Is it finally Jon Hamm’s year? 4 races to watch at Sunday’s Emmys

18 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Emmy Awards Announce Final Group of Presenters.

In case you hadn’t heard, we’re living in a golden age of television, an era when there are so many high-quality scripted shows from so many outlets that finding the time to watch them all has become the ultimate First World Problem. The Television Academy has announced its last batch of presenters for the Primetime Emmy Awards and the list includes Emmy nominees and upcoming television stars.Every year, the Emmy Awards ceremony offers professionals in the television industry the opportunity to get dressed up and remind themselves how talented and important they are.At a time when streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now are rapidly changing the landscape of television, and programming is getting more racially diverse than ever, the Emmys, the medium’s biggest awards ceremony, can seem woefully out of date. Those who will be doing double duty as nominees and presenters are Adrien Brody, who is nominated for lead actor in a limited series or movie for History’s “Houdini”; Viola Davis, who is nominated for lead actress in a drama for “How To Get Away With Murder”; and Keegan-Michael Key, who is nominated for lead actor in a comedy for Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele.” Key’s co-star Jordan Peele, as well as other past nominees, will also be presenting this year.

And while the presenters of the awards are usually a part of the whole self-important charade, a genuinely hilarious moment occasionally breaks through — as in 2006, when Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert took the stage to present the Emmy for Best Reality Series. Perhaps aware of Emmy’s fuddy-duddy image, the TV Academy instituted new rules this year, clarifying the definition of drama vs. comedy, expanding the series categories to a possible seven nominees and, in the most potentially radical change, opening up the vote from small “blue-ribbon panels” to all the eligible members in each branch of the organization. The nominations announced in July already included some pleasant surprises (hurray, Tatiana Maslany!), and Sunday night’s telecast on Fox could bring still more. An offbeat comedy about a middle-aged dad (Jeffrey Tambor) who comes out as transgender to his adult kids, “Transparent” has a premise that could risk alienating the traditional-minded, even in a year when Caitlyn Jenner captured headlines.

The potential upside of this change is considerable, as it allows a host of fresh faces an opportunity to make their voices heard on the industry’s biggest night. In fact it’s not a traditional TV series in any sense, as it bypasses the typical broadcast or cable platforms and is made and distributed on-demand by Amazon, the same online mega-retailer that ships books, diapers and countless other products. Due to a number of rule changes, and viewers’ increasing appetites for shows that reflect the racial and cultural diversity of America, this year’s ceremony, which takes place in Los Angeles on Sunday and will be hosted by Andy Samberg, has the potential to be groundbreaking.

And yet, with zero wins to date out of 14 nominations spanning three categories, the “Mad Men” star is one of Emmy’s most famous losers — a distinction he has embraced as the co-host, with another perennial also-ran, Amy Poehler, of a yearly “Losers Only” party. Fox is going with Andy Samberg, the Saturday Night Live alum who stars in the sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which isn’t a big hit but won a Golden Globe.

And yet “Transparent” is also one of this year’s most-nominated shows, with 11 total nods and, in a formidable new vs. old match-up, is squaring off against perennial winner “Modern Family” for best comedy. Henson and Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, James Corden, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tina Fey, Will Forte, Lady Gaga, Ricky Gervais, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Marcia Gay Harden, Lena Headey, LL COOL J, Mindy Kaling, Jimmy Kimmel, Rob Lowe, Jane Lynch, Seth Meyers, John Oliver, Amy Poehler, Emma Roberts, Gina Rodriguez, Tracee Ellis Ross, Liev Schreiber, John Stamos and Kerry Washington. As Alan Sepinwall pointed out in his own Emmy preview, the magnificent character actress Margo Martindale won a trophy this past weekend at the Creative Arts Emmys (basically a catch-all ceremony for all the awards squeezed out of the main show) for her work on my favorite television show, The Americans. But within the industry, there is a sense that the creative momentum has shifted to more off-beat, unusual shows — including the kind of shows proliferating on streaming outlets such as Amazon and Netflix. “Audiences are still much larger for network-originated shows, but the shows on streaming services have the attention of the entertainment establishment,” said Jeffrey McCall, a media studies professor at DePauw University. “Non-network shows can be edgier, bawdier and take more risks than the major networks can, and the Emmy people want to reward that. “This is in some ways a socio-cultural statement, but it is also a statement about where the creative world wants to take the video industry,” he added. Even his behind-the-scenes contributions to “Mad Men” have gotten the shaft: The show hasn’t won a series Emmy since he became a producer in its fifth season.

