EMMYS: Comedy Series Writers Handicap

Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s 2011 Emmy coverage. Here’s his scorecard assessing the Outstanding Comedy Series Writer race.

Greg Daniels, The Office (NBC)
“Goodbye Michael”
Why He Was Nominated: Being nominated for Emmys is simply what Daniels does. He’s reeled in 19 Emmy nominations all told, including three in this category and three noms this year alone. He’s won here once before, in 2007 for the celebrated “Gay Witch Hunt” episode of The Office. And Daniels has five Emmy trophies to his credit all told, also including previous wins for King of the Hill, The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live.
Why He Has To Win: In earning a nomination for star Steve Carell’s final episode, Daniels becomes something of a prohibitive favorite to win for writing, particularly since he’s already taken one home here previously. The super-sized episode, “Goodbye, Michael,” was heavily hyped by NBC and exceptionally well-received by viewers and the industry. “Greg did a terrific job of walking the line between comedy and sentiment,” one producer told me, “which was quite a feat.”
Why He Can’t Possibly Win: Sentiment doesn’t always go over so big with the TV academy crowd, whether talking about shows or individuals. Voters could well also figure that giving an overdue Emmy to Carell for acting is plenty and need not adorn the farewell with coattails. Plus, there are a couple of other exceedingly worthy contenders here, like a particularly buzzed episode of Modern Family.

Steven Levitan & Jeffrey Richman, Modern Family (ABC)
“Caught in the Act”
Why They Were Nominated: This was a no-brainer. Besides the fact that Modern Family landed 17 Emmy nods in all, Levitan won for comedy writing on the series a year ago for the pilot (shared with co-creator Christopher Lloyd). Here, he shares the nom with exec producer Richman. Levitan has won two Emmys, the one last year as well as for producing Frasier in 1998. He’s viewed as the gold standard in sitcom writing.
Why They Have To Win: “Everyone went nuts for this episode,” one voting writer told me. “Everyone could relate. It was genius.” What they could relate to in the episode, entitled “Caught in the Act,” was the plot line of the kids walking in on their parents while they were doing the nasty. It was handled brilliantly not just by the actors (the nominated Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen) but clearly in the script as well.
Why They Can’t Possibly Win: It’s rare that a series wins in consecutive years for both Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Comedy Series Writing, and it’s nearly a slam-dunk that Family will win for top show. That leaves it vulnerable in the writing lineup, particularly to Daniels and the Office episode.

Louis C.K., Louie (FX)
“Poker/Divorce”
Why He Was Nominated: In point of fact, there was nothing that Louis C.K. didn’t get nominated for this year. He earned four Emmy nods: For writing and acting on his acclaimed FX comedy and for writing and picture editing (yes, picture editing) on his Epix network stand-up special Louis C.K.: Hilarious. No one landed as many Emmy honors this year as this man, though the only one he’s ever won came in 1999 for being part of the writing staff of The Chris Rock Show.
Why He Has To Win: Louis C.K. is the “it” guy whom every other comic speaks of in reverential tones at the moment. The episode for which he’s nominated was the half-hour that followed the FX series pilot and dealt with his real-life divorce on a bracingly realistic level. Says one comedy series producer: “No one can touch Louis right now. He’s just knocking it out of the park right now.”
Why He Can’t Possibly Win: The fact that C.K.’s show runs on FX is both blessing and curse. The blessing is that it gives the comic unprecedented creative freedom. The curse (at least as far as the Emmys is concerned) is that a cable series has won for comedy writing only once previously: Garry Shandling and Peter Tolan for HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show back in 1998. Doesn’t bode well. Maybe next year. Or the year after that.

Matt Hubbard, 30 Rock (NBC)
“Reaganing”
Why He Was Nominated: Hubbard has been nominated in this category three years in a row, the only writer who can make that claim. And he’s already won it once: in 2009 for the 30 Rock episode “Reunion.” He’s actually won twice, also copping a statuette for the series in ’09 for its Outstanding Comedy win as a Rock co-exec producer. The episode for which he’s nominated this time is the one that found Kelsey Grammer dropping by for a cameo.
Why He Has To Win:
This is a great episode of which a fellow writer told me, “This is the kind of material that makes the rest of us jealous. Seriously.” The fact that Hubbard has been honored three years running shows he’s got plenty of support from his peers.
Why He Can’t Possibly Win: In terms of awards, there’s the perception that the 30 Rock ship has sailed, with the show having been around for five seasons and more than 100 episodes. Of course, that view also more than exists with The Office.

David Crane & Jeffrey Klarik, Episodes (Showtime)
“Episode 107″
Why They Were Nominated: In truth, this one feels like a bit of a surprise, though certainly not because Crane and Klarik don’t deserve it. The freshman comedy Episodes starring Friends alumnus Matt LeBlanc turned out to be a creative surprise in its rookie season, so in that sense it stands to reason that the final episode would resonate for its script. Crane has won an Emmy previously (as co-creator and exec producer of Friends in 2002), while this is Klarik’s maiden Emmy voyage.
Why They Have To Win: This would naturally be a massive upset, as cable scripts simply don’t win comedy writing Emmys. But the teleplay has the advantage of being funny, something that’s not necessarily a given. And there’s a lot of love out there for LeBlanc and Crane.
Why They Can’t Possibly Win: A voting producer tells me, “Episodes probably won’t be winning in this lifetime. I don’t know anyone who’s voting for it. Its problem in terms of Emmys is that it’s come along at a time when there’s a lot of really amazing comedy product out there.”

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