Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s 2011 Emmy coverage. Here’s his scorecard assessing the Outstanding Comedy Series race.
Ryan Murphy Prods w/ 20th Century Fox TV
Why It Was Nominated: Well, of course they had to nominate it. Love it or hate it, Glee remains the rare broadcast comedy that carries as much style as it does substance. It remained true even through a polarizing second season when the online community and critics consistently took the show to task for devolving into a parody of itself. Call it Sophomore Implosion Syndrome. But it’s still undeniably energetic and often imaginative.
Why It Has To Win: Unlike last year, it would be a monumental upset were Glee to take the prize this time. But the TV academy can surprise you. Voters are notorious for lagging a year or so behind the curve. While it’s something of an apples-and-oranges measure when compared with the rest of the category competition, Glee remains a technically flawless production, a fact that can’t be minimized at a time when series steeped in song and dance continue to pack ‘em in.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: It wasn’t just fans and critics fueling the Season 2 backlash. It’s also been the industry itself, directed at both the show and at showrunner Ryan Murphy for his perceived arrogance amid its charmed early life. One comedy producer also noted, “Between the 3D concert movie and the (Glee Project) series (on Oxygen) and everyone talking about it endlessly, they got annoyingly ubiquitous real fast. I mean, if Glee wins, the sound of retching will prove deafening.” That probably doesn’t bode well.
Modern Family (ABC)
20th Century Fox TV
Why It Was Nominated: Are you kidding? It’s that rarest of rare creatures in broadcast primetime: a show that’s nearly as popular with the masses as it is critically praised. Executive producers Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan kept the genius flowing in Modern Family’s second season in a way that Glee could not. Equally important, the wide industry perception is that “this is easily and consistently the funniest show on TV,” as an Emmy-winning writer points out.
Why It Has To Win: Once the academy crowns a comedy champion, they tend to stick with it for a good while. Frasier won as top comedy a record five years in succession (1994-98), 30 Rock for three consecutive years (2007-09). It’s a no-brainer that Family is the overwhelming frontrunner to make it two straight after winning six Emmy trophies a year ago. Considering Glee’s creative stumbles and this show’s whopping 17 nominations, it looks to be even more of a sure thing in 2011.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: Funny doesn’t always carry the day. Sometimes, a little thing called sentiment comes into play. “If there’s a spoiler in this field that could conceivably upset Modern Family, it’s The Office,” one producer believes. “It may ride a Steve Carell farewell wave of support.” A possible jealous backlash against all of Family’s success may also surface. At the Emmys, after all, the only sure thing is that there are no sure things.
30 Rock (NBC)
Broadway Video & Little Stranger w/ Universal Media Studios
Why It Was Nominated: Even after more than 100 episodes, 30 Rock remains a wildly clever industry send-up blessed with genius writing and indelible characters. The image after five seasons is that of a plucky survivor that kept the lights on (creatively speaking) while most everything else at NBC (Ben Silverman) was collapsing (Jeff Zucker) around it. Tina Fey tends to engender a lot of love, and five years in, her show has yet to lose much on its fastball. That accounts for the 13 nominations.
Why It Has To Win: It’s already won in this category three times. And did we mention that voters really love Tina Fey? And Alec Baldwin? The NBC comedy likewise did an impressive tightrope walk this past season with a well-received live episode. “What’s consistently impressive about 30 Rock,” believes one category voter, “is that they keep finding new ways to showcase the brilliance of that cast.” Then there’s the 30 Rock cool factor, which it still has in spades.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: This wasn’t the show’s finest season. Plus, voters probably figure they’ve already rewarded Rock plenty, so now it’s someone else’s turn. In terms of accolades, 30 Rock is the veteran that you honor simply by inviting it to the party. It also need be said that, after adding a bestselling memoir to her shimmering repertoire this past year, Fey is creeping dangerously close to overexposure even without Sarah Palin in the presidential race. As Fey would herself no doubt agree.
The Office (NBC)
Deedle-Dee Prods & Reveille w/ Universal Media Studios
Why It Was Nominated: This is the show’s sixth successive nomination, partly out of habit, partly due to The Steve Carell Farewell Tour. And as an award-winning writer-producer tells me, “There’s just so much crap in terms of network comedy that a show like The Office deserves to be recognized every year. We’ll see if that’s still the case after Carell is gone.” Creator Greg Daniels is also one of TV’s most likeable and popular producers, carrying an unusual degree of respect with his peers.
Why It Has To Win: The well-promoted season finale that found Carell’s character Michael Scott departing struck an audience nerve and, just maybe, with enough people in the TV academy, too. If anyone’s going to topple the Modern Family bandwagon for the trophy, it’s this, particularly if Carell’s potential acting win spurs a domino effect. The Office also won once before, albeit five years ago following its first full season.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: The vote will go The Office’s way, but not in this category. Possible wins for lead actor and writing figure to be seen as more than enough. This academy also isn’t habitually the most sentimental bunch, so Carell’s departure isn’t guaranteed to widely resonate. “By the time that farewell episode aired, I was sick to death of the hoopla,” one producer admits. “It was like, enough already.”
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Chuck Lorre Prods w/ Warner Bros TV
Why It Was Nominated: After four years, Big Bang finally busted through with a category honor most thought overdue. It earned five nominations for the second year running and a repeat nom for last year’s lead comedy actor winner Jim Parsons. The show is also the highest-rated in the category as well as one of TV’s most popular shows. They had to pay homage to one four-camera category, and this was it — deservedly so.
Why It Has To Win: This isn’t as preposterous a notion as it might seem. While the last four-camera sitcom to win was Everybody Loves Raymond in 2005, Big Bang has the momentum of a hit in its prime going for it. One TV executive also points out: “I’m voting for this show just to hear the acceptance speech that (creator-exec producer) Chuck Lorre would make. Seriously. What that man has had to put up with this year with Charlie Sheen deserves not just an Emmy but an Oscar, too.”
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: No Chuck Lorre show has ever won here, in part because he makes traditional comedies and therefore is seen as terminally unhip. The show also failed to land a single nomination for its writing or directing, and the last time a comedy won the top series statuette without either was Friends in 2002. So Big Bang isn’t the way to bet.
Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Deedle-Dee Prods, Fremulon & 3 Arts w/ Universal Media Studios
Why It Was Nominated: Like Big Bang Theory, Parks and Recreation is a first-time visitor to the Outstanding Comedy lineup after about 18 months of steady buzz extolling its growing quality. It’s built into a consistently acclaimed half-hour that shares the mockumentary brilliance of its NBC Universal/Deedle-Dee Prods stablemate The Office, with a cast headed by the effortlessly witty Amy Poehler.
Why It Has To Win: Has there been a bigger upset in Emmy history than this win would be? Possibly not. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible and wouldn’t be deserved. It’s got the critics behind it as well as the in-the-know comedy community. “The people who really know comedy think Parks is brilliant and getting more brilliant all the time,” notes one writer and academy member. Being considered cool and ingenious is occasionally all you need, as Fox’s Arrested Development proved in 2004.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: What makes Parks and Rec the biggest underdog in the race isn’t just the fact it has only three total nominations, it’s that the buzz/word-of-mouth isn’t yet strong enough to carry the show across the finish line. That could change in another year or two. But not yet. For the time being, the nomination will have to be enough.