Ray Richmond is an AwardsLine contributor
Among the Emmy nominees for directing a drama series, comedy series, and movie/miniseries/special are numerous first-time nominees and several more with multiple noms looking for their first wins. What follows is a look at everyone’s chances:
Tim Van Patten, Boardwalk Empire, “To the Lost” (HBO)
Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad, “Face Off” (AMC)
Brian Percival, Downton Abbey, “Episode 7” (PBS)
Michael Cuesta, Homeland, “Pilot” (Showtime)
Phil Abraham, Mad Men, “The Other Woman” (AMC)
If you were ever going to say that a guy is due for a win, it’s Van Patten. His Emmy pedigree includes 11 total nominations and five for The Sopranos. Yet his only win was as a supervising producer on the HBO mini The Pacific. Van Patten’s fellow directors could see this and feel like maybe it’s time.
On the other hand, it won’t be easy. Not with people like Vince Gilligan vying for the trophy. Gilligan was nominated for the same episode of Breaking Bad that earned him a DGA Award nom earlier this year. It’s “Face Off,” the fourth-season cliffhanger that found Giancarlo Esposito’s memorable villain Gustavo Fring having half of his face blown off, leading to a final adjustment of his tie moments before he collapses. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is direction.
Percival, however, will be vying for a second Emmy in as many years for directing the U.S./U.K. coproduction Downton Abbey. He also took home a BAFTA honor. Last year, of course, when Percival won for the show, it was in the movie/mini directing category. It’s a whole new ballgame for him this time going up against the bigwigs of cable drama. This certainly lessens the chances of a repeat performance.
While this is Cuesta’s first Emmy nomination, he was nominated for a DGA honor for the same episode: the much-acclaimed Homeland pilot. Homeland is perhaps closest in pulse-pounding style to another series from exec producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon called 24. Jon Cassar won in this category in 2006 for that Fox series, so it would seem to give Cuesta a shot this time—particularly if Homeland can pull off an upset in the top drama category.
That leaves Abraham, who has had six previous Emmy noms, winning once for cinematography on Mad Men. It might also help him that his nominated episode The Other Woman is one that creator-showrunner-Emmy machine Matthew Weiner is nominated for in the writing category. On the other hand, TV Academy voters might have had enough Mad Men at this point.
Prediction: Depending on how much momentum Breaking Bad has generated, this could well be Gilligan’s year after six previous noms without a win. Let’s go with that, although Cuesta looms large.
Robert B. Weide, Curb Your Enthusiasm, “Palestinian Chicken” (HBO)
Lena Dunham, Girls, “She Did” (HBO)
Louis C.K., Louie, “Duckling” (FX)
Jason Winer, Modern Family, “Virgin Territory” (ABC)
Steven Levitan, Modern Family, “Baby on Board” (ABC)
Jake Kasdan, New Girl, “Pilot” (Fox)
This shapes up as a genuinely interesting race that could veer in a number of different directions. Let’s begin with Weide, who perhaps enters here as the favorite. He’s already won two Directors Guild Awards this year for Curb, including one for the lone episode of the series that he directed this season, the hilarious “Palestinian Chicken.” He’s already taken home the Emmy in this category once—in 2003 for an installment of Curb. This is also his 14th Emmy nom overall and his fifth in this category.
But then there’s Levitan, who has been honored for Modern Family for pretty much everything except his directing. (He was nominated in the category and lost last year.) He’s already a five-time Emmy victor, four of them for Family the past two years. On the other hand, he’ll be going mano a mano with his Family cohort Winer, who has an Emmy win to his credit himself (as coexecutive producer on the series in 2010, also taking home a DGA Award that year).
This is Kasdan’s first Emmy nomination, coming for a freshman series at that. So despite having a heavyweight Hollywood name, he has to be considered a significant longshot. That leaves Dunham and C.K., who have a mere 11 Emmy noms between them this year (four for Dunham and a whopping seven for C.K.). While Dunham is considered perhaps the second coming of Tina Fey—and, at 26, a much younger version—she bumps up against some grim Hollywood history in this category. The comedy directing Emmy has been won only once before by a woman: Betty Thomas for HBO’s Dream On in 1993. Her odds are much better to land one for writing or acting this year.
As for C.K., his episode “Duckling” of his eponymous series is already considered something of a classic. It’s an hour edition of the show that finds him on a USO tour of Iraq and Afghanistan caring for duckling sneaked into his luggage by his young daughter. The brilliance of the execution could help C.K. nose out a victory. Then again, he also lost all four of his Emmy nominations a year ago and might just claim the mantle of perpetual bridesmaid.
Prediction: Weide and C.K. in a dead heat. Flip a coin. With Levitan right behind.
Jay Roach, Game Change (HBO)
Kevin Reynolds, Hatfields & McCoys (History Channel)
Philip Kaufman, Hemingway & Gellhorn (HBO)
Sam Miller, Luther (BBC America)
Paul McGuigan, Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia (PBS)
Roach not only already won in the category, he did it for a film with a somewhat similar pro-left political theme. He earned a pair of Emmys in 2008 for producing and directing the controversial Recount, the story of the 2000 general election fiasco in Florida that led to the presidency being decided in the Supreme Court. He also landed the 2009 DGA Award for the same flick. So, in another election year, it might take an act of God (or a collection of hanging chads) to deny Roach for Game Change, based on the book of the same name about the 2008 presidential race.
The rest of the longform directorial pack consists of four first-time Emmy nominees. Of those, the one with the best chance might be Reynolds, as his biographical western Hatfields & McCoys was not only well-reviewed but a major hit in the ratings. Working against him, however, is the fact he had the misfortune to direct the notorious Waterworld.
To Kaufman’s credit, he’s also an Oscar screenwriting nominee (1989 for The Unbearable Lightness of Being), though his Hemingway & Gellhorn didn’t knock the socks off of anyone. Miller and McGuigan both helmed quality projects in Luther and Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia, respectively. But they’re both British productions, and neither have the word Downton as part of the title. That would seem to stack the deck against them.
Prediction: This looks like Roach’s year once again, particularly with the election reaching a fever pitch at the same time voters fill out their ballots.