A column chronicling events and conversations on the awards circuit.
The long and winding Emmy Awards season comes to crunch time as final voting began yesterday with a deadline for return of ballots by 10 p.m. PT on Monday August 30. Studios and networks still are sending food to remind media to get the word out. NBCUniversal on Wednesday sent a full menu of goodies such as seasonal vegetable quiche, assorted mini pastries, fresh orange juice, farmer’s market fruit and so on with menu and “Special Delivery” note working in all the titles of their contenders: “THIS IS US thanking you for all your support during awards season. Whether or not you’re a TOP CHEF yourself we hope you enjoy these delicious treats. It has been a lot of early mornings and a lot of LATE NIGHT’s but we appreciate all you’ve done to use your (The) VOICE” etc., etc. Disney TV Studios gave voters instructions how to access their Pose and Black-ish Food Truck Experience last weekend at various checkpoints around town.
The studio yesterday delivered a retro TV dinner (beef, mashed potatoes, brownie) wrapped in tin foil and sitting without comment in a specially designed WandaVision box, followed a little later by an email headlined “WandaVision TV Dinner Stunt” including information about a live “Twitter Spaces” chat with stars and creators. The International Documentary Association carried a message from NatGeo promoting a pizza giveaway all this weekend from Gino’s East in Sherman Oaks, where you call ahead and order a Chicago deep-crust pizza (or thin crust, plus soft drinks) and then head out to the Valley to pick it up — all in honor of its Emmy-nominated docuseries City So Real. Either all these studios are concerned we don’t get enough to eat during Emmy season or they are strategically timing these food giveaways to the start of voting. I suspect the latter, but thanks for thinking of me.
Not missing a beat, Robin Roberts yesterday used her position as anchor on Good Morning America to do a long interview in the 8:30 a.m. slot with Lifetime’s Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia star Danielle Brooks and director Kenny Leon and also promoted the cable network’s special 6 p.m. rebroadcast of the Emmy-nominated TV movie, as well as more from the interview on her Facebook page. The L.A. Times yesterday also included a huge oversized poster of Mahalia touting that nomination. And of course, many of these shows and personalities (including Roberts and Brooks) appeared all last weekend on Deadline’s The Contenders Television: The Nominees live streamed event — and now available to be seen individually on this very site — just one of a number of seemingly endless opportunities campaigns are taking in order to stand out in this sea of content.
TO SWEEP OR NOT TO SWEEP
Certainly it is very tough to get a foothold in the race as the nominations (announced on July 13) proved. If your show gets seen by a large number of voters, clearly it makes a difference. It seemed more than ever the nominations in many categories reflected the haves and have nots. A well-known title like Hamilton managed seven acting noms alone. Certainly the name helped, and I would bet a lot of those votes came just from people who saw the show on Broadway (when the filmed record of the original cast was shot five years ago) and not even the actual “television” production that ran on Disney+.
Ted Lasso, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown, Lovecraft Country were others with so many acting nominations that if you were a performer with a decent role, you probably are going to the Emmys. Saturday Night Live, with an incredible 11 nominations across just four comedy acting categories, is simply in a class by itself, smothering out so many other worthy contenders not lucky enough to be in a high-profile showcase like that one.
Last year the trend became apparent with Schitt’s Creek simply sweeping the board and picking up every major Emmy for which it was nominated, including all four stars. Can that happen again with Ted Lasso (20 nominations) or possible spoiler Hacks (15 noms)? Will The Crown sweep drama series for the first time after four seasons, or can a crafty campaign from FX on behalf of the third and final season of Pose — with the catchphrase “Make History” blasted across its ads — do the trick (particularly for Lead Actress nominee Mj Rodriguez poised to become the first major transgender Emmy winner ever)? I remember how effective the second phase campaign was that then-Fox Searchlight waged for its Best Picture hopeful 12 Years a Slave a few years back. Ads for the film simply stated: “It’s Time.” It worked brilliantly, so let’s see if that kind of campaign technique makes a dent for Pose aiming to rain on The Crown’s coronation.
Sweeps in comedy and drama series categories would not be a shock in light of recent trends, but it is always nice to see Television Academy voters spread the wealth. That’s something it also has the opportunity to do in the uber-competitive Limited Series or TV Movie categories, where the race is furiously being waged among several hot prospects. The hottest of all is Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, which, talking about sweeps, swept in unprecedented fashion every single other early awards show from Golden Globes, Critics Choice and SAG to all of the guilds earlier in the year. It is expected it could do that at the final stop on its journey to the gold, the Emmys. Or not.
The aforementioned WandaVision has more nominations than any other of the five nominees with a whopping 23, and serving alternately as a popular Marvel show and a love letter to TV. That really could bring it to serious contention by threading the needle between Marvel fans in the Academy with older voters who love the brilliantly executed and loving tributes to the likes of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched and other benchmarks of an earlier TV age. And then there’s the much-loved Mare of Easttown, rocking with 16 noms and coming in late in the season, setting up a showdown with Queen’s Gambit, which has 18 noms. Will the sweep mentality take hold, or might that be a split with actors going for Mare while the Academy at large hands the big prize to Queen’s? Or could BAFTA winner I May Destroy You split the difference and walk away with all of it? Barry Jenkins’ magnificent The Underground Railroad is the fifth nominee in the category, but its lack of a writing or any acting recognition gives me pause in assessing its strength against the rest of the competition. Jenkins could pull off a directing win, however, if the Academy is in a mood to, as I said, “spread the wealth.”
