Procedurals favor the femmes

Actresses fare better than males for Emmy

Here’s a mystery even the savviest of television detectives might struggle with: Why do leading actresses on criminal procedurals receive accolades from Emmy voters while their shows and male counterparts are often overlooked on awards night?

Evidence in this case comes in the form of TNT’s “The Closer” and NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU.” Kyra Sedgwick is an Emmy regular, scoring one win and landing four additional noms. In contrast, the show has never received either a nom for drama series or lead actor.

“SVU” isn’t much different. Mariska Hargitay has been recognized with one Emmy and six other noms, but the show has been completely shut out and lead actor Chris Meloni, who just left the show, earned just a single nom since “SVU” debuted in 1999.

In general, the Emmys have not been kind to criminal procedurals during the past half-decade. The last show in the genre to earn a drama series nom was “CSI” in 2004. (Meloni, who got his nom in 2006, is the last male lead to register in that category.)

This wasn’t always the case. The “Law & Order” mothership, which helped usher in this current era of criminal procedurals, was a perennial on Emmy night, earning 11 nominations and one statue for drama series from 1991-2002.

But in recent years, some critics have suggested these procedurals are so structured and their plot progressions so predictable — or, conversely, twists so outlandish — that shows in the area don’t merit award consideration. “The Closer” exec producer James Duff bristles at such suggestions.

“I think what happens is that people assume it will always end the same way,” he says. “You have to follow that formula to a certain degree … but people think they know the show and they get used to a certain rhythm. The reality is, though, the show chang-es dramatically (from episode to episode).”

To actors, the reason for their lack of accolades is a bit more befuddling. While established femmes have taken lead roles in this genre, there have been an equally impressive roster of male stars who have fronted procedurals, including Laurence Fishburne (“CSI”), Gary Sinise (“CSI: NY”), Vincent D’Onofrio (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”) and original “CSI” star William Peterson.

Yet none of those actors has received a single acting nomination for their work in the genre.

Hitfix.com TV critic Alan Sepinwall believes the disparity has to do with the depth of strong roles for dramatic actors compared with dramatic actresses.

“The issue isn’t about the male actors (in procedurals) not getting good material,” he says. “But if Chris Meloni or Laurence Fishburne wanted to crack the lead actor category this season, they’d have to make it past a bunch of former nominees in Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall, Hugh Laurie, Kyle Chandler and Gabriel Byrne, not to mention stars in high-profile cable dramas like Steve Buscemi and Tim Olyphant, who arguably get flashier material to play each week than actors on procedurals.”

Still, Duff argues there is a definite stigma relating to procedurals that male actors must overcome.

“People tend to dismiss procedurals when it comes to actors because this part of the law franchise is considered mainstream entertainment, and mainstream entertainment doesn’t hack it when it comes to the awards,” he says.

At the same time, Duff does concede that under the right circumstances, a strong procedural performance — like the one delivered by Sedgwick — can stand out because of the nature of the product.

“You have to give Kyra a lot of credit for holding the audience’s attention and keeping them in their seats when the show ends with her in a room seated at a table talking for 12 minutes,” he says. “Other shows have violence and special effects to keep people in their seats. She is the special effects.”

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