Who Should Get Emmy Nominations?
With greater Emmy power comes greater responsibility.
And when it comes to the nominations, all the power is back in the hands of the Television Academy's voting members. Last year, they submitted a list of 10 finalists to a set of blue-ribbon judging panels, who then chose the final five nominees. But that experimental system has been scrapped, and once again, the nominations will be chosen entirely by Academy vote.
And if that doesn't strike you as frightening, you've forgotten how often those voters have confused popularity with quality.
On the plus side, thanks to another rule change, they now get to fill six slots in the major series categories instead of five, which should make it easier for a few new nominees to slip in. On the down side, if you know the Emmys, you know the voters have a fondness for quixotic choices: ignoring worthy new or small shows in favor of big hits that are long past their creative peaks, or succumbing to the allure of the flashiest ad campaign or the most expensive DVD boxed set.
What can be done to bring us a better slate of nominees come July 16? Well, if you're a voter, you could just pick up your pencil (or computer) and mark those nominating ballots that went out today as instructed below.
Because sometimes when you have power, the best course really is just to hand it over.
When people say there's nothing good on television, you really have to wonder what they're watching.
Because when it comes to dramas this year, the problem isn't expanding the list from five; it's cutting the candidates down to six.
What to include? Start with network TV's two best hours, "Lost" and "24", "one of which continued its creative surge with a dazzling, time-tripping season, and the other of which rebounded from the grave in first-rate form. Then throw in "Rescue Me," absolutely brilliant in a so-far short season, and "Mad Men", which proved its first-year triumph was no fluke. That still leaves room for two excellent, extremely different, freshmen series: HBO's gentle "Ladies" and hot "Blood."
"Unfortunately, that also leaves a host of truly fine series on the sidelines, including "Dexter", "Friday Night Lights", "Breaking Bad", "House", "Fringe" and (with mid-slump reservations) "Grey's Anatomy." I'll stick with my six, but were voters to sub one of those shows in, it would be hard to complain.
Comedy is a less competitive category, so let's start with the one essential: The Big Bang Theory.
In its second season, "Bang" has grown into TV's best sitcom by adhering to old sitcom virtues: a great cast playing characters you like and believe, who can be hilarious without being heartless and consistent without being formulaic.
From there, the list should also include the witty if tortuously inconsistent "30 Rock," the perfectly cast "Old Christine", and the very-near perfect "Pushing Daisies" - a show that flopped in the ratings but soared as art.
After that, things get dicey. I'd reward "Little Britain" for its madcap audacity and "Desperate Housewives" for its fast-forward spunk, but that leaves no room for one of the voters' perennial favorites, "The Office." Whether it deserves a nod depends on whether you think the Michael Scott Paper Company plot was an ingenious diversion of an example of the show's willingness to throw logic, common sense and character out the window for a not-very-hearty laugh. Look at the list and you can pretty much guess where I fall, but voters will almost certainly fall the other way.
Lead actress, drama
Glenn Close, "Damages"
Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer"
Evangeline Lilly, "Lost"
Jill Scott, "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency"
Anna Paquin, "True Blood"
January Jones, "Mad Men"
The women's field may be less crowded, but the top candidates are no less deserving.
Start with Close, who made her outsized lawyer seem more human and real, and move on to Sedgwick, who turns her show into a weekly lesson in entertaining acting. Then there are Jones and Lilly, both of whom had showcase stories and used them to their best advantage. As for the HBO pair, the network's big publicity push for the show's second season premiere is likely to remind voters of how amusingly grand guignol Paquin was in "Blood." Let's just hope they don't overlook Scott's equally accomplished but quieter turn in HBO's lovely "Ladies."
Lead actor, drama
Hugh Laurie, "House"
Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad"
Michael C. Hall, "Dexter"
Denis Leary, "Rescue Me"
Kiefer Sutherland, "24"
Simon Baker, "The Mentalist"
TV is dominated by dramas, and with a few notable exceptions, TV dramas continue to be dominated by men. So it's no wonder you're faced with almost impossibly hard choices.
It's a testament to how tough this category is that Laurie, Hall and Leary don't already have Emmy victories to their credit, despite turning in the kind of work each and every season (this one included) that cries out to be rewarded. And that's to take nothing away from two superb prior winners, Sutherland and Cranston, who've earned their place in the mix again.
What to do with the last slot? Top-flight contenders include "Mad Men'''s Jon Hamm, "True Blood'''s Stephen Moyer, "Lost'''s Matthew Fox and "Friday Night Lights'" Kyle Chandler. But this is a TV series award, and there's something to be said for recognizing the kind of performance that turns a new series into that genuine TV rarity, a smash hit. And that's the case to be made for Baker.
Lead actor, comedy
Jim Parsons, "The Big Bang Theory"
Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock"
Lee Pace, "Pushing Daisies "
Kyle Bornheimer, "Worst Week"
Johnny Galecki, "The Big Bang Theory"
James Roday, "Psych"
Every year, there's at least one actor whose omission from the nomination list would make the nominations meaningless. This year, it's Parsons.