Many experts see a growing two-tier system, much like the one that operates in the movie business, where Oscars are more likely to go to art house favorites than summer blockbusters. In February, Empire – a torrid soap with a largely African American cast set in the music industry – astonishingly became the first show since 1992 to increase its ratings over the course of its first five weeks on air (most shows have a popular first week, then immediately plunge in week two). Not only has Hamm never won an Emmy for “Mad Men,” which ended its run on AMC in May, neither has anyone from the cast, despite 34 acting nominations. Martindale’s “guest performance” was all of a single scene, and not a particularly memorable one at that. (If you’re giving guest performance Emmys to The Americans, why not start with Lois Smith?) Martindale likely won due to her overall excellence and name recognition, not for the work for which she was nominated.

Meanwhile, “American Sniper” took in $350 million, followed by “Hunger Games: Mockingjay” at $337 million. “When you look at the Emmys, they’re no longer about what the popular masses like,” said Billie Gold, vice president and director of TV programming research at ad firm Carat. “It’s more about if you have top actors doing these really interesting roles, with multi-dimensional characters. … [With] mainstream television, you’re trying to appeal to the masses.” When commercial TV consisted of just three broadcast networks, the Emmys often honored what was considered not just good but popular. “All in the Family,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Cheers,” “Seinfeld” and “Frasier” were honored with top Emmys. Henson, who plays Cookie, a soap villainess in the tradition of Dynasty’s Alexis Colby, has “a very good shot” at the prize, says Daniel Montgomery, a senior editor at awards prognostication website GoldDerby. They are Better Call Saul (AMC), Downton Abbey (PBS), Game of Thrones (HBO), Homeland (Showtime), House of Cards (Netflix), Mad Men (AMC) and Orange Is the New Black (Netflix). Gone are the days of glittering consensus, when insiders and hoi polloi alike could agree on obvious, deserving winners like Breaking Bad and Modern Family.

Back in the 1970s, for example, the best drama prize went three times to “Upstairs, Downstairs,” a BBC period piece about aristocrats and their servants that ran in the U.S. on PBS. As we’ve shifted from a golden era, marked by swaggering, commercial colossi into a more fragmented moment — instead of four or five brilliant shows we now have 400 quite good ones — the Emmy voters will likely struggle with accurately reflecting the zeitgeist. As the “Downton Abbey” of its time, “Upstairs, Downstairs” was not nearly as well-liked as the cop shows it aired against, such as “Baretta” and “Starsky & Hutch.” In 1981, a surprise win for the NBC cop drama “Hill Street Blues” — which had been languishing in the ratings but was considered one of the best-written shows on TV — rescued the show and helped turn it into a hit. HBO is a premium network that the majority of Americans do not even subscribe to, although “Sopranos” delivered ratings that would today be the envy of ABC, CBS or NBC.

Netflix, Amazon and Hulu viewing figures are not widely published, but Nielsen this year has ramped up a pilot program that is designed to capture tallies of people watching streamed shows. It wasn’t until 1982 that a woman of color (“Fame’s” Debbie Allen) even made the drama actress shortlist, and they’ve been scarce in the decades since.

A dark comedy set in a women’s prison, the Netflix show has generated enormous media coverage and a dedicated fan base, not to mention a nomination last year in the best comedy category — and another this year for best drama. (The series switched categories after a recent Emmy rule change addressed the blurring lines between complex dramas and comedies.) “We don’t really know what the numbers are,” Gold said. “Netflix can tell us some numbers, but we don’t know if it’s substantiated. The thing is, if they get 2 to 3 million viewers, that’s huge for them, but it wouldn’t be a hit on network television.” But experts expect that niche shows will continue to dominate come Emmy time as the industry slides away from a scheduled broadcast model in favor of streamed programs that can be viewed whenever users want.

On Thursday, the Women’s Media Centre analysed the writing, editing, producing and directing categories and found that this year this year 25% of the nominees are female – slightly up from the 22% average over the previous 10 years. “The bottom line: if more women were hired as writers, directors, editors, producers, and especially as creators and executive producers, the talent pool for nominations would be more reflective of the overall population and audience – more than half of which are women,” Julie Burton, the WMC president said. This is, after all, such a jammed field that 2014 winner, Julianna Margulies of “The Good Wife,” failed to make the cut this year — as did two-time nominee Kerry Washington, the actress many predicted would be the one to make Emmy history.

Earlier this year the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which runs the show, made some alterations to reflect changing viewing habits and to prevent shows from “category shopping”, or bending the rules to insert their shows into the categories they were most likely to win. Netflix and Amazon both recently announced plans to step up original programming, effectively making them direct competitors with major Hollywood studios such as Warner Bros. and Fox. For as much as awards are meaningless popularity contests, for Hamm to end this chapter of his professional life with an empty mantelpiece seems absurd. But, even as Jon Hamm owned the final episodes of Mad Men, Moss as Peggy soared, the character became truly iconic and another snub would be unthinkable. Under the new rules, they have both been shuttled to a category called “limited series” defined as “programmes of two or more episodes with a total running time of at least 150 minutes that tell a complete, non-recurring story, and do not have an ongoing storyline and/or main characters in subsequent seasons”.

