Emmy-Worthy Comedy Guest Stars

Ray Richmond is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.

Saturday Night Live - Season 38Justin Timberlake
WHAT:  Host of NBC’s Saturday Night Live
WHEN: 3/9/13
WHY: Timberlake’s fifth stint as host of SNL memorably affords him entrance to the “Five-Timers Club” alongside such SNL legends as Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd, Tom Hanks and Alec Baldwin and showcases the effortless versatility that makes him terrifically good at everything, from straight comedy to self-parody to musical spoofs.
“Hi. I’m Ricky V.I.Penis. I do feminist porn because I know how to treat a lady right.”

WHAT:  Dave on ABC’s Modern Family (“Mistery Date”)
WHEN: 11/15/12
WHY: As a gay man whom Phil (Ty Burrell) meets at the gym and takes back to the house to watch a game, Broderick beautifully taps into the Modern Family wavelength with a performance that is at once underplayed and sensitively wrought. And of course, it doesn’t hurt that he has such a pro to play off of in Burrell.
“I’m just coming out of a longterm relationship, and I guess I’m still pretty fragile.”

30 Rock - Season 7Elaine Stritch
WHAT:  Colleen Donaghy on NBC’s 30 Rock (“My Whole Life Is Thunder”)
WHEN: 12/6/12
WHY: The shameless scene-stealer Stritch has already earned four nominations in the category for her portrayal of Jack’s (Alec Baldwin) mouthy, fatalistic mother—winning in 2007. And here, she perishes onscreen at age 87 while riding in a horse-drawn carriage through Central Park. It doesn’t get much better than that.
“I have a few things I want to say to you before I meet the Grim Reaper—who is black, 
I assume, what with the hoodies he wears.”

Parker Posey LouieParker Posey
WHAT:  Liz on FX’s Louie (“Daddy’s Girlfriend: Parts 1 and 2”)
WHEN: 7/19/12 and 7/26/12
WHY: Posey embodies perfect chemistry with star Louis C.K. as Liz, a manic, damaged, beguiling and clearly disturbed bookstore clerk whom Louie takes out on a fascinating date. She turns in the kind of performance that simply wouldn’t be nearly as good or affecting on a show with less creative freedom.
“You’re fat, and I have no tits. Let’s be honest.”

WHAT:  Sal on ABC’s Modern Family
(“Best Men”)
WHEN: 2/27/13
WHY: Party Gal Sal, Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cam’s (Eric Stonestreet) hard-partying best friend, is a reprise of a rousing role Banks played during the show’s first season. This time, she gets married, with Banks fully giving herself over to the moment in a lusty, sassy turn.
“If I’m playing board games on a Saturday night, you can shoot me in the cranium.”

Melissa McCarthy
WHAT:  Host of NBC’s Saturday Night Live
WHEN: 4/6/13
WHY: Few SNL hosts bring the sheer frenetic energy and brazen, do-anything spirit that McCarthy does. Her stint includes a memorably twisted sketch casting herself as an abusive women’s basketball coach and another as a hillbilly contestant on The Voice, among many others. All of that, and she has the courage to stagger onstage in outrageous 6-inch heels for her monologue.
“You know you’re in New York when it’s springtime and even the rats are sneezing.”

The Proton ResurgenceBob Newhart
WHAT:  Professor Proton on CBS’ The Big Bang Theory (“The Proton Resurgence”)
WHEN: 5/2/13
WHY: Newhart doesn’t appear a lot on series TV anymore, but the comedy legend makes an exception for this typically endearing, stammering, dryly witty performance as Prof. Proton, a onetime children’s entertainer and Sheldon’s (Jim Parsons) idol, who now is relegated to working the kiddie party circuit.
“I’m awake, right? This is happening?”

Will Arnett
WHAT:  Devon Banks on NBC’s 30 Rock (“Game Over”)
WHEN: 1/10/13
WHY: As Jack’s (Alec Baldwin) evil, scheming, two-timing arch-rival Devon Banks, Arnett is the essence of comic perfection, having already been nominated four previous times and gunning for number five in 30 Rock’s final season. Arnett is still looking for his first Emmy win. And it’s now or never.
“You’re the gay one. Wanting to be with a woman—how gay is that?”

What’s the Value of Winning an Emmy?

