Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s 2010 Emmy coverage. Here’s his scorecard assessing the Outstanding Drama Series race:
MAD MEN (AMC – Lionsgate TV)
Why It Was Nominated: The critics rave. The fans swoon. But the masses yawn. Fortunately for AMC, the masses don’t get to choose the Emmy nominations. But no Industry type believes AMC’s Mad Men doesn’t deserve to at least try for a 3rd consecutive Primetime Emmy. After all, The West Wing won four Emmys in a row.
Why It Has To Win: The fact that the show launched its new season last month (and to raves) is a shrewd move on the part of AMC to create fresh buzz. As one producer told me: “At this point, the show’s reputation precedes it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to win.”
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: Roughly seven times more households tuned to the Lost finale on ABC in May than watched Mad Men‘s Season 4 premiere in July. That greatly shakes up the voting equation. More to the point, can Matthew Weiner shake off some bad press after last year’s win? (The young female staff writer who’d won the 2009 drama-writing Emmy with Weiner quit Mad Men before she could be let go by him.)
LOST (ABC – Grass Skirts Prod w/ ABC Network & Studios)
Why It Was Nominated: Had the voters failed to nominate it, Lost‘s multitudes of fans might have marched on the TV Academy headquarters. The show had a buzzworthy final season that dominated not just watercooler talk but also Industry dialogue.
Why It Has To Win: Before cable became the place where quality lives, voters would have easily anointed a show that brought as much excitement to broadcast network primetime as the Lost finale did. (Remember, more of the Academy work in network TV than for cable outlets.) Plus, TV folks are suckers for a good swan song. (Witness the final season wins of The Sopranos and Everybody Loves Raymond.)
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: A show this odd and surreal takes more commitment than watching only a couple of episodes as part of a judging panel. The finale created a furor about whether the show’s conceit was overblown. There also could remain some lingering resentment over rumors Carlton Cuse secretly went back to work during the writers strike even though he was on the WGA negotiating committee.
THE GOOD WIFE (CBS – CBS Prod)
Why It Was Nominated: It’s a tried-and-true network procedural wrapped in a juicy premise. And yet, even though the show borrowed from the Eliot Spitzer sex scandal and focused on his wife Silda, it deliberately wasn’t lurid. Instead, some fortuitous scheduling, and compelling performances by Julianna Margulies, Alan Cumming, and Christine Baranski, made the rookie series stand out from the crowd.
Why It Has To Win: Producers Tony Scott/Ridley Scott bring the prestige of a cinematic pedigree. But, more to the point, The Good Wife is the only show among nominees that has that retro feel recalling when network TV was in its prime and actor parts were big and juicy.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: Producers Tony Scott/RidleyScott bring the baggage of a cinematic pedigree. And Margulies’ subtle work seems somnambulant to some. Besides, the last time CBS won this category was 16 years ago for David E. Kelley’s quirky Picket Fences. But The Good Wife may need another season to inspire the voters. “I think people in the Academy would like to show some love for a broadcast series like Good Wife that doesn’t try too hard to compete with cable in terms of content,” one writer says. “But I doubt that will be enough to beat Mad Men or Lost because everyone I know is voting for one or the other.”
BREAKING BAD (AMC – Sony Pictures TV)
Why It Was Nominated: It is, pure and simple, a great show about an edgy subject that only got greater during its 3rd season. Bryan Cranston brings a tortured intensity to his lead performance that’s as hypnotically brilliant as any found on any screen in any year.
Why It Has To Win: People seem to root for showrunner Vince Gilligan, known as an unassuming guy who runs a tight ship but gets the best out of his below-the-line crew by creating camaraderie. It helps too also have expert production and perfect casting.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: The TV Academy doesn’t typically bestow honors on shows this unrelentingly dark and depressing. And the meth lab storyline is hardly TV Academy-friendly. And while it is every bit Mad Men’s equal in terms of acting, writing and production, Breaking Bad tends to get overshadowed by its AMC stablemate at the Emmys (except in the lead actor category). “It’s a better show than Mad Men,” a producer tells me, “but it seems to get shafted on the marketing side by comparison.”
DEXTER (SHOWTIME – John Goldwyn Prod, The Colleton Co, Clyde Phillips Prod)
Why It Was Nominated: Dexter’s 4th season killed in every sense of the word, helped by the nuanced performance of Industry favorite John lithgow. Besides, this is the show’s 3rd consecutive category nomination.
Why It Has To Win: A buzz builds every year for this show to pull off not just an upset win but also Showtime’s first in a top series category. This could be Dexter‘s year, also considering the sympathetic outpouring for star Hall and his successful recovery from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: The show has been off ethe pay channel since last December, and, no matter what the Academy may say about judging the submitted episodes, shows long out of circulation tend to get forgotten by the voters.
TRUE BLOOD (HBO – Your Face Goes Here Ent w/ HBO Ent)
Why It Was Nominated: This is a very good question. And the first vampire show to be so honored. Credit showrunner Alan Ball whose involvement elevated the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me subject matter.
Why It Has To Win: Vampire mania remains in vogue, and the TV community can appreciate a big fat hit that made for HBO’s highest ratings since the glory days of Tony and Carmela. Plus Ball is considered an engaging and inclusive guy on set.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: Vampire mania remains in contempt. As one TV Academy member promised me, “If True Blood wins the Emmy, I’ll drive a stake through someone’s heart.” Also count on lingering resentment that True Blood beat out shows more deserving of an Emmy nomination like Big Love, Damages, Friday Night Lights, and Rescue Me.