Emmy voters have crowned Lena Dunham queen of the new breed of youthful auteurs who are making a big mark in primetime.
The “Girls” creator-exec producer is a quadruple threat in this year’s Emmy race with bids for comedy series and lead comedy actress as well as writing and directing noms for her buzzed-about HBO comedy.
Dunham is part of a wave of overachievers working in TV these days, from her fellow multiple-Emmy nominees Louis C.K. and Amy Poehler to Whitney Cummings (who has three active shows spread among NBC, CBS and E!) and Mindy Kaling, star and creative steward of Fox’s fall laffer “The Mindy Project.”
Dunham’s path to steering her own HBO comedy at age 26 reflects the mindset among younger creatives that they can have it all — and need not be constrained to one discipline on the set. In fact, Dunham is still surprised that she’s been able to build a career as an actress. Writing was her focus from the time she was a kid, and directing was a natural progression once she decided to go the DIY indie film route with “Tiny Furniture,” which brought her to HBO’s attention, leading to “Girls.”
“Acting wasn’t my first passion,” she said. “I was never somebody that someone was going to cast in the lead of a TV show. It’s not like I was getting ingenue parts in school plays. I always wanted to write, and that just led me in this direction.”
Dunham was able to command the reins of “Tiny Furniture” because she made it for such a “tiny” amount of money. “There was never a moment when I had to convince an older guy in a suit that I was worth it,” she said. “By the time I was working with HBO, they had a really clear example of what they’d be getting if they got in business with me.”
Her learning curve as a showrunner on “Girls” has been greatly aided by exec producers Judd Apatow and Jennifer Konner. But true to her roots, she has crafted her own nontraditional way of steering the ship on the HBO comedy, currently shooting its second season.
On Thursday, as Dunham absorbed the news of her good Emmy fortune, she was pressed into service as director when the helmer assigned to the seg was temporarily indisposed by a nasty spider bite.
“I’m having a totally surreal morning,” she said. “It’s amazing to see two years of my life reduced, in the best way, to four lines.”
Dunham’s competitors in the comedy writing heat are Louis C.K., for the “Pregnant” seg of his FX comedy “Louie”; Chris McKenna for the “Remedial Chaos Theory” installment of NBC’s “Community”; and two entrants from NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”: Poehler (“The Debate”) and Michael Schur (“Win, Lose or Draw”).
For comedy directing, Dunham will vie against Robert Weide for “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (“Palestinian Chicken”); Louis C.K. (“Duckling”); Jake Kasdan for the pilot of “New Girl”; and two from “Modern Family”: Steven Levitan (“Baby on Board”) and Jason Winer (“Virgin Territory”).
Weide also grabbed two other noms, for nonfiction special for the “Woody Allen: A Documentary” episode of PBS’ “American Masters,” as well as nonfiction directing for the spesh.
The helmer was gratified to have his two major directing endeavors for the past year recognized. He got lucky with the “Palestinian Chicken” episode of “Curb,” which was an assignment after several seasons away (“in the Woody cave”) that turned in to the most talked-about seg of “Curb’s” eighth season.
“To come back and do one episode that got so much recognition was just the icing on the icing for me,” he said. “It’s harder and harder in this day and age for something to become water-cooler TV.”
On the drama side, “Mad Men” as usual grabbed plenty of turf in the writing category with three bids: Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner (“The Other Woman”), Andre and Maria Jacquemetton (“Commissions and Fees”) and Chellas and Weiner (“Far Away Places”).
The pilot for Showtime’s “Homeland” nabbed a slot for scribes Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff, while “Downton Abbey” lord Julian Fellowes is up for episode seven of PBS’ “Masterpiece” drama.
“Downton’s” seventh seg also drew a directing nom for Brian Percival, while Michael Cuesta is up for the “Homeland” pilot and “Mad Men’s” Phil Abraham is in the running for “The Other Woman.” “Breaking Bad” boss Vince Gilligan earned a spot for the show’s explosive fourth season finale (“Face Off”), as did “Boardwalk Empire’s” Tim Van Patten (“To the Lost”).