Ray Richmond is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.
When Homeland took home the three biggest drama series honors at last year’s Emmy Awards—for top drama as well as lead actor (Damian Lewis) and actress (Claire Danes)—it proved a watershed moment for Showtime after a couple of decades spent laboring in the awards-night shadow of HBO. “It meant that we had a claim on excellence,” confirms David Nevins, Showtime’s president of entertainment. “I mean, it’s always nice to be invited to the party. And for one night, it’s also nice to be king.”
But what does being king really mean in the Emmy context? It’s a question that has often been asked and perhaps never definitively answered. In the eight months since the Homeland gold rush, Nevins says that Showtime’s subscriber base has continued to grow, and the network’s credibility with the Hollywood creative community continues to soar. The win also helped raise Homeland’s profile during its second season, with Nevins noting that its viewership rose 25% year over year and grew to become the highest-rated series Showtime has ever had. “It’s made us a place to bring your best projects and best actors,” he finds. “It’s told the acting community that Showtime is where you can go to win awards and augment your career—even if you’re an established film actor.”
But in truth, the tangible impact of the Emmy triumphs is best measured over the long haul, Nevins believes. “It’s more of a slow-and-steady, building-of-the-brand thing rather than overnight,” he says. “We’re still hoping that the momentum halo from the wins spreads through the rest of our schedule.”
To a film or individual, the value of winning an Oscar, or even just earning an Oscar nomination, is generally undisputed. More often than not, it’s a career-maker that elevates one into rarefied air that typically translates into money at the boxoffice and beyond. The value of an Emmy Award? Not quite so clear. It affixes a seal of quality onto a person or project, to be sure. But that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a bounce beyond Emmy Night itself.
Consider the case of Arrested Development, which returned May 26 with 15 brand new episodes on Netflix, but enjoyed a woefully short life on Fox in the decade before. It was the toast of the industry in winning five Emmys in 2004, including for outstanding comedy series. But the honors did little to boost the show’s ratings, and it was gone by 2006.
Actor Alec Baldwin from the TV show "30Then there is the example of NBC’s 30 Rock. Like Arrested Development, it won numerous Emmys its first season, including for top comedy. And it too found that Emmys don’t necessarily translate into viewership, retaining a small cult following rather than a mass one. Yet the Tina Fey-Alec Baldwin comedy just left the air this year on its own terms after seven seasons. One of the show’s exec producers and showrunners, Robert Carlock, believes, “That first Emmy might have kept us on the air for seven years. I have to think that it definitely made it harder for NBC to cancel us.”
It also couldn’t have hurt that NBC didn’t have many ratings juggernauts on its schedule during those years, or that 30 Rock would go on to earn 14 Emmy statuettes in its first three years (including three straight best comedy series honors). “All of those Emmys, for the show and for Tina and for Alec, certainly helped make it a signature show for NBC,” agrees Richard Licata, the network’s exec vp of communications and a veteran of Emmy campaigns going back a quarter-century.
Licata doesn’t necessarily think it’s so much the winning as the campaigning for Emmys that ultimately bears the greatest value, as he has found in mounting campaigns for HBO, Fox, FX, Showtime and NBC over the years. “The campaigning itself is a great branding opportunity for a network or for an actor,” Licata says. “I think as the TV landscape becomes so voluminous, it has great value in casting a spotlight. And then when you win, as a performer, it certainly translates into thousands of new Twitter and Instagram and Facebook followers.”
The significance of Emmy attention on a cable network’s embryonic original production output likewise can’t be minimized, Licata explains. He was helping out on the campaign for The Shield back in 2002, in the early days of FX’s foray into homegrown drama programming. When star Michael Chiklis won that year for lead actor in a drama, Licata remembers, “It really put FX on the map and served notice that it was in the game. The same went for USA Network when Tony Shalhoub won for Monk. The Emmy attention itself helps turn series into signature shows.”
Charlie Collier, president and general manager at AMC, has witnessed the phenomenon firsthand. His network was mostly populated by theatrical acquisitions until it ramped up its original series production, gaining immediate Emmy traction beginning in 2008 with the likes of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Killing and The Walking Dead. The goal from the beginning, he says, was to “create iconic series that could stand side by side with some of the greatest films of all time.”

Breaking Bad’s acting Emmy wins helped establish AMC as a place for viewers to find groundbreaking storytelling.
Breaking Bad’s acting Emmy wins helped establish AMC as a place for viewers to find groundbreaking storytelling.

