Cult faves make pass at Emmy end zone

Despite all the misfires, plenty to celebrate in 2010-11 TV season

The 2010-11 TV season didn’t lessen the pressure on the DVRs of smallscreen fans. Despite several high-profile disappointments, not to mention top-flight series on lengthy hiatuses (“Breaking Bad,” a niche audience turns its lonely eyes to you), there was still more than enough fresh fare to keep us happy at home.

Here, Variety Road to the Emmys editors and On the Air bloggers Stuart Levine and Jon Weisman look back on what they’ll take away from the past year in television, and what might be coming during this year’s awards season.

JW: I spent a lot of time this year watching and writing about low-rated gems. And the thing is, several of them, like “Terriers” and “Rubicon,” got better as they went on, which made their impending doom all the more crushing. Then there were shows like “Luther” (officially a miniseries as far as the Emmys are concerned), which absolutely knocked my socks off from the start. I really wish more people saw them.

“Rubicon” was a mindgame to the extreme, and “Luther” had all those fancy accents (at least, fancy to us), so I get why the viewership was small. But I still don’t understand why a great, easygoing buddy show like “Terriers” couldn’t find even a million people to watch it regularly. I can’t accept that it was just the title. Did people think “The Sopranos” was about opera? “Terriers” was smart but wasn’t overly cerebral — it was entertaining on any level.

SL: I’m with you on “Rubicon.” It was, however, one of the few audience misses by AMC, which had a phenomenal year with newbies “The Walking Dead” and “The Killing.” TNT also went gangbusters with “Rizzoli & Isles” (who saw that coming?), and despite the “Terriers” mishap at FX, John Landgraf still has a great slate of series: “Sons of Anarchy,” “Justified” and maybe the most underrated comedy on TV right now, “Louie.”

And I give high marks to Michael Wright at TNT. Neither “Southland” nor “Men of a Certain Age” are going to set any Nielsen records, but they’re both quality shows that could’ve fallen through the cracks. A sign of a good network is to leverage your hits to make room for shows that don’t always get the audience attraction they deserve.

JW: I think there are enough candidates out there to signal a potential changing of the guard when it comes to the Emmy drama and comedy awards. And I say that without anything against defending champs “Mad Men” or “Modern Family.” I’ve seen others say these shows have hit their peak, but this past season, I still looked forward to each and every episode the same as I always did.

On the comedy side, “Parks and Recreation” is an example of a show that, though it wasn’t nominated in its first two seasons, absolutely needs to be taken seriously not only as a potential Emmy nominee, but as a potential winner. It has all the cleverness of “The Office” but a sweetness that makes it more accessible — again, if people would only take the time to try it.

I’m also a big fan of “Louie,” which you mentioned — though a short-season show like that raises the question of whether voters will take into account the number of episodes a series does. Sort of a degree-of-difficulty question.

SL: Clearly there are some great comedies out there, and it’s a genre where the broadcasters can feel proud. Totally agree on “Parks and Recreation,” which has an undeniable charm, and, shockingly, “The Big Bang Theory” has never been Emmy nominated. Throw in “Modern Family,” “30 Rock,” and even newbie “Raising Hope” … there were lots of well-done comedies to enjoy this past season.

Would really be nice if “Friday Night Lights” got some attention in its last Emmy hurrah. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton finally got their well-deserved nominations last year, but would be terrific if the show could make the cut as well.

And “The Good Wife” continues to perfectly blend the case-of-the-week procedural with character growth. If TV Academy members decide they want to go the broadcast route, “The Good Wife” could get a lot of attention. It’s been five years since a broadcast series has won top drama — “24” in 2006.

JW: Agree that there’s all kinds of potential for a “Good Wife” moment at the Emmys. If it were only up to broadcast series, the voting might be a runaway. But as usual, cable will have its say in drama, not only with “Mad Men,” but with freshman possibilities like “Boardwalk Empire.” And a series nomination for “Friday Night Lights” is overdue.

It never seemed to hurt “Mad Men” that it would launch its next season just as the Emmy vote was taking place on its previous season. Not too many Emmy finalists are running original episodes during the summertime balloting. But this time, the next “Mad Men” is delayed until 2012 — meaning that instead of being fresh, its most recent new episode will have aired nearly a year earlier. AMC will have to make sure to remind people of the show’s brilliance.

SL: Who really knows why some shows are nominated and others left off the short list? Unlike Oscar season, where there’s often a real stretch to find 10 best picture nominees, I always feel like there are shows that get lost in the Emmy shuffle. Truly, it’s an embarrassment of riches. The fact that I’m always playing catch-up with my DVR — and I consider myself a pretty demanding viewer — means that there’s more quality out there than ever before.

Road to the Emmys: Preview:
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