Voters indeed have some tough decisions to make.
CLINTON IMPEACHMENT SERIES COULD BE EMMY JUGGERNAUT
And while we are at it, it is never too early to start on next year, since I think we have pretty much exhausted talking about this year’s hot Emmy contenders.
Having gotten a preview of the first three hours of FX’s and Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story: Impeachment, all I can say is, watch out. Based on that sampling of the 10-hour limited series chronicling the Monica Lewinsky scandal that resulted in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment (though he ultimately was not convicted by the Senate), I can pretty safely forecast a boatload of acting nominations at the very least. But overall, the series is riveting in every department. Murphy’s ACS franchise swept the Emmys, and other awards, in its first go-round with 2016’s The People vs. O.J. Simpson. It also picked up the Limited Series Emmy for The Assassination of Gianni Versace two years later. Impeachment looks to be on a par with those, so when it debuts on September 7, I would expect the Emmy talk to start in earnest — particularly for Sarah Paulson, who is virtually unrecognizable as Linda Tripp, the D.C. veteran who befriended, and then betrayed, Lewinsky. She is simply brilliant in inhabiting this role. Paulson won her only Emmy, against numerous nominations, as Marcia Clark in the O.J. series and clearly is headed in that territory again with this one.
At first glance, I just wasn’t sure about the casting of Beanie Feldstein as Lewinsky, but all doubts were erased after a few minutes. She gets right to the essence of this young woman who became infatuated with the president of the United States and is completely compelling and believable in the role. Clive Owen, also pretty much unrecognizable, is another interesting casting choice, and he simply becomes Clinton without resorting to an impression. Billy Eichner is slimily terrific as creepy gossip Matt Drudge, as is Judith Light as Susan Carpenter McMillan, and the always nailing-it Margo Martindale, who plays book agent Lucianne Goldberg, who offers the enticing opportunity of a tell-all for Tripp.
And then there is Cobie Smulders as Ann Coulter. OMG. She came in late and replaced another actress who was set for the role, but she owns it. I had no idea watching this cold who was playing this role, but I even thought maybe they went to Coulter herself. Smulders is dead-on and absolutely hilarious here. Annaleigh Ashford as Arkansas native Clinton accuser Paula Jones and Taran Killam as her wannab-actir husband Steve Jones are equally delicious in those roles, which are a large part of the first three episodes. Edie Falco’s Hillary Clinton apparently gets her moments later in the series, which I can’t wait to finish. My colleague and our TV critic Dominic Patten undoubtedly will be reviewing the actual series, so I will leave it to him, but in terms of its acting Emmy potential, I would say the possibilities for several nominations are infinite based on what I have seen so far.
WILL VOTERS CHECK IN AT ‘THE WHITE LOTUS’ A YEAR FROM NOW?
And in terms of a summer guilty pleasure, I would say the same should be true of HBO’s limited series The White Lotus, which just wrapped its six-episode run on Sunday and became an instant watercooler sensation, growing dramatically in ratings right up through the wild finale. Writer-director Mike White’s twisted sense of humor and humanity all comes together here in completely unpredictable ways. It certainly didn’t hurt my enthusiasm for the show that this story of several different vacationers at a ritzy Hawaiian resort was all shot on location at the Four Seasons in Maui, a hotel I have been to many times. Since the pandemic curtailed our annual Hawaiian summer vacation for the past two years running, I can tell you that watching this series, and these insanely written and played cast of characters, has been like being on vacation itself.
But getting to Emmy predictions, well, I say nominate them all — starting with Jennifer Coolidge in the role of a career as a self-hating and insecure woman carrying her mother’s ashes to the island and trying to find a shred of a new life for herself in the process. She should be a lock to win no matter who else comes along. But Steve Zahn and Connie Britton leading a nutso family that includes daughter Sydney Sweeney, her college friend Brittany O’Grady and brother Fred Hechinger all should be considered. So should Jake Lacy as an obnoxious honeymooner and Alexandra Daddario as his highly insecure wife, along with a pitch-perfect Molly Shannon as the honeymoon-invading mother-in-law. Without question, Emmy voters should consider Natasha Rothwell as the resort’s spa manager and Jon Gries as a hotel guest who hooks up with Coolidge’s character. And there would be no justice without a nomination for Australian actor Murray Bartlett, the beleaguered White Lotus manager and “recovering” drug addict whose sobriety goes to hell after dealing with this boatload of guests.
Of course, t the respective campaigning skills of HBO and FX for White Lotus and the upcoming ACS: Impeachment will come heavily into play in keeping the memories alive of these shows, which come early in the 2021-22 Emmy season. But I am betting on both of them. You heard it here first.