EMMYS: 10 Dramas Pick Best Episodes

Drama series producers agonize over their selection of up to six episodes for 2011 Emmy nomination consideration. Here’s insight from Deadline TV Contributor Diane Haithman into why these particular episodes were thought to impress Emmy voters:

Story line: It is January 1920, on the eve of Prohibition. Atlantic City’s treasurer Enoch “Nucky”Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi and based on a real-life crime boss) publicly condemns alcohol while plotting to make a tidy profit selling bootleg liquor.

The period drama entered the 75-minute pilot episode because it was directed by Martin Scorsese and reportedly cost $50 million (which would make it the most expensive pilot episode ever produced). About the selection of this and the other episodes, creator Terence Winter explains, “We wanted to make sure we gave a representative selection of the show and be sure that the narrative arc didn’t leave voters completely confused.”

Story line: This episode deconstructs one evening in the life of Don Draper and Peggy Olson, weaving the fictional events with a real-life May 1965 World Heavyweight boxing match. Don forces Peggy to work all night on her birthday, Duck Phillips has a drunken fistfight with Don, and Peggy comforts Don when he learns of Anna’s death.

“The Suitcase” is generating buzz not only for the drama series but also for Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss to strut their Emmy stuff. “It’s about two lost souls who, through the course of one alcohol-infused evening together, slowly shed their protective veneers to reveal their raw, messy cores,” says Jennifer Getzinger, who directed the episode written by show creator Matthew Weiner. “The beauty of these two lonely people reaching out to each other with such rare honesty touched people in a very unique way.”

Story line: Callie and Arizona are rushed back to Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital after a car accident. The doctors must act quickly to save both Callie and her unborn baby, while tensions rise between Mark and Arizona over whose life should receive first priority. The high drama is set to music, with the characters singing various Top 40 hits.

Showrunners joke about how episodes with Emmy aspirations tend to include main characters getting hit by trucks. Co-Executive Producer Tony Phelan, who directed this episode, says he and show creator Shonda Rhimes have wanted to do a musical episode since the show’s 2005 launch and believe the twist helps Grey’s stay Emmy competitive.

Story line: The doctors are followed for one night during their off hours. House discovers that the experimental medicine he’s been taking is causing tumors, and he tries to remove them in the bathtub. Thirteen’s surprise visitor is a prison inmate who has been stabbed and refuses to go to the hospital. Taub is shocked by the news that his latest fling is pregnant.

Executive Producers Russel Friend and Garrett Lerner believe this episode allowed them “to explore relationships and motivations, but with a shot of adrenaline as everything was heightened and immediate.” The pair also felt Hugh Laurie’s performance was “as powerful as anything you’ll see on television. Standing on the set, watching Hugh cut into his leg, even knowing it was all pretend, the intensity was unbelievable.”

Story line: The series, set in the rainy Pacific Northwest, tracks one case: the murder of a young girl named Rosie Larsen. This episode pauses to examine the effect the killing had on the community and, specifi cally, on the girl’s parents.

Show creator and showrunner Veena Sud chose this episode she wrote because of its intimate focus on the aftermath of a murder, rather than the murder itself. “Too often in cop shows, we skip over the price of a life. And too often the family are the props, but not where the story resides. This is truly what murder looks like. It’s not glamorous.”

Story line: Alicia and the partners must decide whether to take on the case of a massage therapist who accuses a Nobel Peace Prize winner of sexual assault. Meanwhile, Peter and Eli try to figure out what Wendy Scott-Carr’s candidacy means for their campaign.

Robert King calls this episode “cool on a lot of fronts, one of which is that it really takes place in four hours and uses the case structure to a very good effect, and all ends in a surprising way.” And because some of the action takes place at a gala fundraiser, there’s the added fun of seeing all the characters in formal duds.

Story line: Dexter hides Lumen Pierce (Julia Stiles) from captor Jordan Chase (Jonny Lee Miller), who has discovered their vigilante partnership.  Dexter has already eliminated three of Lumen’s five attackers, and the bond deepens between them. Lumen declares to Dexter that she’s ready to commit her first kill.

