If they don’t always get all the credit they deserve or a lot of time on the Emmy show itself, this year’s nominated writers in five different categories got a lot of love and all the time they wanted to make a speech while accepting official certificates of nomination at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Thursday night.
Writing Governors Kirk Ellis and Margaret Nagle along with The Writers branch Peer Group Executive Committee threw a lively and loose pre-Emmy celebration of all things written for TV this year with a very well-attended cocktail party (nicely coordinated by the Academy’s Barbara Chase) plus formal presentation in the Academy’s massive Leonard Goldenson Theatre hosted by Breaking Bad’s 3-time Emmy winner and 2012 nominee Bryan Cranston. Clips of all the nominated achievements were shown followed by a ceremony in which stars of those shows gave Emmy certificates to their writers.
“Everybody says it all starts with a script but in this hall we really believe that,” said Ellis in getting the evening rolling. Then in introducing Cranston, Nagle pointed out the close relationship between actors and their writers by saying, “In interview after interview he always states his admiration for writers and he means it”. Pointedly referencing Clint Eastwood’s rambling, improvised appearance at the GOP convention Cranston entered carrying an empty chair which he put beside the podium. “Was there ever a better example to illustrate the need for writers?” he said to big whoops from this writer-partisan crowd. Revving up the audience he added, “This could be your first time here nominated, your first TV show and if you’re a writer, your first party”.
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Carol Leifer, a nominee for writing the Academy Awards and a member of the writing branch’s PGEC (full disclosure: I serve on the same committee) presided over presentation of certificates in her category for Variety Specials. “I have been a proud member of the WGA since 1985, a year before Lena Dunham was even born,” she said of the multiple Girls Emmy-nominated Dunham (who was not present).
Dave Boone, a nominee (and past winner) for his work on The Tony Awards noted that the opening specialty song, “Broadway It’s Not Just For Gays Anymore” won an Emmy at the Creative Arts ceremony last weekend. “We kept saying there was no way they would let us put that number on the show but CBS said ‘there’s no way you aren’t’.”
Game Change’s Emmy-nominated Jay Roach directed the Sarah Palin HBO film and got appropriately political in presenting its writer Danny Strong with his certificate noting, “Danny does not ‘pal around’ with terrorists. He may have been in the 47% but I am happy to put him in the 53% now. He’s not just a real American, he’s a great American.” Strong thanked Roach and HBO. “Very few would make this movie, no one except HBO, ” he said. Strong has also written the new movie The Butler with Lee Daniels directing the story of a White House butler who served 8 American Presidents. He told me he recently spent 3 weeks on the set in New Orleans. He’s also an avid Deadline reader (“about once every six minutes”) and noticed the conservative uproar in comments when Deadline ran the photo of Jane Fonda playing Nancy Reagan in the movie.
Also on hand in the Movie Mini category were writer Ron Parker for Hatfields And McCoys Part 2, Abi Morgan for The Hour, and Steven Moffat for Sherlock: A Scandal In Belgravia. “Just to be in this category with all these great writers is truly depressing. Next time I would like a weaker category,” Moffat laughed.
Only one of the nominees for writing in a comedy series made last night’s party, Chris McKenna for NBC’s Community and the show is a first-time nominee in that category. “I wish I knew more about this event. It just seems like one where Dan Harmon would be allowed,” he said referring to the show’s creator who exited last season after running into trouble with the network.
On the other hand the drama series writing category was well represented. Several Downton Abbey cast members presented Oscar and Emmy winner Julian Fellowes with his certificate for Episode 7 of the popular British show that has moved from last year’s Movie/Miniseries win to the regular Drama Series category this year. “It’s fantastically thrilling to be nominated again and be here. It’s great to see writers fighting back. It does begin on the page,” he said.
With three of the five nominations perennial winner Mad Men dominated the rest of the evening causing Cranston to quip, “the category for Best Drama Series Writing or as it is known, ‘just give Mad Men the fucking award Award,” he quipped.
Series regulars Jessica Pare, Kiernan Shipka and Rich Sommer presented individual nomination certificates to writers Semi Chellas, Andre and Maria Jacquemetton and two to creator and Executive Producer Matt Weiner who said, “I love this evening and am so fortunate to have been included before. I love writers and we have our own glamour… These nominations are for the entire writing staff. I go in every day and they dazzle me with their ideas,” he said adding later that there is a certain personality writers need meaning “you have to thrive on rejection”.
Mad Men could set a record this year by winning a fifth consecutive Emmy in the Best Drama Series category (after being off the air for a year and a half) which is perhaps the most competitive Emmy race this year. “I am at peace. I’m just going to have some fun”, Weiner told me during the reception. “I see all the pundits picking other shows to win but no one seems to agree on which one. To tell you the truth I am just amazed we are still here and were able to do the season and still be recognized after such a long absence from the air.”
Andre Jacquemetton also took time to acknowledge the late Frank Pierson who served as a consultant for the past couple of seasons on Mad Men. “It’s great to get to work with one of your heroes, a man who wrote Dog Day Afternoon, Cool Hand Luke , Cat Ballou and Signal 30, the episode Frank wrote for us last season and is my favorite of the year”, he said. Weiner told me he will be attending the memorial for Pierson on Monday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Writers remembering one of their greatest.