EMMYS: Confusion And Controversy Surround The Best Comedy Series Race

Mitch & Cam 'Modern Family' WeddingHistory could be made at this year’s Emmys. Should Modern Family win the best comedy series award, it would tie the record set by Frasier in the ’90s. Frasier is the only TV show—comedy or drama—to win a best series Emmy five times. Will Modern Family share the enviable title? There’s also some history being made with a call to reform the category. The brouhaha broke out when the TV Academy announced it had approved the move of Showtime’s Shameless to the best comedy arena after three years of largely unsuccessful stabs as a drama series contender.

Orange is the new blackTraditionalists think it’s bad enough that multi-camera comedies with laugh tracks (The Big Bang Theory, for instance) have to compete against more critically adored single-cams (such as Modern Family and Veep) without hourlong dramedies Awardsline logo_use this onelike Shameless clogging the race. Expect those guys to erupt on nomination morning should Shameless or Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black—which also is being submitted as a comedy after competing unsuccessfully as a drama at the Golden Globes—snags a nom. None of this is a new game; in its first trophy season Fox’s Ally McBeal dabbled as a drama series contender for the DGA Awards before switching to the comedy category for the Emmys, where it went on to snap Frasier’s winning streak.

With three-time champ 30 Rock gone, there’s a big hole to fill, though it might get plugged by Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which won best comedy series at the Globes.

Related: Q&A with Brooklyn Nine-Nine Co-Creator Michael Schur

No Brainers
With four noms and four wins in the past four years, Modern Family again is the comedy to beat. If Modern Family makes it five wins, it ties Frasier’s record for best comedy trophies. The season finale, with Mitch and Cam’s nuptials orchestrated by guest star Nathan Lane as a manic wedding planner, could help seal the deal. Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus has won the best comedy lead actress Emmy the past two years (joined last year by costar Tony Hale for supporting actor), but her show has come up empty in two nominations as best comedy. With Louis-Dreyfus’ character starting a presidential run, Veep got a fresh infusion of energy this season.

Meanwhile, The Big Bang Theory is now such a ratings behemoth that the TV Academy might be shamed into not only nominating it but handing the show a trophy this year. Star Jim Parsons won best lead actor in 2010, 2011 and 2013 (that 2012 gap was a loss to sentimental fave Jon Cryer for having survived the Charlie Sheen years on Two and a Half Men). A fourth win would tie the record held by Michael J. Fox (three for Family Ties, one for Spin City), Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) and Carroll O’Connor (All In the Family).

louieA first-time best comedy nominee last year, Louis C.K.’s auteur vehicle, Louie, came on strong midseason, despite a 19-month hiatus. The introduction of Sarah Baker as an overweight waitress love-struck for Louie added another dimension to the show this season. A freshman comedy should be a long shot for an Emmy, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine pulled off a surprise win at the Golden Globes. So there’s definitely some mojo for this show, starring SNL alum Andy Samberg and supporting actor Andre Braugher.

Lastly, Shameless never won an Emmy competing as a drama series (though Joan Cusack is a three-time nominee for guest actress). For this year’s Emmy competition, EP John Wells said he thinks the show belongs in the comedy race, and the TV Academy agreed.

Stranger Things Have Happened
Still a critical favorite, the third season of Lena Dunham’s Girls could be the lucky one for Emmy noms. Both the show and Dunham, as lead actress, were nominated last year, and neither can be ruled out for 2014. Emmy voters love to award a long-running comedy’s final season (see M*A*S*H and Mary Tyler Moore)—though sometimes not (see Cheers). Ending its nine-year run without a major award (it was nominated for best comedy just once, in 2009), How I Met Your Mother has its last chance for statuettes, though reviews on the series finale were so mixed that the cast is still explaining it. Presumably there are limits to Hollywood’s love of political series, but it would not be a total surprise if Amazon comedy Alpha House made the Emmy nom cut given its pedigree. Created by Garry Trudeau and starring John Goodman, it has featured cameos from politicians including disgraced New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer. Meanwhile, so buzzworthy that President Obama used it as a punchline for a White House Correspondents’ Dinner gag, the first season of Netflix’s jailhouse dramedy Orange Is the New Black could be a sleeper for a nom this year, on the strength of Taylor Schilling’s starring role.