How can you help but appreciate the skill and talent it takes to turn a character who could have been a one-note nerd into a fully formed comic creation, a person who is likable, annoying and touching all at once? The only way to miss it is if you've never seen it - and if you've never seen an episode of one of TV's most popular sitcoms on TV's most-watched network, you have no business voting for the Emmys.
While Parsons is laugh-out-loud funny, that shouldn't obscure the work being done by Galecki, who holds the show together. On the other hand, nothing hides Baldwin: When he's on screen "you can't look away, and you don't want to."
As for Pace and Bornheimer, they just have to hope people remember their shows and how good they were in them. Which leaves the sixth slot as a wild card: It would be nice to see Roday get some attention for "Psych", but an equally good case can be made for Zachary Levi of "Chuck" or David Duchovny of "Californication."
Of course realistically, one of these slots is likely to go to Steve Carell, which is fine - and to "Monk'''s Tony Shalhoub, which is less fine. He's a terrific actor, but the role and the show have become ridiculously broad, and the performance really has been honored enough.
Lead actress, comedy
Toni Collette, "United States of Tara"
Anna Friel, "Pushing Daisies"
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "Old Christine"
Tina Fey, "30 Rock"
Mary Louise Parker, "Weeds"
Kaley Cuoco, "Big Bang Theory"
Slowly but surely, this category is getting more crowded.
Granted, it's still not exactly robust, but it is getting better, thanks to additions like the remarkable Collette (who could be a contender in the drama field as well, if she chose). The show feels like a stunt; Collette's multi-layered performance never does.
Elsewhere, Fey had a star-rocketing year, so even if her "Rock" work was erratic, there's no way she misses this list. Louis-Dreyfus and Parker continue to shine on two of the few sitcoms actually built around a woman, while Cuoco has grabbed her share of the light on a sitcom built around men, making her character their comic equal. As for Friel, her optimism in the face of death could very well stand as the symbol of her show.
Want another choice among the missing? Consider "Samantha Who?'''s Christina Applegate, "Desperate Housewives'" Eva Longoria or "Ugly Betty'''s America Ferrera. Supporting actor, drama
Jesse Plemons, "Friday Night Lights"
Josh Holloway, "Lost"
Michael Emerson, "Lost"
John Noble, "Fringe"
John Scurti, "Rescue Me"
Aaron Paul, "Breaking Bad"
Choosing a few standouts among strong ensembles is always difficult, but Holloway, Emerson and Scurti have all had sterling seasons, as have Plemons and Paul. And Noble is one of the year's true breakout performers, which should make him one of the year's safest bets. I wouldn't mind seeing Patrick Dempsey voted in for his work in "Grey's Anatomy," either - but if you still feel the need to look elsewhere, look to the casts of "House", "True Blood", "Mad Men", "Rescue Me", "Lost" and "No. 1 Ladies."
Supporting actress, drama
Katherine Heigl, "Grey's Anatomy"
Chandra Wilson, "Grey's Anatomy"
Lisa Edelstein, "House"
Anika Noni Rose, "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency"
Connie Britton, "Friday Night Lights"
Cherry Jones, "24"
I know, Heigl and the Emmys always seems to cause trouble. But as silly as the story sometimes was, Heigl made it work, and that's what counts. Wilson and Edelstein are two of TV's top actors, as is Britton in a role that straddles the line between support and lead. And the TV world would have been a much lesser place this season had Jones and Rose not been a part of it. That does mean skipping Christina Hendricks ("Mad Men"), Rutina Wesley ("True Blood"), Sandra Oh ("Grey's Anatomy") and Elizabeth Mitchell ("Lost"). However you cut it, some tough choices will have to be made.
Supporting actress, comedy
Wanda Sykes, "The New Adventures of Old Christine"
Kristin Chenoweth, "Pushing Daisies "
Swoosie Kurtz, "Pushing Daisies"
Emily Rutherfurd, "The New Adventures of Old Christine"
Portia de Rossi, "Better Off Ted"
Nancy Lenehan, "Worst Week"
Sykes, Kurtz and Rutherfurd are reliably fabulous, and Chenoweth practically redefines "darling." But let's hope voters also notice two excellent under-the-radar turns: de Rossi, flinty and funny in the spring success "Ted", and the warmer but no less funny Lenehan in the fall flop "Week."
Supporting actor, comedy
Neil Patrick Harris, "How I Met Your Mother"
Jack McBrayer, "30 Rock"
Chi McBride, "Pushing Daisies"
Simon Helberg, "The Big Bang Theory"
Hamish Linklater, "The New Adventures of Old Christine"
Clark Gregg, "The New Adventures of Old Christine"
If you're looking for a general overall message to voters in the comedy categories, here it is: Look away from some of your rote-vote favorites, and look closer at "Big Bang" and "Old Christine."