It didn’t take long for the Oscar awards season to end (with a bang) and for Emmy season to kick off. Just as #Envelopegate and the Best Picture debacle at the 89th annual Academy Awards signaled a bittersweet finale for movie contenders after a six-month trek from Telluride to the Dolby, NBC and Universal Television threw a lunch Monday at Ysabel to unofficially launch the six-month trek to the Microsoft Theatre for Emmy hopefuls.
The invite simply promised “an intimate private lunch with showrunners and actors from NBC and Universal Television’s current series to provide access and help trigger ideas for your Emmy coverage.” And that it did as the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, America Ferrera, Ben Feldman, the gang from This Is Us, Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan, Derek Hough and others mingled with awards pundits and other journalists.
I sat down with Lopez and her Shades Of Blue producers Jack Orman and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and seemed to immediately astound them with the news I had actually watched their Season 2 premiere Sunday night while it was on. Goldsmith-Thomas noted most people watch TV in other than that good-old-fashioned way, and that in its first season Blue did exceptionally well in ratings taking into account delayed DVR watching.
Lopez could not be busier with this series; her live Las Vegas shows; another NBC reality series World Of Dance, which she produces and on which she will serve as a judge; and the next live NBC musical Bye Bye Birdie coming in December. She told me the role of Harlee in Shades Of Blue is exactly the kind of acting she wants to do now and notes TV has provided such great opportunities, even though she is developing a couple of big-screen features at the same time. The trio were already talking about what the third season of the NBC show will look like.
I also asked Lopez what she knew about reports that NBC, not Fox, is planning to bring back American Idol even though it hasn’t even been a year since its grand so-called finale. She said she heard that, and thought it was interesting, but didn’t know anything further at this point. Lopez’s plate is so full I don’t know where she would fit it in if asked to come back as a judge again. She’s especially excited about doing Birdie, and said she has included a key number from the show, “A Lot Of Livin’ To Do” since starting her Vegas act. She will play Rose, the role Chita Rivera created on Broadway and Janet Leigh did in the movie version, and this TV version (the second time it has been attempted on network television) will include tunes from the original show that weren’t in the movie.
This was all her idea as NBC’s Bob Greenblatt told me when I visited the set of their last musical, Hairspray, in December. “She said, ‘I’ve fallen in love with Bye Bye Birdie and I want to do it with you guys,’ ” he said at the time. “We were already doing Shades Of Blue with her, and so I thought OK, this is perfect because it’s a family show, it’s got nostalgia, it’s got a great score. It’s funny when we announced it, I’ve not gotten the kind of reaction from any of the other shows we’ve done that we got for Birdie.” Among the shows showcased during the NBCUniversal lunch was indeed that live production of Hairspray, and one of its stars Derek Hough was there.
I also chatted with Carol Kane who plays Lillian in Universal and Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. She was in a nostalgic mood as we talked about her Oscar-nominated Best Actress performance in 1975’s Hester Street, working with Woody Allen in Annie Hall and James L. Brooks and Ed. Weinberger on Taxi which earned her two Emmys in the early ’80s. She compares working with writing mavens Robert Carlock and Tina Fey on Kimmy Schmidt to that kind of quality and loves doing the show, which has become an Emmy fixture in its first couple of seasons (the next one starts May 19).
I missed talking with Danson and Bell, stars of the new NBC series The Good Place (which just got a renewal), who were tucked in a corner of the restaurant. But I caught up with Paul and Monaghan of Hulu and Universal’s riveting drama series The Path, which is now in its second season, as well as Ferrera and Feldman who just wrapped their second season of the NBC sitcom Superstore and were hanging out with creator Justin Spitzer.
All of these shows seem to be hitting their stride as they move into their early seasons, but Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin, creators of Universal’s Psycho-tinged Bates Motel, are saying goodbye to that A&E staple after the fifth and final season which launched last month. Cuse says this season really will have echoes of Hitchcock’s original in more ways than before with no less than Rihanna showing up as Marion Crane, the infamous role Janet Leigh (again) made famous in that 1960 classic. Cuse is really making an Emmy pitch, particularly for star Vera Farmiga as Norma, Norman Bates’ mother in this prequel to the series of movies with Tony Perkins. He notes she was nominated in 2013, but feels Emmy voters really need to take another look at her as well as co-star Freddie Highmore who plays Norman. The series hasn’t gotten a lot of Emmy action, but Cuse is hoping that can change with this swan song of a season. He knows from finales — people are still debating that ending of his show Lost.