Related: How I Met Your Mother Pushed the Sitcom Form & Was Saved By Britney Spears

'Silicon Valley' castParks and Recreation star Amy Poehler is a perennial fave for a best actress nomination, though she hasn’t won yet in four tries. NBC recently announced the series will end after next season, so if the TV Academy is feeling sentimental already, this year could be lucky for the show. Mike Judge’s tech-geek comedy Silicon Valley divides critics as to whether it’s a dead-on satire of too-rich, too-young software engineers—or too kind by half. Either way, it’s a rare attempt by episodic TV to take on the tech subculture, and Emmy voters might find that intriguing enough.

Long Shots
The Crazy Ones was not renewed for a second season, giving Emmy voters this one chance to take note of Robin Williams’ return to series TV, in collaboration with former Emmy darling David E. Kelley. And another of those arguments for the creation of a one-hour dramedy category, House of Lies has been left out of the best comedy category to date, though lead Don Cheadle has been nommed twice for his Marty Kaan role. Is the TV Academy ready to reward a telenovela from Marc Cherry? His Desperate Housewives never fared well in the Emmy ceremony and it’s unlikely that his Latina-maid potboiler Devious Maids will do better, but buena suerte!

Related: Marc Cherry on Devious Maids Second Life After Death

mindy and dannyZooey Deschanel didn’t repeat her 2012 New Girl nom as best comedy actress, and the series may be old news to the TV Academy at this point—Prince or no Prince. Mindy Kaling and Chris Messina’s on-off, doctor-on-doctor relationship got fans buzzing this season about The Mindy Project, which may or may not inspire the TV Academy. The show has yet to earn a best comedy series nom, despite its roster of guest stars.

  1. I gotta say that usa show Sirens was pretty laugh out loud hilarious. It’s such a shame USA didn’t promote it.

  2. Modern Family has its moments, but it ain’t the funniest show on TV by any stretch. It does have the properly progressive cred others like to attach themselves to, however.

    Awards mean nothing.

  3. None of the controversies matter. Modern Family will win again. It’s not even a question.

  4. I’d say any award that puts Big Bang Theory in contention as “Best Comedy Series” needs to be SERIOUSLY overhauled.

  5. If you actually go by what’s “best,” LOUIE and MARON would be automatic nominations.

  6. So let’s just allow John Wells to use his political power and influence to change the Emmy rules he’s not happy with when He can’t win “fair and square” simply on the creative merits of a project that sadly only his name is on anyway….Because everyone knows, …all the way to “ER”… he takes credit for other people’s talent. Yes, let’s just destroy what’s left of the integrity of the Academy… if any.

  7. If you don’t know from the very beginning if your show is a comedy or a drama then you have problems with the concept of your show and don’t deserve a Emmy.

  8. I hate Big Bang. Don’t see the humor at all. It comes on after the news and I literally dive for the remote so I don’t have to hear it. Annoying, big time.

  9. I think I might be alone in never having understood the love and affection afforded “Modern Family.” I have watched several episodes and find the show grating and often trying too hard. In my opinion, and one clearly shared by too few others, “The Middle” is a far better sitcom with quirky humor and standout performances by Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn. (No, I am not an agent.) And the kids are well-drawn. They come off as appealingly real and not some misguided scribe’s idea of hip (and therefore hopelessly dated). It’s nice to see a TV family dealing honestly with economic hardship as with the “Roseanne” show of another era. Finally, I don’t understand the hate for “Theory.” It’s refreshing to see humor rooted in the cut-throat world of academia. Sure, Sheldon is an insufferable prig, but the other characters have their moments to shine.

  10. Best comedies last season:
    Modern Family
    Parks and Recreation
    Broad City
    Silicon Valley
    Brooklyn Nine-Nine
    Rick and Morty (though that qualifies under the animated category)

  11. BBT has been robbed for way too long. Modern Family was amusing at the beginning but it has gone seriously downhill and the bar for actual laughs in a single cam is so low to begin with. It seems plain wrong to overlook a show which is that well written just because critics and jaded industry snobs find it en vogue to sneer at the laugh track. It’s essentially a stage play for gods-sake. Without the audience track, the conceit doesn’t work and it feels weird. How is that such a hard concept to grasp? Would you see a stage comedy and get pissed at the audience for ruining it by laughing?

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