Talk about timing! Monday’s big reveal of Vanity Fair‘s Annie Leibovitz-shot cover and photo shoot of Caitlyn (formerly known as Bruce) Jenner came the same day Amazon happened to host a screening and Q&A session for Emmy voters on Transparent, its breakthrough series dealing in part with transgender issues. I moderated the post-screening event at the DGA theater featuring creator Jill Soloway and stars of the series, which has become one of the sensations of the television season and winner of Golden Globes for Best Comedy Series and Actor in a Comedy Series for star Jeffrey Tambor. In addition to the Globes, the show already has picked up a slew of awards including a Television Academy Honors prize last week, a DGA Award for Soloway, GLAAD prizes and acting nods for Tambor and guest star Bradley Whitford at Sunday’s Critics’ Choice TV Awards. Amazon naturally has high hopes for Emmy recognition, or it wouldn’t be throwing this kind of campaign behind Transparent.
Monday night’s event included a huge catered party at the DGA, where all the bathrooms were switched for the evening to “gender neutral” in the spirit of the show. Although there likely was some pre-event discussion about doing this at a presentation for TV Academy members, the attendees seemed to go with the flow, so to speak. And it wasn’t just the series itself that was being pitched to voters (two episodes were shown including the pilot) but also a quintet of five-minute This Is Me public service docs produced by the Transparent team that extend the issues raised by the series. The one shown during the Q&A dramatizes the real-life problems transgender people can have in simply using public restrooms, with the one-night DGA policy of unisex bathrooms re-emphasizing the point of the touching short. Subtitled Closets, Generations, Right This Way, And My Sisters and From The Bathrooms, these mini-docs also have been entered in the Short Films categories for the Emmy race, which could add to the nomination haul I expect the show will receive from the Academy.
The place was packed and the crowd diverse, ranging from porn legend Ron Jeremy to The Brady Bunch star Florence Henderson, who told me afterward that she had not previously seen the show — neither had many audience members I asked — but was moved and very impressed. She said it has her vote and plans to watch the eight other episodes from the first season. Since many of the 18,000 or so eligible voters might not have any idea how to get Amazon Prime in order to see the complete series, Amazon recently sent the entire season to all Television Academy members.
Soloway revealed that Season 2’s set of 10 new episodes goes into production at the end of this month and should be ready to air by year’s end. She directed seven of the first season’s 10 half-hours, and I can only say that the Season 1 finale is one of the best written (also by Soloway) and directed pieces of television I have ever seen. It is alternately hilarious and harrowingly real — a masterpiece of dramedy that defies labels, a description that can be applied to the entire Pfefferman family, all are dealing with their identity problems in one way or another. On the panel were Soloway, Tambor, Whitford, Jay Duplass, Melora Hardin, Gaby Hoffman and Amy Landecker. And it was clear from audience questions that the transgender movement has affected many families who now are finding themselves in the spotlight, thanks to shows like this and the Jenner factor, which has given this a public face on a mass-audience scale. In fact, since the Vanity Fair cover had just dropped, there was much discussion about Caitlyn Jenner on Monday night, and Soloway told me she’d been answering questions about it all day. Whether the success of her show has anything to do with hastening the Jenner decisions doesn’t matter. The convergence of this issue hitting the mainstream media at the same time is remarkable, a China Syndrome kind of moment rare in entertainment that seems to be taking on a life of its own as we move further into Emmy season and beyond. Could all this publicity help turn the tide for Transparent and make the nascent Amazon Prime a big winner come September 20?
And it is not just Transparent’s Emmy ambitions that could be positively affected by all the Jenner news: The subject is bound to be a big one, perhaps even bigger, at Oscar time with the Focus Features’ November 27 release of The Danish Girl, starring reigning Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne as pioneering transgender figure Lili Elbe/Einar Wegener. Directed by Tom Hooper, an Oscar winner for The King’s Speech, it is the true story of the marriage of Danish artists Elbe and her wife, Gerde (played by uber-hot Alicia Vikander) that deals with the question of what happens when someone in that union has a need to change. The early production photo of Redmayne’s transformation is stunning, and there’s already talk of a second Oscar run for the actor. In fact, shortly after wrapping production, co-star Matthias Schoenaerts predicted he would win again, calling the performance remarkable. But the continuing Jenner story certainly will have an effect on this one, and its awards prospects too. How can it not? From what I hear, there already is a connection between the two. East Coast publishing sources tell Deadline that Leibovitz also has done a photo session with Redmayne, in character I presume, for a Vogue magazine spread timed to the film’s fall release.
It definitely appears to be the Season of the Switch.