Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s 2010 Emmy coverage. Here’s his scorecard assessing the Outstanding Comedy Series race:
Why It Was Nominated: Beside the fact it’s a buoyant but edgy show, it has the style and energy that voting members of the TV Academy rarely find among broadcast network fare. Creator/showrunner Ryan Murphy is seen as a trendsetter whose Glee appeals to tweeners and geezers alike. It’s also a plus that he couldn’t possibly have made a more different show from his very adult Nip/Tuck. That kind of versatility is rewarded, or in this case, awarded.
Why It Has To Win: Broadcast TV still employs a controlling number of voters, and they like to honor their own when at all possible. The Emmys also have a long tradition of rewarding first-year comedies, and this show is also bolstered by phenomenal casting which produced a breakthrough acting ensemble. Bottom line, as one producer put it to me, “It makes the people who vote on these things look young and smart, even if they’re neither. And the gay voters are going to flock to it.”
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: In the Primetime Emmys’ long history, only one hour-long comedy ever has won the biggest award: Ally McBeal in 1999. Desperate Housewives couldn’t do it. Neither could Ugly Betty. Glee could well be too much of a hybrid for its own good. The TV Academy has also never given a top comedy prize to a show that’s anything like this one in terms of tone and subject matter. Then there’s the fierce competition from Modern Family.
MODERN FAMILY (ABC – 20th Century Fox Television)
Why It Was Nominated: It’s has a pair of well-respected producers in Christopher Lloyd and Steve Levitan, the latter looked upon by the TV community as a rebel with a cause for the way he talks back to the networks and ignores executive notes. The show is quirky and surprising and – not least – uproariously funny. Every once in a while, actual humor tips the scales for a nomination.
Why It Has To Win: Co-creator/exec producer Lloyd has won in this category – a lot: 5 times for Frasier (1994-98). Modern Family has frontrunner buzz because it’s some of the best writing on a comedy since, well, Frasier. It hit the ground running in its first episode and never slowed down, and that momentum makes it a tough Emmy competitor. As one category voter told me: “I’m voting for this show because we need to reward intelligent writing or we shouldn’t even bother weighing in.”
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: Sometimes you can be too cool for the room, and that may prove to be the case here. Some may also figure that Lloyd has received enough accolades and snub it out of jealousy. By contrast, Glee is pure feel-good. Could the buzz have shifted since voting began to Glee? And for some reason, ABC just never wins this category, the last time 22 years ago for The Wonder Years.
30 ROCK (NBC – Broadway Video & Little Stranger w/ Universal Media Studio)
Why It Was Nominated: Until Glee and Modern Family arrived this past season, 30 Rock was the quality gold standard. And it’s still right there near the top. There remains a great respect for producer-writer-star Tina Fey and anything she’s involved with, as well as affection for Alec Baldwin and his scandal survival skills. So after winning this category 3 years running, nominating 30 Rock again was a no-brainer.
Why It Has To Win: It always wins. And if we know anything about the TV Academy, it’s that it likes to honor repeatedly. The writing remains tight and imaginative, if sometimes inconsistent. But the show had the balls to make fun of Ben Silverman when he was a failing NBC boss, and that wins points. Voters love a show that defiantly refuses to pander and makes them feel they’re in on the joke, and no show blends industry with absurdity better than 30 Rock.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: It’s no longer the plucky underdog. It remains ratings-challenged. It wasn’t its best season. It’s clear Fey has been given an embarrassment of riches as well as a new feature career. And after 3 years of being TV’s cheekiest insider – and best comedy by default – voters finally have reason to look elsewhere. But a vote for another show might also be a protest vote against NBC for eliminating Industry jobs when it turned its back on a normal development season to try Leno at 10 PM. Why reward failure?
THE OFFICE (NBC – Deedle-Dee Prod & Reveille w/ Universal Media Studios)
Why It Was Nominated: This is its 5th straight nomination in part out of habit, in part because of a popular cast. “It invariably becomes a case of the academy not knowing how not to nominate something after it’s been around a while,” one writer tells me. Star Steve Carell and creator Greg Daniels also command a lot of respect in the business as good guys with well-honed comedy chops.
Why It Has To Win: Because Glee, Modern Family and 30 Rock could cancel each other out. And The Office did win once, albeit back in 2005. Plus, Carell will be leaving.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: The feeling is that this mockumentary has stayed at the party five minutes beyond its shelf life. It continues to have still surprising daffy moments, just fewer of them. Overall, the writing has lost a step or two in sharpness. Plus, Carell will be leaving.
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (HBO – HBO Entertainment)
Why It Was Nominated: The number of Jews (just kidding) and Seinfeld fans (redundancy alert) who populate the nominating body of the TV Academy continues to be vast. For them, and the rest of us, Curb can do no wrong. “There are people who will still be voting for this show long after it’s off the air,” quips one producer.
Why It Has To Win: It’s still as painfully funny as ever. And Larry David was clever enough to find a way to incorporate a Seinfeld reunion show without actually making a Seinfeld reunion show.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: It’s still seen as a niche show. That was enough to earn it a Golden Globe (in 2003), but not an Emmy. Larry won’t campaign enough to make that happen – and make no mistake, brown-nosing must occur. Moreover, some will never vote for an HBO comedy simply out of spite because of the pay channel’s longtime Emmy domination in the dramatic categories.
NURSE JACKIE (SHOWTIME – Lionsgate TV, Jackson Group Ent, Madison Grain Elevator, Delong Lumber, Caryn Mandabach Prod)
Why It Was Nominated: It’s a quality series with the much honored Edie Falco. It also enjoys creative freedom in terms of situations and language that network broadcast sitcoms can only dream about. A level playing field this is not.
Why It Has To Win: A sizeable chunk of TV Academy voters can relate to a lead character who struggles with drug addiction.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: It probably spoke volumes about the backlash against Chuck Lorre’s success that Nurse Jackie was nominated but not The Big Bang Theory. Equally significant, no multicamera comedy was able to penetrate the single-camera nomination stranglehold. Finally, the pay channel can get its actors Emmys (like Toni Collette for United States Of Tara), but… “No matter what anyone says to the contrary,” a producer told me, “the Academy isn’t ready yet to give this kind of an award to a Showtime show.”