For the past three years, “The Americans” has been a staple of Emmy “snub” lists. This season it’s a leading contender for Emmy Awards.
After winning a raft of accolades and kudos from other organizations (and even nabbing its first Emmy last year for Margo Martindale’s guest turn), FX’s critically-acclaimed series broke into the major Emmy categories with a series-best five nominations, including outstanding drama. Stars Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are also up for acting honors, and showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg have been nominated for writing the season finale. Meanwhile, Martindale — the show’s Emmy trailblazer and possible “gateway drug” to the rest of the attention — earned her fourth consecutive nom.
“I dropped my daughter off at camp,” Weisberg says, explaining how he started his day. “Then I called my wife and said, ‘I’m gonna come home to get the bad news.’ It’s been three years when it’s the same, so I figured a fourth seems likely.”
Fields, who is vacationing in Ottawa with his family, was similarly skeptical. But he mentioned the possibility of a nomination to his wife enough times that she suggested they tune into the live stream just to see what might happen. Fields found the feed just in time for the final announcement: drama series.
“As soon as I saw they were doing it, I thought, ‘This is good, it’s alphabetical order, and they’ll say “Better Call Saul” and I can move on with my day,’” he says. “I heard it then. I was with the kids, and it couldn’t have been a better moment. The phone started buzzing and I heard about Matthew and Keri. It’s been quite a great celebration since then.”
The breakthrough for “The Americans” is just a part of an overall incredible Emmy year for FX. The cabler placed second among all networks in total noms — behind only Emmy titan HBO — and set a new nomination record for a basic cable network with 56 (including a whopping 22 for “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” and 18 for “Fargo”).
FX Networks CEO John Landgraf describes this year’s noms for “The Americans” as a “really big deal.” Despite a history of acclaimed dramas including “The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck,” “Rescue Me,” and “Justified,” “The Americans” is the network’s first and only show to land a drama series nom since “Damages.”
“People who watch a lot of TV, authoritative voices, critics and commentators have been saying for four years now that [‘The Americans’] is one of the best, if not the best, drama on television,” Landgraf notes. “It’s hugely gratifying, and a testament to the fact that the people who make that show have made the show better every year than the year before. It’s a really hard thing to do.”
As for what might have turned the tide, both Fields and Weisberg agree that the steady support they’ve received through the seasons must have something to do with it. “Our core audience and critics have been with the show from the beginning, but it seems their steady drumbeat has gotten louder,” Fields says. “At some point when we didn’t get the Emmy nominations for the third season, we felt that drumbeat was enough. And it certainly is enough, but boy it’s nice to have a horn section from the Emmys too.”
And it’s just as nice to see their stars nominated. Rhys and Russell, both enjoying the first Emmy noms of their careers, deliver two of the most layered performances currently on TV as undercover Russian spies posing an average suburban couple in ‘80s-era Washington D.C.
“The truth is I don’t think it really bothered them,” Weisberg says of the stars’ lack of Emmy recognition over the years. “Like us, they’ve been so happy to be working on the show. We’ve all taken a tremendous amount of joy in getting to work on a project we all care about and love. Nobody’s been moping around or feeling under recognized.
“Behind their backs, Joel and I and plenty of other people feel these two have given two of the most extraordinary performances, in these unbelievably difficult complex roles,” he adds. “When you love people you want them to get as much recognition as possible. So when that came through this morning it was a pretty special moment.”
Although they’re on vacation at the moment, Fields and Weisberg are already “deep” into writing the next season — the series’ fifth and penultimate batch of episodes. They’re hopeful the Emmy breakthrough will carry over to general audiences.
“One thing that strikes me is this nomination may help get more people to sample and join us and be part of the live audience for the final seasons,” Fields says. “It’s not important so much as it used to be in terms of the ratings — although ratings are nice — but there’s something great about being part of a show where there’s a growing community watching it together.”
That would echo the run of a recent Emmy favorite to which “The Americans” has drawn intermittent comparisons.
“‘Breaking Bad’ is an example of another show that kind of struggled out of the gate [commercially] and kept getting better and better,” Landgraf notes. “It’s a testament to the people who made that show — eventually it became undeniable both to the Emmys and many audience members who said, ‘OK, fine, what is all the fuss about?’ I think we’ll get some of that effect on ‘The Americans’ too.”
But while they appreciate the comparison, Weisberg and Fields say they’re not looking to the escalating tension of “Breaking Bad” as a creative template for how to bring their story to an end.
“We’ve thought an incredible amount about how to pace and plot the final two seasons,” Weisberg says. “I think you’ll find there will be some very specific things happening that will be special and different because it’s the final two seasons.
“The world we’re in is specific — I’d say constrained, but not in a negative way — because it takes place within a historical model that’s different from ‘Breaking Bad.’ That history guides us and gives us a lot of opportunities. It opens up a lot of what we want to do in terms of where the episodes go and where the story goes.”
Fields adds: “As crazy as it may sound, in our own heads there’s just a truth to the world of this story. We can’t impose upon it a pace that it doesn’t have. That wouldn’t ring true. By now, as we turn the corner into these final seasons we feel we can do nothing other than follow where the story is going. Obviously we’re the ones writing the story, and we know where it’s going, we’ve been talking about that for some time, but we can’t impose upon that a different pace than it may want.”