Nominated are Louie (FX), Modern Family (ABC), Parks and Recreation (NBC), Silicon Valley (HBO), Transparent (Amazon), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix) and Veep (HBO). Before the rule change, I was convinced he would not, mainly because I couldn’t shake the feeling that many Academy members simply couldn’t see past Hamm’s astronaut good looks and appreciate the subtlety of his performance. The Colbert Report, which went off the air at the end of 2014 so that Stephen Colbert could take the reins of CBS’s Late Show, and the iteration of The Daily Show fronted by Jon Stewart, will square off for the last time in the Variety categories. Hamm, who plays dissipated adman Don Draper, is frontrunner in the outstanding lead actor category against Bob Odenkirk (for Better Call Saul), Kyle Chandler (Bloodline), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) and Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan).

They feel compelled to watch stand-out, talked-about dramas airing or screening on various platforms, but for comedy they go back to old-school network TV. The hugely popular and influential “The X-Files” never won a drama series Emmy, losing out to “The Practice” (lawyers), “ER” (doctors), “NYPD Blue” (cops) and “Law & Order” (lawyers and cops!). There would be a sweetness to a win for her as it would parallel the storyline of Joan on Mad Men – the one who survived and made it in the end, by dint of determination.

And while I wish they could both be recognized — and, now that we’re on the subject, how the hell is John Slattery not nominated simply for the way he said “vermouth”? This season sparked a backlash from fans and critics alike for its depiction of brutal violence against women and children, and was viewed by some as the show’s weakest to date. As anyone not living in an underground bunker surely knows — sorry, Kimmy Schmidt — the last two years have brought huge changes to the world of late-night TV.

Voters eager to embrace late night’s younger generation could reward Jimmy Fallon for reinvigorating “The Tonight Show,” or critical darling John Oliver for “Last Week Tonight’s” pioneering blend of comedy and muckraking. Last year’s Emmy for Fargo sent viewers to the show on FX and on-demand, just as viewers overwhelmed by a growing number of acclaimed series were sent to Breaking Bad, several seasons after it started.

Or maybe the Emmys will split the difference between old and new and give a third straight Emmy to the departed “Colbert Report,” whose spirit (and host) now lives on at “The Late Show” on CBS. Still, voters love a good conclusion, and while Mad Men’s wasn’t perfect by any stretch, it did return the show to a place in the cultural conversation that it hadn’t occupied in a few years. Not because it was the best — even your angry uncle on Facebook agrees that Last Week Tonight With John Oliver won the year — but because it was so good, for so long. Another win for Modern Family — which, by the way, remains an impressive and efficient series — could be seen as an endorsement of the business-as-usual groupthink that has produced this fall’s shrugging and syphilitic crop of lame new shows. A vote for either isn’t exactly a vote for the status quo, but nor is it a vote for what a Star Trek sequel — and, yes, Bill Shakespeare — once called “the undiscovered country” of the future.

Veep, which I believe to be a slight favorite, and Silicon Valley are proof that highly specific comedic voices are best served on cable, where few notes are given and no cows are sacred. In this, they are part of a vanguard of “sadcoms” or half-hour dramedies that are responsible for rewriting audience expectations and providing the sort of emotional gut-punches that today’s dramas rarely achieve. I believe either Inside Amy Schumer or Key and Peele will take home the inaugural Outstanding Variety Sketch Series Emmy and I have no truck with either. What I remain uncertain of is the winner of the night’s last award — Outstanding Drama Series — and what it might mean for the future of the industry. Downton Abbey has its aficionados — though not even the strongest Darjeeling in Christendom is likely to keep those fans awake until 11 p.m. on the East Coast.

Until now, thanks to a quirk of timing and programming, the Emmys have mostly been able to skirt this high-low divide. (No one, not Joe Popcorn nor his pretentious cousin, Joseph Kale Chips, was upset about Breaking Bad winning big these past few years.) And this evasion has been central to the “TV is better than movies!” narrative that has been suggested so often recently that many people — even many nonprofessional TV-critic people — accept it as truth. So while it’s certainly possible that the new voting rules may inspire populist chaos, leading to the sight of Peter Dinklage mounting the Microsoft Theater stage as if it were a Lorathi prostitute, I still can’t bring myself to predict it happening — at least not this year. With the golden years fading, we are at the forefront of a new era, one in which everyone wants to make TV but no one is quite sure what to make of it.

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