All of the Emmy attention that AMC’s series has received—including four straight top drama series wins for Mad Men and a combined five triumphs for Breaking Bad regulars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul—has been “great for our brand in a number of ways,” Collier confirms. “It’s been a real calling card with the creative community. They’ve seen that we’ll invest in projects of quality and take creative risks in terms of storytelling and casting. The Emmys have done a lot to draw attention to that.”
Few series in Emmy history have generated more nominations for a more diverse number of performers than has NBC’s Law & Order: SVU in its first 13 seasons of eligibility. It has earned noms for 18 different performers, from leads Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni to a rich roster of guest stars including Robin Williams, Carol Burnett, Angela Lansbury and Marcia Gay Harden—plus wins for Hargitay (2006), Amanda Plummer (2005), Leslie Caron (2007), Cynthia Nixon (2008), Ellen Burstyn (2009) and Ann-Margret (2010). If it was stunt-casting designed to get Emmys, it worked.
But longtime Law & Order: SVU exec producer Neal Baer, who is now heading up the CBS summertime drama Under the Dome that premieres June 24, believes that the show’s Emmy attention that began with a nomination for Hargitay in 2004 was responsible in part for attracting big-name guest stars to SVU. “I think it was kind of a pronouncement that we did something right,” Baer maintains. “Once word got around that we were this Emmy-quality show, we started to have access to the best stars around. We got a lot of people who won’t typically do TV. And I think it was all of the Emmy buzz we got on ER that led to a movie star like Sally Field to do our show.”
While it’s difficult to find a direct link between winning an Emmy and financial gain for an individual, it’s perhaps easier to assess a win’s impact on a series. If an Emmy helps a series to stay on the air, it leads to packaging and releasing full-season DVDs. “And the longer a series stays on the air,” Licata points out, “the longer you can package DVDs and make that money. It also helps lead to international sales.”
Of course, writers or performers involved in an Emmy victory don’t necessarily see a lot of that money. Cary Hoffman is a personal manager for two clients who have won Emmys: Mike Royce, who earned a pair of trophies (in 2003 and 2005) as producer on Everybody Loves Raymond; and Rules of Engagement creator Tom Hertz, who won as a member of the writing staff of Dennis Miller Live in 1996. “The Emmy is definitely worth more to a show than it is to the individual,” Hoffman finds. “The network or studio can bill something going forward as ‘an Emmy-winning show.’ But I’m not sure it carries the same weight to be an ‘Emmy-winning writer’ or ‘Emmy-winning producer.’”
But the value of an Emmy is often more about building overall brand cachet rather than quantifiable return. One documentary producer who has worked with HBO stresses that the network uses its doc unit specifically for brand support “because it’s not a profit center.”
Yet even if a series tanks after receiving so much Emmy love, as Arrested Development did, perhaps the show wouldn’t have been reborn this year on Netflix had the awards not helped draw attention its way nine years ago. As one writer observes, “A lot of great shows simply disappear because the audience didn’t embrace them. So maybe all of those Emmys helped to buy Arrested Development one improbable rebirth. That, and of course all of the rabid fans who have never been able to let the show go.”

Chuck Lorre’s Go-To Warmup Comic, Mark Sweet

Paul Brownfield is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.

In his job, Mark Sweet prefers to work hungry, skipping dinner. He doesn’t drink coffee. If he needs to use the bathroom, that’s around Page 20.
On workdays, Sweet leaves his Bel Air home by 2:30, hours before he really starts work. But he is a man who likes to know what the future holds, including traffic.
Tuesday night he’s at The Big Bang Theory, Wednesday at Mike & Molly, Friday night at Two and a Half Men. These are all Chuck Lorre sitcom tentpoles for CBS, and Sweet is the warmup comic at each. He has occupied this particular pocket of the comedy industry for almost 30 years. It takes a certain kind of person, a certain kind of comic, to do it. Most performers don’t like to be interrupted during their routines by a director.
“The art of this thing is being able to stop on a dime,” Sweet says. “So when they go, ‘Here we go,’ and then they’re ready to go, 
I need to stop.”
But it’s not always about keeping the house amped. Early on, Sweet noticed people were coming to tapings of The Big Bang Theory dressed in homemade T-shirts and lab coats. So he started bringing people up to talk about what the show means to them.
“It seems to give these people hope, and a second chance and optimism,” Sweet says of Big Bang Theory. “I’m telling you, it makes them happy.”
Sweet initially got pulled into doing audience warmup by friends in the entertainment business. His first two shows were Coach and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show—one a broad network sitcom, the other an idiosyncratic cable experiment. The Coach audience members were plucked from the Universal Studios tour. Barry Kemp, the show’s creator, whipped through two different tapings of the same episode, an early and late show.
Shandling taped at Sunset and Gower. The first four rows were industry. The rows behind them might have been filled by people from a nearby drug rehab. While Sweet burned through material, Shandling and his cocreator, Alan Zweibel, huddled. It taught Sweet how to ration his bits and keep an audience in the game.
Sweet boasts of having warmed up audiences for more than 4,000 episodes of situation comedies. He did the last episode of Cheers, the last Roseanne, and the first Everybody Loves Raymond taping after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
They know him well in the Chuck Lorre family. This is why, when they’re ready to roll again, the director will give Sweet an extra 15 or 30 seconds to finish whatever gag he’s doing. “It just keeps that laugh rolling into their material,” Sweet says.

