A column chronicling events and conversations on the awards circuit.
The reminders from the Television Academy are now coming fast and furious. Online voting for the 72nd annual Emmy Awards ends Monday night at 10 p.m. PT.
On Thursday, the Academy set loose governors from various branches to guilt you into voting. “One of the most exciting benefits of membership is voting for the Emmys, the most coveted and prestigious award in our industry. If you have an eye for excellence, help decide this year’s Emmy nominees!” said one email I got from the Writers Branch governors. “Don’t miss your chance to help decide this year’s Emmys,” was the message this afternoon from the Academy. “VOTING CLOSES IN 4 DAYS.”
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I would imagine there are probably a lot of stragglers who are waiting until this weekend to get around to the hefty ballot, which this year boasts 767 different programs in the running, with well over 100 categories. It just makes the act of signing in to vote a daunting one for the 22,000 or so voting members of the Academy (of which I am but one).
A consultant whose company mainly deals in Oscar seasons is tackling Emmys for the first time this year and called the other day to ask just how balloting works. “Do you rank the shows?” they asked, confused as to how their contenders might have a chance to break through the clutter. The simple answer is “No, not anymore.” I always thought I could manipulate the vote in that ranking system where you generally list the contenders from 1, being best, to 5, being worst. My minuscule efforts in that regard never seemed to work, so I welcomed the idea about four years ago when the Academy decided to declare itself an uncomplicated democracy, ushering in a system where you can nominate as many shows as you want, with the unenforced caveat that you have actually seen the shows and feel they are worthy of an Emmy. You used to have to sign an affadavit to that effect, but not anymore.
So for example, this year there are 28 entries in the Television Movie program category. In theory you could nominate all 28, or you could nominate one. It is a straight up-and-down vote, just as it will be when we vote for the final winners come August. It makes it pretty easy to play in this sandbox, as opposed to the Oscars, where voters are perpetually confused about how to select their choices for Best Picture since the Academy uses the antiquated ranking system just in that one category.
This year finds a record number of contenders, at least in terms of recent Emmy contests, up over 30 from last year alone. But this isn’t surprising since we have new players in the game like Apple’s and Disney’s streaming services, so the content keeps adding up to higher numbers. For Comedy Series there are 111 entries, for Drama Series a whopping 199. Only eight from each will make the final cut of nominees when they are announced July 28, so the game is clearly on to separate your show from the pack — a task that is difficult when the tendency seems to be for the Academy to go for the tried and true more often than not.
It is hard to break through, but in recent seasons TV Academy members seem to be listening more intently to critics groups, as suddenly critics darlings it had completely ignored, like Fleabag and Schitt’s Creek, get showered with Emmy love just in the nick of time. I am curious to see where it all goes this year as voters, stuck at home watching TV for the past four months of this Emmy season, may actually have seen more than normal and could really shake up the status quo for which most Emmy races are known.
A PRIMETIME EMMYS AT HOME?
As we enter the final two months of the contest — a virtual whirlwind minus the usual in-person events, Q&As and selfie sessions — I am also curious as to what shape the actual Emmy ABC broadcast will take, particularly with Jimmy Kimmel completely in charge on camera and behind it. He has proven he can put on a pretty good nightly show without an audience, so maybe that will be the way he is forced to take this year’s Emmy show as well, particularly with all the spikes in the COVID numbers continuing to rise in Southern California. I looked to the recent Daytime Emmy broadcast on CBS for clues as to what a virtual Primetime Emmy show might look like, and it was pretty grim. Sure the hosts, the women of The Talk, were decked out in gowns in their individual homes and tried to make it feel live and exciting, but the opening of the envelopes seemed an afterthought as winners were announced who clearly had been told in advance — thus their speeches felt completely canned, at least in the first hour until I stopped watching.
Done right (like the NFL draft), this is a real opportunity for the Emmys to turn around a dismal ratings trend by being forced to completely remake the show minus an in-person group of nominees and presenters, and the glamour of the red carpet. It might be logistically challenged, but going live with all the nominees in all the categories on camera from their homes as the envelope is opened would certainly solve the problem of feeling canned like the Daytime Emmys felt. Time will tell. The Primetime Emmys happen September 20, and I have heard no talk of even a chance of that changing at this point.
‘HAMILTON’ TO DOMINATE THE EMMYS — IN 2021?