It is always tough for veteran series to get the kind of attention the new kids on the block get, and that has never been more evident than in the success of NBC’s breakout hit This Is Us, which wraps its first season next week. I had a good time talking the success of the show with stars Milo Ventimiglia (there with a cast on his right arm after surgery for a tendon), Justin Hartley, Chris Sullivan and Ron Cephas Jones whose highly emotional death episode recently left no dry eyes in living rooms all over America.
Jones, who plays William, the biological father of Sterling K. Brown’s Randall Pearson, told me he is hoping for some Emmy attention for the role especially considering the impact that particular episode has had. He said he is proud to have been part of the show’s phenomenal first season, but doesn’t know what category he might be considered for. “It depends on where Sterling goes,” he said, referring to the question of whether the recent Emmy winner (for The People Vs O.J. Simpson miniseries) is considered a lead or support. Jones could be in Guest Actor in a Drama Series if he has been in five or fewer episodes but it appears he was in 17 episodes overall so would be ineligible in that category. It will be interesting to see where the cast members of this truly ensemble series get placed category-wise.
At any rate, This Is Us stands the best chance of any of the Big 4 broadcast networks to make a dent in what has become the cable- and streamer-dominated Best Drama Series category. Certainly Greenblatt knows it and hopes for the best as he told me when we spoke in December. “Network television gets kind of put on the back burner, because there’s always some great Netflix show, or some great FX show, or some great cable show, or Westworld,” he said. “There’s so many things, and people go, ‘Oh broadcast, you’re fine, we know what you do,’ but [This Is Us] is a show that really cuts through the clutter.’ There’s no big kind of crazy concept, or it’s not dark and twisted. It’s not sexual. It’s just a good-old-fashioned heart-tugging family show beautifully acted and beautifully written.”
Also there was Katie Hockmeyer, producer of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. We compared notes as it turns out we both started out as NBC pages (I was in Burbank, she in New York) and clearly it worked out nicely for her as she has been associated with Fallon even since his Saturday Night Live days. She was able to make the trip to L.A. because the show is dark this week. With Stephen Colbert nipping at Fallon’s heels (and even leading in total viewers again this week), and Jimmy Kimmel getting a nice bump off the Oscar gig, I wondered how the “late-night wars” might be going and got a simple answer. “What late night wars?” she laughed, indicating each one of the hosts does their own thing their own way. NBC is certainly hoping Fallon’s Tonight Show lands another Emmy nomination this year. Last year, Colbert’s show was overlooked as a nominee, but with his well-publicized resurgence because of all things Donald Trump, it’s a good bet he will be in contention this year especially as he is also hosting the show which airs September 17 on CBS. Looks like another fight in the Variety Talk Series category.
So the Emmy race is off and running, at least as far as NBCUniversal is concerned. But actually I have to say FX really got the jump on things by being the first (and so far only) studio/network to send out a For Your Consideration Emmy DVD screener — and they did it in early January (!) with a “Happy New Year” greeting as most minds were only tuned to Oscar nomination campaigns.
In an interesting choice FX made its long-running sitcom, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, the recipient of my annual award for First Emmy Screener this year. But the packaging and the disc itself (which simply advertised “For Your Emmy Consideration”) did not even say the name of the show — anywhere. You had to put the
DVD on to discover four of this season’s episodes of the series, a show that premiered on FX back in 2005 and has yet to see any Emmy recognition except for three consecutive nods for Stunt Coordination in a Comedy or Variety Series between 2013 and 2015. The blind pitch on the inside of package asked for attention to what they noted was “one of the longest running live-action comedies” and that “it’s not too late, especially to vote for it for Outstanding Comedy Series and in all other categories.” The show, which stars Danny DeVito and Charlie Day among others, is hoping to finally gain notice by having already fired the opening shot of the 2017 Emmy season.
Let the games begin.