When ABC’s “Modern Family” and Fox’s “Glee” became breakout successes for the 2009-10 TV season — and scored 33 Emmy nominations between them, including a series win for “Modern Family” — it seemed as if the television comedy was making a resurgence as destination programming.
Then the 2010-11 season came along, and launching an acclaimed hit comedy suddenly seemed as tough as ever. The come-and-gone include “Perfect Couples,” “Traffic Light,” “Bleep My Dad Says,” “Outsourced” and “Mr. Sunshine.” Do any freshman comedies stand a chance at the Emmys?
“I think ‘Raising Hope’ is the one distinctive show of the new season that might get some Emmy acknowledgement,” says TV Guide critic Matt Roush. “In particular for Cloris Leachman, because she’s a scene-stealer. And you’ve got Martha Plimpton, who’s gotten an Emmy nomination in the past for guest work, and there’s a feeling Garret Dillahunt is hitting his mark the way Bryan Cranston hit his in ‘Breaking Bad.’ But the show’s a bit of an underdog.”
For “Hope” creator Greg Garcia, breaking into the Emmy circle feels like busting a clique — one he successfully navigated with the sweet-and-gross white-trash humor of “My Name Is Earl,” which won four Emmys (including writing and directing) in its debut season.
“It’s like there’s a group of shows that always gets considered,” he says. “People seem to tell me that traditionally, blue collar-ish shows don’t do so well. But our cast is amazing. If we don’t get some nominations for our cast members, it’s ridiculous. But you never know.”
Leachman’s buzziness stems in part from the renewed love for Betty White, which means TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland” could make an Emmy showing on its first at-bat if voters feel sitcom nostalgia for not just White but its star trio of polished pros: Wendie Malick, Valerie Bertinelli and Jane Leeves.
“It’s very much a throwback kind of comedy,” says AOL Television critic Maureen Ryan. “If this show gets any Emmy love, it will be because these are veteran actors who people already know and like. But I would be surprised if it got a best comedy nod.”
If TV Land is out to keep old-school studio-audience comedy alive, other cablers are testing the boundaries of the format. Perhaps the most critically celebrated new laffer was FX’s “Louie,” funnyman Louis C.K.’s darkly humorous take on being a divorced dad and edge-pushing comedian.
FX doesn’t get a lot of Emmy fortune, but network chief John Landgraf thinks voters will be able to admire the comedian’s art and ambition, as well as his humor.
“This is the moment in this guy’s career when everything he’s ever learned and done has come together in something extraordinary,” says Landgraf. “It’s still a mystery to me, what gets nominated and what doesn’t, but there’s an easy access point, which is Louie himself. There’s something unfailingly charming and moving about this sourly funny, slightly misanthropic guy raising these two sweet little girls. Maybe that will help people connect to it emotionally as well as intellectually.”
Are a few for-your-consideration episodes enough, though, to the uninitiated Emmy voter?
“It might take a couple of years,” says Ryan, citing the build-up before HBO’s initially culty-and-cranky “Curb Your Enthusiasm” became an Emmy staple. “I’m hoping over time that happens with ‘Louie.’ It’s this brilliant deconstruction of what a half-hour comedy can be.”
One cable network that has little trouble getting first-year Emmy recognition is Showtime, which has seen Toni Collette and Edie Falco snag lead comedy actress wins for the first seasons of “The United States of Tara” and “Nurse Jackie,” respectively. This year, Showtime adds “The Big C” for contention, starring Emmy favorite Laura Linney as a cancer-stricken housewife.
“As always happens with (Showtime), they’ve got a rocky show built around an incredible performance,” says Roush. “She’s dying, and she’s on Showtime, so those are two things in your favor for getting a nomination.”
Showtime also has the dry, satirical “Episodes,” although its short season — seven episodes — may make it too fleeting for Emmy nods. “And the fact that it was so mean to television may work against it,” adds Roush. “That’s not always everybody’s favorite poison.”
Overall, a consensus is forming that if Emmy voters are looking for new blood, it might be with young shows that blossomed after their first year, like “Community,” “Cougar Town” and “Parks and Recreation.” That, coupled with the expected continuation of Emmy notice for “Modern Family” and “Glee,” spells an uphill battle for the newest batch.
“I think there’s a handful of sophomore shows that didn’t get attention last year that are becoming signature shows for their networks,” says Roush. “The reason we dislike this season so much is because we’re still enthralled with last season’s newbies.”
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