Chelsea Lately Serves as Launch Pad For Comics

Paul Brownfield is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.

It went roughly like this, says comedian Jen Kirkman: She had this idea for a book about the struggle not to have children. She told her agent about it. The agent told an editor at Simon & Schuster. The editor was familiar with Kirkman from her regular panel appearances on Chelsea Lately, Chelsea Handler’s dishy late-night talk show on E!, where Kirkman is also one of the show’s writers.
Kirkman got a book deal. That book, I Can Barely 
Take Care of Myself, recently debuted on The New York
Times Best Seller List. It has drawn favorable reviews,
and Kirkman is proud of it. She also harbors no illusions about the push the book got from Handler’s seal of approval, just as she knows the value in being on Handler’s panel every other week.
“There’s nowhere else where your comedic persona is getting exposed a few times a month for years on TV,” Kirkman says.
For comedians, the Chelsea Handler Effect flies in the face of the last several decades in late-night television. Comedians are still introduced to the nation on Conan, or trotted out as panelists on shows like The Burn With Jeff Ross on Comedy Central.
But the implied gravitas of Johnny Carson giving the thumbs-up to a young Drew Carey or Jerry Seinfeld or Roseanne Barr is long gone from television. So too is the loose and improvisatory atmosphere where mismatched celebrity guests comingled on Carson’s set.
“I think the Carson thing people say because there’s this anointing that goes on that doesn’t go on if your standup is just featured on Comedy Central,” Kirkman says.
Kirkman, who started in standup in 1997 and has been part of the Comedians of Chelsea Lately comedy tour, analyzes the audience response this way: “Just by having you on and interacting with you they think of you as Chelsea’s friend—then they like you. So they come to see you. They might not know what your material is as a standup, but they’ve bought into the cult of you because of the cult of Chelsea’s personality.”
Kirkman’s book was done through Simon & Schuster, as was fellow regular Heather McDonald’s You’ll Never Blue Ball in This Town Again and Sarah Colonna’s Life As I Blow It. Josh Wolf (It Takes Balls) and Ross Mathews (Man Up!: Tales of My Delusional Self-Confidence) hatched their books through Handler’s Borderline Amazing publishing brand.
Mathews also has a new E! show, HelloRoss, through Handler’s production company.
“We’re all tweeting about each other’s books,” Mathews says. “That all stems from her vibe of ‘Everyone can win.’ I’ve heard her say that there’s room for everyone.”
In that sense, Handler, seems less like Carson and more like Oprah’s blonde Mini-Me.

Emmys Q&A: Jake Johnson

Michael Ausiello is founder and editor in chief of TVLine. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.

Jake Johnson took Emmy watchers by surprise earlier this year when the New Girl actor elected to exit the supporting actor category in favor of the coveted, competitive lead race (pitting him against such awards heavyweights as Alec Baldwin, Jim Parsons and Jon Cryer). But upon closer inspection, the move was something of a no-brainer. The burgeoning relationship between Johnson’s Nick and Zooey Deschanel’s Jess was the driving force behind the Fox comedy’s stellar second season, and it cemented the actor’s status as a bonafide romantic leading man. In a recent conversation, the 34-year-old Chicago native talks about entering the lead-actor Emmy race, opens up about butting heads with series creator Elizabeth Meriwether, and votes for his favorite Season 2 episode.

