Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
If critical acclaim carries weight at Emmy time, then Showtime’s Homeland, developed by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa — also producers of Fox’s Emmy-winning drama 24 — is sure to make a showing when the 2012 Emmy nominations are announced on July 19th. The conspiracy thriller stars Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a bipolar CIA agent with suspicions bordering on paranoia about the loyalties of a Marine returning home from eight years as an Iraq POW (Damian Lewis as Sgt. Nicholas Brody). Among the reviews that earned it a sterling 91 score (out of 100) on metacritic.com was this New York Times review: “Carrie is hard to like, but Homeland is almost impossible to resist.”
And if the show were to win the Emmy for best dramatic series, it would be the first ever drama or comedy series win for Showtime, confirms David Nevins, entertainment president for the pay cable channel. “We’ve had nominations, but we haven’t had a win,” Nevins says, referring to such series nominees as the multi-year drama nominee Dexter and the comedies Nurse Jackie and Weeds. “It would be a breakthrough for the network. It’s nice to be nominated, but a win marks a new threshold.”
That being said, Nevins insists that he didn’t have Emmy® in mind when Gordon and Gansa – who based the series on Gideon Raff’s Israeli series Hatufim (Prisoner of War) and remain part of the series’ team of executive producers – brought the project to him.
“They showed me a draft of the script in my first week and a half at Showtime,” says the executive, who joined Showtime in July 2010 from Imagine Television, which produced 24 for Fox. “They had been developing this on spec, probably leaning towards a broadcast network when they got here,” he adds. Homeland had been shopped at Fox and NBC before Nevins snagged it for Showtime.
Nevins said that Showtime pressed for more character complexity than might have worked for Homeland had it been picked up by a broadcast network. “You don’t always know if Carrie is right,” Nevins says. “I always knew it would be an interesting television show. Do you know if it’s going to be a big hit? You don’t. It connected in the right places. I think very early on it got fans in high places, in that little triangle between Washington, New York and Los Angeles, and spread from there.”
But a question remained whether Gordon and Gansa could make it different from 24. Nevins observes that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 made a good press peg for Homeland’s 2011 debut, but it also served to remind fans of the Emmy-winning 24’s eight seasons (2002-2010) on Fox, with Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer protecting America from terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Also ripe for comparison is Showtime’s Sleeper Cell (2005-2006), Emmy-nominated in the miniseries category. Both Gordon and Gansa believe Homeland brings a fresh eye to the subject.
“It’s a different time – Sleeper Cell was a lot closer to the events of the towers coming down,” Gordon says. “Ten or 11 years later, the country has a chance to be a little more objective.” Gansa adds that they decided “this was very much not going to be a polemic; we are going to take advantage of the complexities that are now apparent to us as writers and as people, 10 years after the fact.”
In spite of their best efforts to present an apolitical view, there were plenty of people who saw 24 as propaganda for some of the policies of the George W. Bush administration, including torture, Gordon acknowledges. And Jack Bauer became “the poster child for what was happening in the real world,” he adds. Because of this, the producers say some in the media interpret Homeland’s moral and political ambiguities as an apology for 24’s perceived sins. Not. “There is no agenda behind Homeland,” Gansa insists. “We are just creating characters and telling a story. People are just conflating current events and timing into an apology for something.”
Gansa and Gordon do assert that they were shooting for a different tone with Homeland — or rather, not shooting. “We didn’t want to repeat the same tropes that Howard spent eight years and I spent two years working on,” Gansa says. “You don’t see Carrie Mathison picking up a gun very often, if at all. You don’t see any real coercive interrogation techniques. Part of that is a function of, we just didn’t think it would work. It was in the been-there, done that category.”
For their part, Gordon and Gansa say they’re not “counting their chickens” for Emmy. “For us to be able to bring Showtime an award that this network has not won yet would be significant for me, because of the incredibly long relationship we’ve had with David [Nevins],” Gordon says. Adds Gansa, “We’re going to be wearing our lucky tuxedos.”