Matthew Weiner, Mad Men (AMC)
Why He Was Nominated: What, are you kidding? Weiner has been nominated for 18 of these things and come out on top eight times, including winning both as producer and writer for Mad Men the last three years running. He also took the prize as a producer for a little show called The Sopranos in both 2004 and 2007. The fact that Weiner has personally earned 10 nominations for Mad Men during the past three years alone is a bit astonishing, particularly when you consider that AMC wasn’t on the Emmy map at all until Weiner arrived.
Why He Has To Win: It would take almost an act of God to keep Weiner from taking both the series and writing trophies for a fourth consecutive year, in part because the Mad Men episode for which he’s nominated — “The Suitcase” — is considered both a tour de force for star Jon Hamm and one of the show’s best hours, period. And that’s saying something. The hour was essentially a writing showcase for Weiner and an acting workshop for Hamm and co-star Elisabeth Moss. Cue the bandwagon.
Why He Can’t Possibly Win: That Mad Men is nominated twice here has the possibility of splitting the vote. There’s also the school of thought that the late momentum for Friday Night Lights could carry Jason Katims (nominated for the series finale) to an upset victory. Or, you know, the sun may not rise tomorrow. Anything is possible.
Andre Jacquemetton & Maria Jacquemetton, Mad Men (AMC)
Why They Were Nominated: The husband-and-wife writer-producer team have won Emmys each of the past two years along with the production team from Mad Men. This is also their second drama writing nomination, the first (in 2009) shared with Weiner. It’s never a surprise when Mad Men writers get nominated. Perhaps the bigger surprise is when they don’t. In fact, the show has claimed an astonishing 50% (10 out of 20) of the Emmy writing noms the past four years.
Why They Have To Win: Well, somebody from Mad Men has to win. “I think it’s now part of the TV Academy bylaws that this show has to win for writing,” an Emmy-winning producer quipped to me, “and possibly for show as well.” The episode that the Jacquemettons were nominated for, “Blowing Smoke,” was a typically sleek and powerful hour but perhaps lacked the buzz of Weiner’s “The Suitcase.”
Why They Can’t Possibly Win: The smart money — and perhaps even the dumb money too — has to be on Weiner’s episode taking this category. One writer sees it as being “as close to a sure thing as there is this year.” Then again, that could also prove the kiss of death. Stay tuned.
Veena Sud, The Killing (AMC)
Why She Was Nominated: The heat generated by the AMC murder mystery in its first season certainly justified an honor for showrunner Sud’s taut, creepy, stylish pilot that also earned a directing nod for Patty Jenkins. The Cold Case alumna is the only woman in the series writing category — comedy or drama — this year, but her nomination is far more than a token gesture. But were The Killing’s AMC stablemate Breaking Bad eligible this year, it’s likely that Sud would have been left off the list.
Why She Has To Win: While this is Sud’s first-ever Emmy nomination, the quality of The Killing‘s kickoff and the critical chatter that accompanied it raises her chances at victory. At least, that would be the case were Matt Weiner not in the race.
Why She Can’t Possibly Win: Were Sud to pull off a stunning upset, there would be hell to pay — primarily from Weiner. “It’s in Matt’s new contract that if he loses the writing Emmy, it triggers a payment for pain and suffering,” one writer jokes. “And I think that’s doubled if he’s beaten by someone from an AMC series.” Don’t count on it.
Jason Katims, Friday Night Lights (NBC)
Why He Was Nominated: The nomination would have been a lot more surprising before the late outpouring of love that’s greeted Friday Night Lights in feteing its final season over the past several months. It earned a Peabody Award and the Program of the Year honor from the Television Critics Association. And then, it landed noms not just for its lead actors (Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler) but for top drama and writing.
Why He Has To Win: Katims did a superlative job with the teleplay for the FNL capper “Always,” giving it just the right blend of heart and pathos without piling on the melodrama. Given the momentum that’s suddenly gripped the Texas high school football drama during awards season, it could well pull off a stunner. As one drama exec producer says, “There’s been a real push to make sure that Friday Night Lights not wind up being embarrassingly ignored like The Wire was.” And if it doesn’t win for Outstanding Drama, voters may see the writing trophy as a worthy consolation prize.
Why He Can’t Possibly Win: Then again, simply getting nominated is viewed as sufficient triumph for Katims, whose pair of Emmy nods this year are his first. And would they really bestow a writing honor on a series that ran on DirecTV?
David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, Game of Thrones (HBO)
Why They Were Nominated: When Game of Thrones premiered on HBO in April, few could have foreseen that it would consistently build an audience beyond just the sci-fi/fantasy/comic book crowd. But that it did, hauling in 13 noms for its inaugural season and honors for both Outstanding Drama Series and writing. That “Baelor,” penned by co-showrunners Benioff and Weiss, was neither the Thrones pilot nor season-ender speaks to the strength of the storytelling as a body of work.
Why They Have To Win: Thrones has seized the crown of cool previously worn at HBO by True Blood. Considering how buzz-conscious the academy voters tend to be, the heat coming off of the show heading into the nominations gives it a fighting chance to knock off the older kids.
Why They Can’t Possibly Win: “I think we’ll start seeing Game of Thrones not just landing Emmy nominations but winning them in Season 2,” a series director tells me. “It’s a huge achievement just being singled out by the academy for writing in its first season.” That will no doubt have to suffice until next year.