What this year’s Emmys could really use as a burst of adrenaline would to be dominated by the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton, especially in an election year. Unfortunately, the Disney+ presentation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 11-time Tony winner isn’t eligible to compete, having just missed the cutoff when it debuted last week. A lot of pundits had initially been touting the filmed recording of the original cast, shot just before their run ended in June 2016, as an Oscar contender as Disney (which paid a reported $75 million for rights to the filmed record) had clearly originally planned it as a theatrical release. The coronavirus pandemic changed everything, however, and Miranda and Disney decided to gift it to fans stuck at home on the Fourth of July. It certainly became a boon for Disney+, and because that big theatrical release plan was scrapped it suddenly became eligible for the 2021 Emmys when otherwise, with new stringent rules going into place further separating the Emmys from shows that also campaigned for Oscars, an Emmy run now seems like a no-brainer.
The rules probably place it in the relatively recent category of Outstanding Variety Special (pre-recorded), at least as far as programs go: “Programs exclusively originated for or derived/adapted from a medium other than television or broadband (e.g. taped concert tour performance, Broadway play, opera, night club act), and entertainment components of sports programs (e.g. halftime show) are eligible as appropriate in variety special (live) or variety special (pre-recorded).” That states it clearly.
Expect Hamilton to overwhelm next year’s Emmys, though the Academy might further have to clarify how many, if any, of the performances (three of which won Tonys) might be eligible. But at this point, Miranda, already with Hamilton-related Tonys and Grammys, could have almost a complete Hamilton EGOT from this one performance, missing only an Oscar for which AMPAS rules clearly state it would be ineligible anyway. Miranda does have a 2014 Emmy for a song he wrote for the 2013 Tony Awards show.
A POSTHUMOUS EMMY NOD FOR ROBERT FORSTER
Finally, with just four days to go in voting, there is still time for Actors Branch members to do something that would make me very happy: nominate the late great Robert Forster for his extraordinary, if relatively brief, performance as Ed, the vacuum store owner/disappearer in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, which ironically premiered on Netflix on October 11, 2019, the day the beloved actor’s actor died. This is the role he originated in the penultimate episode of the multi-Emmy- winning Breaking Bad in 2014 (and for which he won a Saturn Award).
When Vince Gilligan finally decided to revisit the show for a one-off Netflix movie focusing on Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman, he had to decide which characters would come back. The return of Forster’s Ed made sense in that he could, for a price of course, help Jesse just, well. disappear. He is only in the film for two scenes, including one stunningly well-played encounter in his vacuum store with Jesse, a cat-and-mouse game for the ages and so beautifully played by Forster in one of his final performances (he also reprised Ed in an episode of Better Call Saul that aired in February, and he is on the Guest Actor in a Drama ballot for his role in Amazing Stories).
In a recent interview with Gilligan for my Deadline video series Behind the Lens, I asked him about bringing Forster back.
“Robert Forster, just the salt of the earth and an amazing Spencer Tracy of an actor. In fact the old Spencer Tracy quote applies, when he was asked about the secret to acting he said, ‘It is no secret. Just plant your feet and say the lines,’ which [Forster] got. That is attributed to Spencer Tracy and I have always quoted all my life, but it wasn’t until I met Robert Forster, and Bryan Cranston, they are both guys who ‘plant their feet and say their lines’,” Gilligan told me in also heaping praise on his Breaking Bad star. “They both have that Tracy quality, but Robert Forster in particular. You don’t see him acting, ever. He was as good as it gets, but I don’t think of him as an actor. He would show up and just be that character for that set amount of time, for those lines of dialogue and you never saw the work. You never saw him working at it, you just saw the result. I know he worked at it. I don’t assume anything that wonderful came easily, came without effort, but you never saw the effort.
“He was like watching Tiger Woods play golf, Michael Jordan play basketball. I don’t know, I am not a sports guy but all the effort was out of my line of vision and he just showed up and he was the guy for that wonderful number of hours that I got to work with him. And he was only in one episode of Breaking Bad but he had such a big footprint, this guy, in people’s memories. When I think of Breaking Bad I think of it as him being an integral character in that show, but he was just in not even one whole episode, just a few scenes of an episode. It’s been a bad couple of years, with all that is going on now, and then Bob Forster passing away and not having him anymore. But god he was a great guy.”
That is a tribute that sums up what made Forster so memorable in so many roles, which included his 1998 Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. He never had an Emmy nomination, so this will be the chance in the Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie category. He was beloved among his fellow actors and this could be a way to show it. It certainly would be long overdue and a richly deserved coda to a brilliant career.
Gold Derby odds currently have him as a 100-to-1 shot for a nomination. Prove ’em wrong.
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