Perhaps the best way for the critically acclaimed FX drama “Lights Out” to grab some Emmy love would be to put it in the miniseries category.
“What we created was a great miniseries. Not our intention, but it had a three-act structure for the season, so at least it doesn’t end in the middle of a sentence,” says showrunner Warren Leight of his canceled series. “But we would have liked to explore these characters for at least another season.”
“Lights Out” was one of several quality TV series joining the ranks of single-season skeins. This year, seemingly as much as any in recent history, worthwhile shows that garnered considerable critical acclaim were canceled in their first season, including two of Shawn Ryan’s series, “Terriers” (FX) and “The Chicago Code” (Fox), along with “Lights Out,” “Rubicon” (AMC) and even two-episode wonder “Lone Star,” (Fox) which hit the must-see list of almost every TV critic in the country a year ago.
Just because viewers didn’t reward the excellent work, doesn’t mean Emmy voters can’t, though it has been a while since Emmy has showered adoration on a one-and-done. Aaron Sorkin’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” garnered five Emmy noms in 2007 — topping “Friday Night Lights” and “Dexter” that year.
“My So-Called Life” lasted a mere season in 1994-95, yet Claire Danes got the nod for a well-deserved performance. And the series received noms for writing and direction. Despite getting expelled in its freshman year, “Freaks and Geeks” received three Emmy noms in 2000, including a double nod to creator Paul Feig for writing. It won for casting.
Most agree artistic quality and popularity are, quite often, two different things. FX chief John Landgraf even took the groundbreaking step of doing a conference call with TV critics to explain why he canceled the top-notch but barely watched “Terriers.”
So there’s no reason why Emmy shouldn’t consider shows or the talent involved with them just because they didn’t draw an audience.
“I think if people are legitimately looking at performances, they have to look at Holt McCallany. He carried that show on his back with both a physicality and vulnerability,” says Leight, who praised the work of all the actors on his show. “Had the show been a hit, he clearly would be on the short list for leading actor.”
USA Today TV critic Robert Bianco says it was easier to stand behind the concept of awarding Emmy noms to one-season wonders back when networks had to draw a large audience in order to survive. With cable, series don’t need to have a huge audience to survive.
And he noted while James Wolk did wonderful work on “Lone Star,” there are only two episodes in which to judge his performance in a lead role.
“There are so many good dramas getting renewed, it’s hard to get attention,” Bianco says. “Donal Logue was wonderful in ‘Terriers,’ but he’s up against people from ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ ‘The Killing,’ … the list goes on. Unfortunately, this is a business, and with so many good dramas getting renewed, getting attention for a show no one watched and vanished quickly won’t be easy.”
Ryan says Emmy voters will vote for the shows they watched, and with his series “Terriers,” he doesn’t expect to get any Emmy recognition because of the low ratings.
“I can walk away with the critical acclaim. What would have hurt was if not only had the audience rejected it, but that people who watch TV said it was not good,” Ryan says. “I would like it to be remembered by small but fiercely loyal devotees who think it is just great.”
While Leight hopes Emmy voters might remember some of the great performances from his actors, he says maybe it’s time for a new category.
“There should be an award for shows like ‘Terriers,’ ‘Rubicon’ and ours,” Leight says. “How about a Deserved Better Award?”
TV diversity more apparent in stars than stories | ‘Modern Family’ spark seen at table read | Broadcast nets hang tough at Emmys | Emmy host with the most is a ghost | Returning Emmy contenders | Brilliant but canceled, still nominated? | Product integration finds TV comfort zone | Cult faves make pass at Emmy end zone