This “brings us to the crux of the relationship between Dexter and Lumen,” says Executive Story Editor Scott Reynolds, who wrote the episode. “This is Dexter at his most vulnerable. He’s truly putting himself on the line here. When Lumen fully embraces him, Dexter has a rare moment of feeling a genuine part of the world around him.”

Story line: Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) awakens from a coma after being shot to fi nd a hellish world where zombies have taken over. Grimes searches for his wife and son, tracking a rumor that some humans have formed a community in Atlanta.

The 90-minute pilot titled “Days Gone Bye ” fittingly premiered on Halloween night. Showrunner Frank Darabont had a particular emotional attachment to this episode. “It was a crazy, great 14 or 15 days. I never had more fun directing anything.”

Story line: The residents of Harlan, Kentucky, celebrate Mags’ important land deal. Loretta learns the truth about what happened to her father, leading to a deadly confrontation between Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens and Mags’ son.

For show creator Graham Yost, this was a pivotal episode story-wise. Directed by Tony Goldwyn and written by Taylor Elmore, Yost says, “There was a lot of craft to it. And there’s a couple of turns that are not scripted. And when you see it — wow.”

Story line: As futures begin to unfold for many Dillon residents, the Taylors must decide whether to stay in Texas or move to Philadelphia for the job Tami was offered.

It was a bittersweet experience for showrunner Jason Katims to write the episode titled “Always,” which wraps up five seasons. “What we wanted to do in the finale was to honor everything we’ve been doing the recent seasons of the show. We looked back to where the show began and brought back a lot of the characters from the beginning. We really wanted this series to have an ending; we sort of owed that to the audience.”

  1. Yea right Greys Anatomy. That was the worst episode ever.

    Not that it matters, since even your best episode could contend with the rest.

    1. i totally agree not only they have the guts to present an episode with other amazing shows but also they present the worst most agonizing episode ever i hated the episode they ruined my fav songs and i cant get the image of Callie cowing all over the hospital singing Brandie Carlile’s “the story ” in a nut shell blech

  2. Although Friday Night Lights is my favorite drama on today, Private Practice should submit the aftermath of Charlotte’s rape as a contender for Best Drama.

  3. Best Mad Men episode, by far, was “The Summer Man.” Don Draper narrating his inner-most thoughts like Travis Bickle? I would take that in every episode. “God, I was lazy. I should have finished high school. Everything would have been different.” Great shit.

    1. Yeah, Travis Bickle. That’s exactly the comparison I would make. [Liz Lemon-esque eye roll]

  4. Where the heck is Baelor from Game Of Thrones? You put Greys Anatomy up there but no GoT.WTF

  5. Maybe they’re flattering Scorsese or maybe they’re hoping his name will do the business for them, but the Boardwalk Empire pilot was far from its finest hour – a showy but underwhelming start to what eventually settled into good, solid quality TV.

    Personally I’d have picked the Richard Harrow/”Tin Woodsman” episode. If you saw it you’ll know which one I mean. By then the show had grown a soul.

    1. Loved Tin Woodsman but it’s not what the show is about. Just a brilliant actor in a small role bringing much needed life to the show. Episode 4 Anastasia and Episode 5 Last Nights in Ballyran (sp?) were the two episodes that seemed to cover all the characters and the dramatic sweep of the show. The acting, directing and writing of those two were kind of out of the park.

  6. Boardwalk Empire will win. Having Martin Scorsese on board is a good privelege, pilot sets the story very well, it’s well written, it looks amazing – money well spent, great performances and it’s directed very slick, old-fashioned. Emmy voters will love it.

    1. Anastasia was the best episode of Boardwalk. It was 4th or 5th. The show finally gets its groove on.

  7. Grey’s Anatomy is far too enamored with its musical, which was an interesting experiment but nowhere near the best episode of the season. Their best episode of the season was far and away “Disarm,” the conclusion of the shooting aftermath story arc as the doctors helped save victims of another senseless mass shooting like the one they experienced in the prior season finale.

