For five years running, the Emmys have kept the best comedy series race all in the family.
The quintet of consecutive wins for “Modern Family” already put ABC’s breakout laffer in the TV Academy’s record books: It’s tied with “Frasier” for the most ever wins in the top comedy category. One more victory and it would hold the record solo.
“Modern Family” co-creator and showrunner Christopher Lloyd is in the unique position of owning a piece of both records, having served as exec producer on the two series.
He says it would be “thrilling” if “Modern Family” broke the tie but doesn’t feel like it’s a competition. Rather it would mean recognition of how hard the show’s cast and crew continue to push themselves after six seasons and over 140 episodes.
“We aren’t writing for validation on ‘Modern Family,’ but we did set out to do something different and then gave ourselves the challenge of trying to maintain the quality for the characters and not let ourselves slide,” Lloyd says. “If we were to win, it would let us know we accomplished it, and it would be a huge team victory.”
But there are signs that “Modern Family” may be more vulnerable than ever. This season the show collected its fewest overall nominations to date. It’s the first time that fewer than three cast members received individual noms and the show came up empty-handed in the directing category (despite winning the past four years).
“We hope people judge us on our merits,” Lloyd says. “Last season was as strong as we’ve ever done. But everyone is fully prepared that the day is coming soon that we’re not the Emmy favorite anymore. We’ll always be able to look back on a string of victories that meant a lot and always will mean a lot to us.”
Awards pundits are already betting on either an HBO behemoth or a hot newcomer to take down “Modern Family.”
With four consecutive nominations in the category (and three previous wins for leading lady Julia Louis-Dreyfus), HBO’s “Veep” is perceived as an industry favorite. The season saw Louis-Dreyfus’ Selina Meyer finally achieve her White House dreams, a storyline very well received by critics, and received eight noms overall.
But Amazon’s half-hour dramedy “Transparent,” which won the Golden Globe in January and also rides a wave of critical acclaim and zeitgeist-y subject matter, is coming on strong. As Lloyd himself points out, it was another genre hybrid — Fox’s “Ally McBeal” — that brought the “Frasier” winning streak to an end.
“I was doing a little math in my head,” “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway told Variety shortly after the show received 11 Emmy noms, the most of any comedy this year. “If we get only a couple of nominations, for the show and for Jeffrey, then the nominations will be the prize. If we get a lot of nominations, then we’re gonna start dreaming about the possibility of winning a couple. You can’t not.”
Other nominees claim they’re just happy to be included.
“Last year we were nominated and (the pundits said), ‘And slipping in in the last spot, “Silicon Valley,” ’ jokes the HBO comedy’s co-showrunner Alec Berg. “It’s like, ‘C’mon, no one’s released any tally of who got the top votes!’ It actually makes attending the Emmys easier if you know you have absolutely no chance of winning.”
Even with a second season that critics singled out as surpassing its predecessor, Berg and partner Mike Judge claim they’re not expecting victory. “It takes the pressure off,” Judge says. “You don’t have to write a speech.”
Having earned only one series nom in six previous attempts, “Parks and Recreation” showrunner Mike Schur says he gave up hope long ago. “We were nominated season three and then not again. Once you’re out of the club, it seems like you’re out of the club. (This nomination) was a delightful surprise.”
The recognition for the NBC comedy’s farewell season, Schur says, is especially meaningful given today’s crowded TV landscape. “You could literally replace every show in the best series categories with a show that wasn’t nominated and no one would blink an eye,” he says. “If you made a best comedy series category with ‘Black-ish,’ ‘Fresh Off the Boat,’ ‘Broad City,’ ‘The Last Man on Earth’ — would anyone say those shows don’t deserve to be there?
“The number of great shows on television — or Netflix or Amazon, whatever you call that — is absurd. Final season or not, I’m acutely aware of just how rare and special these things are.”
Soloway notes she’s especially inspired by the final nominee.
“I watch ‘Louie’ and ask myself how much higher I can raise my bar. I challenge myself. Same with ‘Inside Amy Schumer’ and ‘Broad City’ — to be as loud, feminist and paradigm shattering as that.”
That collective sense of artists playing at the top of their game makes the Emmy race even more cutthroat, but it’s also what makes contemporary TV comedy so exciting. As Soloway says, “There’s this real feeling for creators of ‘How high can we go and how much fun can we have?’”