By bestowing a pair of lead Emmy noms on two actors not old enough to drive, this year the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences isn’t looking stodgy.
Fifteen-year-old Frankie Muniz (“Malcolm in the Middle”) and Hannah Taylor Gordon, 14, who played the title character in the ABC telepic “Anne Frank,” are not the youngest nominees in the history of the TV Acad, but their selections have put a youthful slant on this year’s proceedings.
While Gordon was predicted by many to be nominated for lead actress in a miniseries or movie, hearing Muniz’s name called from the podium was a surprise to some industry watchers. Not only because of his age but because co-star Bryan Cranston, who plays his dad on “Malcolm,” didn’t make the cut (Cranston would compete in the supporting category).
“It was pretty stunning,” says “Malcolm” creator Linwood Boomer of Muniz’s nom. “I don’t think kids are taken as seriously, and that’s what’s so nice about this. That kid works really hard.”
Muniz is the second-youngest person ever to be nominated in a lead acting race. Fred Savage (“The Wonder Years”) was 13 in 1989 when he was nominated in the lead comedy category. He would lose that year to Richard Mulligan of “Empty Nest.”
The youngest winner for a Prime Time Emmy for acting is Roxana Zal, who was 14 in 1984 when she won for a supporting role in TV movie “Something About Amelia.” At 15, Kristy McNicol won a supporting actress Emmy in 1977 for “Family.”
Muniz tries not to make much of the honor, saying there are other teens whose work deserves to be noticed.
“Evan Rachel Wood of ‘Once and Again’ is a good friend of mine and she’s awesome on that show,” Muniz says. “I think she got overlooked this year. I think teen actors are equal to adults, if not better. But I don’t know, they choose who they choose.”
Hans Proppe, exec producer of “Anne Frank,” wasn’t surprised at all by Gordon’s nomination. The original plan when first casting was to find two young actresses to play Anne, at 9 and 15. That didn’t pan out, and then Gordon arrived, who beat out 1,200 others for the role and had the range to handle the age difference.
In her category Taylor Gordon faces stiff competish in the likes of Judy Davis, a previous Emmy winner and Oscar winners Emma Thompson, Holly Hunter and Judy Dench.
“Kids tend to be overlooked as they’re relatively unknown and don’t have publicity machines,” says Proppe. “For ‘Anne Frank,’ the range of what she had to play and to be as focused as she was, it had to be noticed.”
Proppe adds that it’s often difficult for children to make inroads on longform television because of strict labor laws.
“One of the problems with that type of television is that the parameters are so tight it’s hard to incorporate kids and not grind them into the ground.”
On the weekly side, Boomer acknowledges working on a sitcom isn’t always the best life for a teen.
“I’m two-sided on this: I want Frankie to be on the show but I want him to be out playing, too.”