There was a sigh of relief and a lot of high-fiving in the broadcast industry last year when, after a six-year draught, a network series, NBC’s This Is Us, landed a best drama nomination. Dan Fogelman’s hit family drama repeated the feat this year, even with Emmy juggernaut Game of Thrones back in the race.
That was a great achievement. But while This Is Us has gone toe to toe with cable and streaming dramas in the the best series field, for a second consecutive year, the time-jumping show was left out of the writing and directing categories. It is the only best drama series nominee this year to have never been nominated for writing or directing. In fact, I went back years and could not find another series in recent memory to have landed multiple best drama series nominations but no writing or directing noms.
This Is Us has feature pedigree — it comes from Crazy, Stupid Love’s writer Dan Fogelman, who created it, and directors John Requa & Glenn Ficarra. Fogelman wrote and Requa & Ficarra directed the episodes that were submitted last year, Memphis, and this year, Super Bowl Sunday.
Both episodes were deeply emotional as they revealed the death of a character, William and Jack, respectively. Both ignited social media and became part of the cultural conversation. Additionally, this year’s post-Super Bowl episode was a ratings blockbuster, drawing massive 33.43 million viewers in Live+7 and a 11.6 rating in adults 18-49 without factoring multi-platform viewing.
And yet, neither of the episodes were deemed worthy of writing or directing nominations by the TV Academy. In fact, this decade, since 2010, there have been only two episodes of broadcast drama series , the 2010 pilot and 2016 series finale of CBS’ The Good Wife, both written by Robert and Michelle King, to land writing Emmy nominations. Over the same period, there has been only one broadcast drama episode, the 2010 series finale of Lost, directed by Jack Bender, to get a directing nom. There have been none since.
For the last broadcasting drama writing and directing wins, we have to go back to 2005 (writing, David Shore for Fox’s House) and 2009 *directing, Rob Holcomb for the series finale of NBC’s ER) Shore’s new broadcast medical drama, ABC’s The Good Doctor, which has been as big of a breakout hit as House once was, was snubbed completely by the Emmys yesterday.
The fact that hit broadcast drama series from A-list creative auspices cannot get Emmy love in the writing and directing categories must be disheartening to network writers and directors that their craft would never be recognized.
It is not easy writing and directing for a broadcast drama series. There are more episodes in a season than cable and digital series (GOT, tipped as a best drama series frontrunner, is competing with a 7-episode season vs. a This Is Us’s 18-episode second season). This is taxing creatively and involves accelerated schedules and tight deadlines. There also is the aspect of commercial breaks, which writers and directors have to incorporate in a way that does not interrupt the storytelling flow.
The lack of Emmy recognition for broadcast drama writing also should be of concern to broadcast executives as we are heading into the new pitch season. TV lit agents for years have told to me that they have a hard time convincing their clients to sell drama project to broadcast and not go to cable or SVOD platforms. There is a cachet associated with working in cable and streaming, the financial upside of broadcast drama series is not what it was years ago. And then, there is the notorious notes system of network executives weighing heavily on every script.
Two years ago, a top broadcast studio executive on a panel lamented that broadcast networks “are the last stop on the train of pitches” for writers and producers. There was talk the last two seasons that the broadcast networks may have underbought drama pitches because of the lack of top level drama writers available or willing to create for broadcast.
One of the biggest broadcast drama creators and producers, Shonda Rhimes, already left for Netflix, joined by Ryan Murphy, who has straddled broadcast and cable. Rhimes is one of 11 drama writers (including teams) to have landed Emmy nomination for their work on broadcast series since 2000. Of them, only three still work in network TV.