Deadline TV contributor Ray Richmond files this report:
In a creative medium that’s increasingly shedding its labels, embracing hybrids, and blurring lines, many see the Primetime Emmy division of shows into comedy series vs. drama series as too confining. And, in the case of numerous shows, utterly misleading. One solution could be an “Outstanding Dramedy” category. Not that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences want more Emmy categories. Quite the contrary — the powers-that-be keep trying to shed some. But this year’s shows, like TNT’s Men Of A Certain Age, ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, FX’s Rescue Me, Fox’s Glee and Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, The Big C, Weeds, Shameless, and United States Of Tara do seem to merit their own award for shifting seamlessly between dark comedy and heartrending drama in the same episode.
“The Academy has never known what to do with us. So they’ve tossed us into a category consisting almost entirely of balls-out comedy,” complains Weeds showrunner Jenji Kohan to me. “If you like to sway that pendulum back and forth between drama and comedy, which is what we pride ourselves on, it makes it nearly impossible to compete. If I’m a comedy judge, and I’m looking at Weeds and 30 Rock, and I’m thinking, ‘What made me laugh more during the half-hour, the show with jokes or the other one?’, it’s really no contest.”
This year, especially, it seems absurd for a suburban mother’s battle with cancer (The Big C) to duke it out for an Emmy with ABC’s Modern Family and NBC’s 30 Rock. But don’t forget that Fox’s Ally McBeal was the comedy series Emmy victor in 1999, as well as an example of hour-long shows that have skirted the lines of comedy and drama. Interestingly, its executive producer David E. Kelley at awards time in 1996 received a SAG nomination for Boston Legal as a comedy ensemble. The following year, he earned a SAG nod for it as a drama ensemble.
Even more confusing, the lead comedy actress category has been won three of the past four years by performers in dramedies: America Ferrera in 2007 for Ugly Betty, Toni Collette in 2009 for United States Of Tara, and Edie Falco for Nurse Jackie just last year. Falco, at that Emmys, spotlighted the inconsistency of putting performers from such radically different series styles under the same banner when she opined in the press room backstage that she was “shocked” and “dumbfounded” to have won a comedy statuette for a role that “isn’t funny.”
Diablo Cody, the creator-exec producer-writer on United States Of Tara observes to me, “I think the real issue is the fallacy that dramatic scenes are inherently harder to play than broad comedy. Each is using a completely different set of muscles.”
TV Academy awards SVP John Leverence tells me the Board of Governors acknowledges the categorization dilemma and annually reviews the level of support for a dramatic- comedy category or group of categories. But, to date, there has been no groundswell to do it. “We’ve opted to keep comedy series as an embrace of the full gamut of sitcom plus dramedy,” Leverence offers. “It’s often the case that, in dramedies, the hub character isn’t necessarily funny, as Edie Falco so famously noted last year, but the characters serving as spokes complementing the hub are quite funny, as they are on Nurse Jackie.”
Newly-named Showtime Entertainment President David Nevins surprisingly informs me he isn’t pushing the TV Academy to immediately institute dramedy into the Emmy mix, even though he would have the most to gain from it. “I honestly don’t think that viewers are crying out for new Emmy categories, and I’m also not sure that Emmy voters find the issue of comedy vs. drama all that confusing. To my mind, the fact that a show like Shameless can be funny and irreverent only increases its entertainment value as a drama. That The Big C has the dramatic chops of Laura Linney, only increases its appeal as a comedy.”
But Showtime also has seen Emmy comedy breakthroughs for idiosyncratic half-hours, not only by Falco and Collette, but by top comedy series nominations for Weeds in 2009 and Nurse Jackie last year. Nurse Jackie co-showrunner Liz Brixius saw 2010’s multitude of Emmy nominations for her show as a “huge vindication, because it meant that the TV Academy voters could see it’s got its own kind of humor.” Agrees Nurse Jackie co-showrunner Linda Wallem, “It’s cool to see the comedy nominations not just be sitcoms anymore and how diverse the category can be now. It’s like a wonderful island of misfit toys.”
Big C showrunner Jenny Bicks says that creating a dramedy category for the sake of darker fare like her show isn’t necessary. “I feel like the category itself has morphed, and the voters right along with it. That being said, do I think it will be tough for us to ever win an Emmy? Yeah. And I get that.”