It was a brave new world for television contenders at Sunday’s Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Year after year, the actors union has favored the familiar, crowning plenty of repeat winners. Perhaps reflecting the changes in the ever-expanding television landscape, this time out SAG voters bestowed their love on newcomers.
Orange was the color of the night, as Netflix’s hit comedy “Orange Is the New Black” claimed two top prizes, notably for comedy ensemble, dethroning longtime champ “Modern Family.” Netflix also claimed another win with Kevin Spacey’s trophy for “House of Cards.”
“Modern Family” has won the comedy ensemble category for four years straight. The ABC sitcom has been nommed every year that it has been eligible, losing only in its first year to Fox’s “Glee.” Spacey won the trophy that went to Bryan Cranston the previous two years for AMC’s “Breaking Bad.”
The key wins for “OITNB” will give the show a jolt of momentum going into Emmy season later this year.
Aduba’s win for best actress in a comedy and Davis’ triumph in the drama race for ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” — on the heels of “Jane the Virgin” star Gina Rodriguez’s win at the Golden Globes — was also a nod for the success TV has had in embracing diversity on screen, which Davis acknowledged eloquently in her acceptance speech.
She thanked ABC execs and the series’ showrunners “for thinking that a messy, mysterious, sexualized woman could be a 49-year-old dark skinned African-American woman who looks like me.”
Meanwhile, the strategic move to the comedy category for “Shameless” paid off, making way for William H. Macy’s upset win.
“I’ve written so many great acceptance speeches I’ve never gotten to give,” Macy said on stage. “But not tonight.”
Before the awards, Macy told Variety, “There’s some sort of critical mass moving on ‘Shameless.’ It’s bold and bodacious and pushes the boundaries of good taste. But the audience numbers are getting up there that now award personnel and critics and media people are taking notice.”
Category jockeying, though, cuts both ways. The SAG derby represented Matthew McConaughey’s last chance to win a major award for “True Detective.”
Since the show competed as a drama series, he lost the Emmy last August to Bryan Cranston and was shut out again tonight, losing to Spacey. He also lost the Golden Globe to Billy Bob Thornton for “Fargo,” as the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. put “True Detective” in the longform category rather than the drama series race.
“Downton Abbey’s” win for drama ensemble — besting noisier competitors that included HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and Showtime’s “Homeland” — was a reminder that SAG voters often favor quieter shows, even at a time when small screen dramas are upping the ante on intensity and shock value.
Ultimately, SAG members made a clear choice this year to embrace all of the new talent that is thriving in television. Given the ever-increasing number of opportunities available across broadcast, cable and digital platforms, that’s a welcome message indeed.