” or make “Friends With Kids.”

However, four Emmys is pushing your luck, according to Bochco, who would like to see the system revamped.

“Towards the end of that run, you almost feel guilty,” he says. “People are like, ‘Come on, give us a chance.’ It seems to me that if you’re a two-time best show winner, that should be it. It kind of gets a little old.”

Don’t expect “Mad Men” to go first in that mythical revamped system; voters would probably find a way to write it in on the ballot. At least for now, it’s truly a “Mad” world. As Lindelof says, “I had to grit my teeth when I voted for it, but I did vote for it — because it’s an amazing show.”

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