Members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences are inundated with all sorts of DVD packages and download opportunities for considering would-be nominees. Starting in about March or April, the deluge begins. Looking back now, it is interesting to explore which episodes the successful nominees submitted for consideration to the TV Academy at large. Here’s a look at the episodes six program Emmy nominees submitted, covering miniseries/movie, drama, comedy, and variety series:
AMERICAN HORROR STORY “Pilot” (FX)
Normally this category would be a no-brainer because most nominees are expected to be one-off movies or minis, and there would be no need to highlight one or two episodes in order to gain entry into the race. But in the case of American Horror Story, a bit of controversy has intervened. Although most would agree that the macabre show is a weekly series, cocreator Ryan Murphy convinced the TV Academy to consider it a miniseries, based on the fact that it will return each season with a completely different storyline and its regular cast in completely different roles. OK, but it is still a series, mini or not. Nevertheless the ploy worked, and it received a leading 17 Emmy nominations including the key one for best mini/movie.
An entry in the movie/mini category would not have the need for a pilot, but this one did, and it appeared among the four episodes submitted in the FX general mailing to voters. Separately, another mailing brought an elaborate picture book sprinkled liberally with glowing quotes and two episodes from the initial mailing. But based on the show’s number of Emmy noms, voters watched that pilot written by Brad Falchuk and Murphy and directed by the latter. It established the premise of the season as Ben (Dylan McDermott) and Vivien (Connie Britton), along with their teenage daughter, move into a haunted house where a murder/suicide had most recently occurred. The crazy supporting characters are introduced, and we quickly see this horror series setting up numerous spooky and kinky interludes involving everything from ghostly goings-on to bondage and pyromania. It’s a combination of The Amityville Horror, Psycho, and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, among other influences, and if you buy into the pilot you buy into the series, which is certainly why it was the most prominent episode FX submitted.
HOMELAND “Pilot” (Showtime)
Another new series that scored very big with its pilot episode is this critically acclaimed show from Showtime. Although the pay cabler submitted four episodes overall for voters to consider, the pilot–written by Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, and Gideon Raff, and directed by Michael Cuesta–was the most prominent and first on the enclosed DVD. Both the Writers and Directors Peer Groups awarded the pilot episode individual nominations, and you can also bet it was the key reason the series was recognized, even though programs don’t often get such unanimous Emmy love this early in the run. The pilot establishes the series’ key strengths immediately as it focuses on the two leads, including CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), brilliant, obsessed but somewhat of a whack job, and a suspicious “war hero,” Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) whom the President wants to celebrate but Carrie thinks could be a mole. It’s a fascinating setup, and the pilot hooks viewers right from the start.
After this series earned its first drama series nomination in Season 2 three years ago and its star, Bryan Cranston, nabbed lead actor Emmys three years running, its momentum came screeching to a halt after it had to sit out last year’s Emmy contest because of scheduling. Not only did it come back with its strongest season ever for Season 4, it also ended on a high note with a finale that was perhaps the best of the 13 episodes (all were sent to TV Academy members) and one of the most shocking in series history. Centered on the growing conflict between meth-making teacher Walter White and drug kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), it built to a stunning conclusion that the episode’s title basically gives away. In so doing, it sets up a must-see Season 5, which happened to debut just before Emmy nominations were announced. Receiving its highest number of Emmy noms, 13, and highest rating for a season premiere certainly can’t hurt the chances of the show earning its first-ever drama Emmy.
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM “Palestinian Chicken” (HBO)
This Larry David gem of a series has been nominated for a comedy series Emmy virtually every single year since its 2000 debut, though in the last few seasons, it has turned up in Emmy’s golden circle every other year, as eligible seasons are somewhat erratic. But in all of its storied history, there has rarely been a singular episode that was so acclaimed as “Palestinian Chicken,” which was one of three episodes highlighted for TV Academy voters in HBO’s elaborate Emmy DVD mailer this season. Dealing with Larry’s politically incorrect feelings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the episode revolves around a Palestinian-owned chicken restaurant Larry loves but that horrifies many of his Jewish friends. If any one episode could possibly be responsible for righting a wrong and giving this offbeat, consistently hilarious series a shot at the winners’ circle, this is it.
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE “After the Academy Awards” (ABC)
With only a handful of technical nominations since its 2003 debut, this increasingly popular latenight talk show finally landed its first recognition for the show itself and star Jimmy Kimmel with this nom, its only one this year. Getting the mention where Jay Leno and David Letterman struck out should be victory enough, but with Kimmel hosting this year’s Emmys for the first time, it seems like it is about time. Ironically, the episode sent to Emmy voters for consideration was really more of a special and an atypical Kimmel broadcast because it immediately followed the Academy Awards. With a hilarious takeoff on movie trailers, Movie: The Movie–featuring an all-star cast including George Clooney and Meryl Streep–plus a couple of bits with guest Oprah Winfrey, it really seemed more like a sketch-comedy series than the talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live normally is when it airs in its week-night spot. This could give the episode an advantage competing against perennial winner The Daily Show, but it definitely proved why Kimmel might be the hippest thing happening in late night.
At the opposite end of the scale in this category is veteran nominee Saturday Night Live, which has been nominated in this category 17 times since its 1975 debut but has won only twice. Considering the sheer number of nominations it has received overall, that’s not a good track record. But in submitting a couple of episodes hosted past SNL regulars Jimmy Fallon and Maya Rudolph, the series is highlighting its comic strength in a better way than usual for Emmy voters. As part of their Emmy package, NBC included the 2011 Christmas show Fallon hosted with musical guest Michael Bublé. It showed off Fallon’s talents in a number of sketches and musical interludes and was highlighted by a Weekend Update “joke off” that reunited Fallon with Tina Fey and pit the team against Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler. The Rudolph episode from February was submitted separately for some peer groups and featured sharp writing for Rudolph who played Beyoncé, Maya Angelou, Brazilian dancer Sabrina, Super $$$ Showcase prize girl Shonda, Michelle Obama, and many others. Coincidence or not, both Fallon and Rudolph also snagged guest actor Emmy nominations for their efforts.