History 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.
Traditionalists 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 like 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
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).
A 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.
Parks 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.
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!
Zooey 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.