    Great choices from the rest of the shows I watch on this list, though.

  8. And for Game of Thrones….any freaking one of them could be considered with this competition!

    Best series in this past year, if you ask me.

  9. Mad Men “The Suitcase”. Good choice. I think it might have been the best episode the series has ever produced.

  10. It’s going to be The Suitcase (Mad Men), and I’m sure it won’t even be close.

    When you read about Matt Weiner fighting hard over possible budget cuts with respect to episode length — down to the minute — THIS is the sort of episode that shows how valuable every single minute is to him (and the viewers). There was literally not a single minute that could/should have been cut from that ep — it was 40-something minutes of perfection … And a bottle episode, no less.

  11. the musical episode of GREY’S is a contender, considered on of the best hours of drama… REALLY?!?! Who paid you off to consider that?! How much of your idiotic soul did you sell?! No consideration for DETROIT 187 that dealt with race and the Chicago fires or GAME OF THRONES or SHAMELESS?! Jez, are Emmys bought also?!?!

    1. I think you missed the context — these episodes were selected BY THE PRODUCERS of each show as their submission. So the musical episode was selected BY THE PRODUCERS OF GREY’S. No one was paid off to consider it. (And I agree with you — terrible choice on their part, what an awful episode.) And yes, there were episodes submitted by the producers of Detroit 187, Game of Thrones, and Shameless — but the writer of this article chose other series’ submissions to focus on for this article.

      The actual nominations will be announced soon. Crossing fingers for Shameless!

    2. I really want the Shameless episode to be the one of Fiona telling her mother off thinking she could pick and choose which Gallagher children into her ‘new’ family (“But At Last Came A Knock”, I think?). That scene alone should secure Emmy Rossum a nomination in a perfect world but I loved that whole episode.

  12. Dexter, Friday Night Lights, Justified and Good Wife all EXCELLENT Choices. The only show missing is something from Sons of Anarchy (Season 3 Finale), the plot tie up and the use of music made this a haunting episode!

    1. Son’s of Anarchy SHOULD have been there!!! Kurt Sutter’s best writing to date and Katey Sagal’s best acting to date!!!

  13. I could not get past the first 10 minutes of the Grey’s Anatomy episode. Big mistake submitting it – it’s the ‘we jumped the shark’ episode.

    But Friday Night Lights – I’m watching now on NBC, so please no spoilers!!! It has been a delicious use of what TV episodic drama does best – rich characters, exploration of life and good plot. I really hope it gets some acknowledgement.

  14. I love a lot of shows on there and although I think House is past its glory days, that episode was INTENSE. Maybe the most intense thing I’ve ever seen on TV.

  15. Both “The Killing” and “House” are mediocre shows. Neither show deserves an Emmy and shouldn’t be on the list.

  16. The Suitcase and Walking Dead Pilot are the two best, both are just exciting and riveting television.

    Walking dead had the best pilot since lost.

    1. Best for thirteen-year-old children.

      If you’re gonna give Walking Dead an award, give yourself one for bad taste.

  17. What about Games of Thrones? It’s eligible right? They aired almost at the same time as Killing. And Fringe? And True Blood?

    1. It is eligible. I know the producers said in an interview that they will be submitting “Baelor” for an Emmy

  18. Veena Sud picked her own episode of “The Killing” for an Emmy, did she? Has about as much chance of winning as she does increasing her audience for Season 2, as she predicted in an interview elsewhere.

  19. Yes, that was the worst Grey’s Anatomy episode ever. They took what was a very serious situation for the characters and threw a bunch of bad rock songs over top, it’s was truly terrible and hard to watch. Why isn’t there a Fringe episode on here instead? If Grey’s gets nominated because of that episode and Fringe, Justified, or Walking Dead doesn’t, then the Emmys will lose all credibility.

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