Road to the Emmys 2012: The Writer

Emmy-worthy comedies originate from award-worthy scripts, at least that has been the popular thinking.

But different conclusions arguably could be drawn from the current crop of Emmy nominees. Of the six sitcoms up for best comedy series, only “Girls” could manage a writing nod — the fewest for any group of comedy finalists since Richard Nixon was president.

So why the disconnect between the two categories?

That’s a tough question to answer without getting into the heads of the 15,000 members of the TV Academy, but one writer with a theory is David Isaacs, a professor at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with credits that include “MASH,” “Cheers” and “Frasier.” He believes the 1,400 Emmy-voting scribes don’t simply check the boxes for what’s popular, but instead have their fingers on TV’s pulse.

“The writing branch is a little more attuned to the new stuff, the hippest stuff and what feels (like a) breakthrough than the rest of the community, which tends to be a little more conservative,” he says. “Writers don’t have an exclusivity on it, but they do tend to appreciate things that are new and fresh.”

Indeed, writers were early cheerleaders for HBO’s edgy “Entourage,” giving it an Emmy nomination in 2006, a year before the rest of the Academy caught up and rewarded the pay-cable series with the first of three consecutive noms for best comedy. Scribes also were among the first to bestow Emmy nominations on “Seinfeld” (1991), “Malcolm in the Middle” (2000) and “Flight of the Conchords” (2008) — in each case, a year before those skeins received their first bids for top comedy.

This year, “Louie” and “Parks and Recreation” fit the mold that writers admire, Isaacs says.

“You know the cliche about the water cooler? Those are the shows my peers are talking about,” he says.

Both received writing nominations (“Parks and Rec” actually got two), even though they failed to draw broader support for comedy series.

Another possible reason for the writing and series categories not lining up is that quality comedies are coming from more outlets than ever, says Ross Brown, an assistant professor of film and media arts at Chapman U.

In the 1980s, when Brown was writing for “The Cosby Show” and “The Facts of Life,” there were five times when all the writing nominees also were represented in the series category. In the past 15 years, that has only happened three times.

“Back then, you were basically talking about a three-network universe, so it was going to match up more exactly because the choices were fewer,” Brown says. “But now with Fox and all of the cable shows, there’s a much larger pool of potential nominees.”

More potential nominees mean more shows for voters to consider, and that gives the ones that have the highest ratings or get the most publicity an advantage, says Tim Brooks, a TV historian and co-author of “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows.”

“You can’t watch all of them, so you tend to gravitate toward the ones that seem to be in the zeitgeist and seem to be talked about,” Brooks says. “They are evaluated separately, even by separate parts of the Academy that may not agree with each other, but they both rely a lot on familiarity and buzz.”

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Writer
Where the gags write themselves?
And the nominees are:
Drama | Comedy | Miniseries & Movies | Variety | Nonfiction
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