The relationship between those who work in television and those who cover it has always been a tightrope balance. When both are done well, there is a mixture of respect and adoration for each other’s crafts. If things get wobbly or off-kilter, belly flops and tears can ensue — on either side.
Nowhere is this point more proven than the Television Critics Assn., a membership of Visine-dropping, couch-denting TV watchers who make it a point to at least be aware of all new and returning series that, when combined, equate to something that could resemble one of Santa Claus’ naughty and nice scrolls that you see unwind in a children’s animated special — a genre that is also included in the content TCA covers.
The Television Critics Assn.’s annual awards, which are held each summer during one of the organization’s biannual press tours, is meant to reflect all of this. The ceremony not only honors shows and talent who have made an impact on the zeitgeist, but through its Career Achievement and Heritage Awards it has also, respectively, recognized such legends as Mary Tyler Moore and Norman Lear, as well as fan-favorites including “The Wire” and “The Simpsons” — pop-culture game changers that have helped shaped the medium into what it is today.
Arguably, none of the recent TCA Awards nominations may exemplify the potential to shape the medium more than this year’s crop of newcomers — Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” FX’s “Feud: Bette and Joan,” plus NBC’s “The Good Place” and “This Is Us” — which have broken into categories with proven successes like Netflix’s “Master of None” and ABC’s “Black-ish.”
“It was surprising that most of the nominees were first-year shows,” says Bruce Miller, who adapted “The Handmaid’s Tale” from author Margaret Atwood’s novel. “I think the established shows have pushed the boundaries of TV in a way that created space for new shows to be even more inventive and original. So I think the creative success of these new shows is a sign of the creative bravery of the shows that came before.”
As surprising as it may be to have so many new titles vying for TCA Awards this year, the bigger shock might be in the performer categories.
Keeping with the organization’s tradition, these categories are not broken down by gender. Going further at a time when the conversation about diversity still surrounds every show and event, though, the members of the Television Critics Assn. offered a unique surprise: all of the nominees for both individual achievement in drama and individual achievement in comedy are women and/or people of color.
“The fact that it was mostly women and minority actors says a lot about how TV is leading the charge in the industry and that it is always at the forefront of the entertainment that we need to see so that we represent the world that we actually live in,” says actress Carrie Coon of HBO’s “The Leftovers” and FX’s “Fargo,” who this year is celebrating a dual nomination in the individual achievement in a drama category — a first for the awards ceremony.
Although Coon does dabble in film — she had a memorable part in director David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” for example — she says it’s for reasons such as these that she likes to stick to TV work.
“The fact that we have all of these people of color nominated for TV because they’re getting to play actual human beings and people like it — this is stuff we’ve always known and, as actors, these are roles we’ve wanted to play,” Coon says. “But it’s only now that there’s so many television shows and so many networks that [the studios] are willing to take what we would call risks.”
And while awards are nice, both Coon and Miller stress that one of the biggest thrills they’ve seen thanks to such organizations as TCA is the elevated conversations about television that people are having on the internet.
“I think social media has had more of an effect on creators and critics than peak TV,” Miller says. “As creators now we have access to so much more of the thoughts, opinions, and commentary of critics. We are able to have a dialogue where previously it was a one-way conversation.”