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It's Best of Times, Worst of Times for The Emmys
July 12, 2016  | By Alex Strachan  | 2 comments

It is the best of times for the Emmys — so much choice. It is the worst of times — too many worthy candidates likely to be overlooked, or snubbed entirely.

It is the age of wisdom — Better Call Saul was nominated last year for outstanding dramatic series on the heels of a win the previous for Breaking Bad, proof that a spin-off can indeed live up to the promise of the original.

It is the age of foolishness — drama nominations for Homeland, Downton Abbey and House of Cards, despite general consensus that their finest seasons were behind them. 

It is the epoch of belief — the idea that a genre fantasy like Game of Thrones can be taken as seriously as Masterpiece’s Wolf Hall

It is the epoch of incredulity — the notion that Grace of Monaco (right), booed off the screen at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, was worthy of an Emmy nomination for TV movie, or that Jeff Daniels, Emmy winner in 2013 for The Newsroom, turned in a finer performance that year than fellow nominees Bryan Cranston, Jon Hamm and Damian Lewis.

As the television industry prepares to unveil the class of 2016 this week — the Emmy nominations will be announced Thursday at 11:30 a.m. ET — Emmy insiders face an embarrassment of riches to choose from.

Not only are more quality dramas being made today, with performances to match, but the sudden injection of financing by streaming services, relative newcomers like Amazon, Hulu and YouTube, has widened the field in ways that would have seemed unimaginable just five years ago.

That said, the Emmy telecast itself is facing a ratings decline, as audience habits change, viewers are more easily distracted and, hard as it may be for some industry insiders to accept, the Emmys just aren’t as important, or influential, as they once were.

Recent rule changes designed to give the field a more populist look and feel no doubt helped Game of Thrones to a near sweep last year. Look for Game of Thrones to dominate the nominations again this week, if only because of all those technical categories where Thrones excels.

Beyond Thrones, though, Emmy voters could throw a few surprises. Mr. Robot, one of the more critically acclaimed newcomers of the past year, is just the kind of series Emmy voters have overlooked in the past, because it skews young and doesn’t seem as serious as heavy dramas like The Affair and Masters of Sex. By expanding the field and encouraging more Emmy newcomers to vote, Mr. Robot is precisely the kind of series the rule changes are designed to help, but only time will tell. My own feeling is that Emmy voters will stick to old habits — for now — and Mr. Robot will go largely overlooked.

The Emmys, like their bigger cousin the Oscars, also face a diversity issue, and not just because Keegan-Michael Key (left) was Emmy-nominated last year for Key & Peele, but Jordan Peele wasn’t, despite being an equal partner in every way.

A worse omission for many was the conscious decision to overlook Empire, which landed just two nominations, Taraji P. Henson for lead actress, and best costumes. Even that was a shuck: As fine as the costumes may have been in Empire, it’s hard for a contemporary drama to compete with the likes of Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones and Penny Dreadful.

Recent history has shown that, when Emmy voters are faced with criticism from regular viewers and TV critics alike — how long it took them to notice Andre Braugher in Homicide: Life on the Street, for example, or how they assiduously ignored The Wire year after year — they respond by . . . ignoring their critics.

And yet.

There’s no question Emmy organizers are making a concerted effort to change this time, even “change” to an ossified, deeply entrenched organization often means little more than nibbling around the edges.

Part of that change is being forced on the TV academy from outside. The very same market forces that are reshaping television as we know it are changing the kinds of programs that are being made.

Breaking Bad would not have been considered 10 years ago, let alone win. Transparent, from Amazon Studios — what’s that? — would have passed by unnoticed. It was hard enough for Jeffrey Tambor to get recognition for The Larry Sanders Show, for which he was nominated four times but lost each time. Seinfeld and Frasier dominated the comedy Emmys at the time, and while both hold up surprisingly well today, traditional studio sitcoms no longer dominate Emmy comedy categories the way they used to. This is the age of Veep and, to a dwindling extent, Modern Family — another series, like Homeland and House of Cards, whose best years may be behind it.

Last year’s comedy nominees included unconventional choices like Transparent, Louie (right), Silicon Valley and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. There’s no reason to think that will change this time, at least not in the comedy categories.

Emmy voters are still set enough in their ways, though, that despite the rule changes, despite the influx of new, younger voters and despite a growing spotlight on the need for diversity and the idea that — shocker! — TV should reflect the audience that actually watches TV, there are still likely to be more than a few holdovers from the past when the nominations are announced.

Those who follow the small-screen closely have known for some time now that the Peabody Awards set the standard for quality television, while the Emmys are basically a stage show caught somewhere between wanting to appear relevant and forward-thinking and needing to draw a big audience, huge ratings and happy advertisers.

Beyond the obvious — an avalanche of nominations for Game of Thrones and a likely snub, again, for The Americans — a handful of questions remain. Some truly wonderful dramas called it a wrap this past year: Downton Abbey, The Good Wife, Penny Dreadful, The Leftovers, Banshee and so on. Many viewers will find it hard to adjust to a TV world without Mythbusters and American Idol.

So, will Emmy voters look back in fondness on the past or look ahead to the future? 

That’s just one of many questions that will be answered Thursday, but in many ways it’s the most important one.

My own guess: Don’t underestimate Downtown Abbey, this one last time. And, as much as it pains me to admit it, don’t overestimate Mr. Robot’s chances. Or Empire’s, for that matter.

Back after this.

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I'd also like to point out that Anson Mount thought this interview I did w. him was pretty cool. Though it's probably not for me to say. Very fond of Hell on Wheels, have been from day one. (Though I do think the first season was the best; there were different showrunner(s) after that.) Here's the link: http://www.canada.com/entertainment/Anson+Mount+calls+filming+Hell+Wheels+highlight+career+WITH+VIDEO/8763602/story.html
Jul 18, 2016   |  Reply
Mark Isenberg
Excepting an actor's death or premature one like Robin Williams,there is no good reason to watch an Emmy Awards broadcast with forced humor bits and hosts who have little to say about any of the nominated shows. TV has good series and more of them are going to Netflix and Amazon for good reasons besides more $$$ for the producers. They can tell stories and let characters evolve better although the Mom series is taking some risks on CBS. Yes,HBO still takes risks too but most of us are just waiting for more Zombies vs. Survivors on AMC The Walking Dead. Too bad most of you never even heard of their other series,Hell on Wheels,now wrapping up on Saturday nights.
Jul 13, 2016   |  Reply
Linda Donovan
Here at TVWW, we've been fans of 'Hell on Wheels' since its premiere. See Eric Gould's review http://www.tvworthwatching.com/post/Hell-On-Wheels-Goes-Full-Steam-Back-to-the-American-West.aspx
Jul 13, 2016
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