Creatively speaking, New Girl managed to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Why do you think that was?
It’s (due to) our writers. I think it got funnier in Season 2, crazier and also more grounded. I didn’t know who my character was at all in the first season. And I would tell that to Liz. I’d be at a table read looking at the script, and I’d go, “So, now Nick does this.” And she’d be like, “Just say the lines; it makes sense.” And when I came back for Season 2, not only did I think Nick was very clear on the page, I thought all of the characters were. I think Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Jess (Zooey Deschanel) were very clear in Season 1. And this season I think Nick is. I think Winston (Lamorne Morris) is. I think Cece (Hannah Simone) is. I think the whole show works in a much better way.

Are you relieved Liz didn’t drag out the Nick-Jess romance for six seasons like a lot of other shows would have?
I am. I didn’t want to wait. Because the way I’ve been playing Nick from the pilot was he has feelings for her. To deny that over and over for years—it just didn’t feel as honest. I don’t know if they’re going to (end up) together or not. I don’t think Liz knows. But at least (we’re) being honest about, yes, these two people live together, there’s chemistry… things are gonna happen.

Why did you decide to enter the lead actor race?
Truthfully, Max Greenfield and I were talking about it one day, and he said, “You should consider going out for lead.” And I thought, well, I’m not really the lead. Zooey’s the lead. And he goes, “No, the Nick-Jess (dynamic) is really like (the center of the show).” And we had a big conversation in our trailer about it. And I thought it was interesting, so I threw the idea out to my publicist and we all talked about it, and we all thought it was kind of a fun move.

Should you find yourself with a nomination, do you know which episode you submit?
The “Menzies” episode where Nick (meets serenity guru) Tran, but it’s more silly-ridiculous. I like the funeral episode because it shows the emotional side of Nick. But if I were to pick right now, it would probably be the “Cooler” episode. The one where Nick and Jess have their first kiss.

Are you one of those actors who grew up watching the Emmys? Would a nomination be a dream come true?
It would be an honor come true. Growing up, I remember hearing how certain actors had these accolades in front of their names like, “Three-time Emmy nominee so-and-so,” and I’d be like, “Whoa, that guy must be a very serious actor.” I never imagined one of them being in front of my name as an actor. It would be an honor.

Is there an actor whose career you would like to emulate?
It’s tricky because I’ve already done things that I don’t think they do. Like, I think Mark Ruffalo and Sam Rockwell are very interesting actors, and I really like what they do. But I don’t think I can imagine either of them in the hot tub with Tran. (Laughs.)

Emmys Q&A: Mitch Hurwitz

Paul Brownfield is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.

On May 26 at 12:01 a.m., 15 new episodes of Arrested Development went live on Netflix; probably, by 5 a.m., the series’ legions of fans had exhausted the new supply. The cancellation of Arrested by Fox in 2006, after two seasons, prompted an afterlife of rumors and almost-announcements, as series creator Mitch Hurwitz worked on a feature script of his cult series. Like the fans, Hurwitz didn’t want to let go of his extended band of crazies, the Bluths, either. And then Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, suggested resurrecting the show to Imagine Entertainment’s Ron Howard. “And Ron said, ‘That’s a very nice thought, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen,’” Hurwitz explains. Except it did happen.

How different was the process in working with Netflix?
I wasn’t turning scripts in, because of the nature of the thing. We weren’t shooting one a week. We’d shoot pieces of eight different episodes in any given week. We were shooting 12, 14 pages a day, shooting like crazy.  We screened it at the premiere—it was the first time an audience had seen it, but it was also the first time I’d seen two (episodes) in a row. I’d just been making them and putting them in the pipeline. And I guess that’s the case usually with television. The difference with this one, though, is that it’s all coming out on the same day.  And it will be viewed by some as an eight-hour movie.

Would you have preferred that Netflix do a more gradual roll-out?
I was kind of advocating for a while, how about five a week? And they said, “No, our brand is, we don’t want to chase the traditional things. We don’t chase opening weekends. We want to provide content when people want it, how they want it. We’re a supermarket, not a restaurant.” They didn’t say that, but it’s kind of like that, you know?

Do you care how the episodes are viewed, whether in one sitting or not?
The one thing I really, really, really care about, and it’s just for (the fans’) enjoyment, is that they have to be watched in order. A lot of press got out saying, “Oh, you can watch them in any order.” That was kind of an ambition of mine, and I quickly discovered that the human brain doesn’t work that way. We like stories to have beginnings, middles and ends. It was ambitious, and you try to learn as you go. And what I realized is, particularly with jokes, punchlines are funnier coming after setups. That’s a lot of what we’re doing.

At one point, Showtime was going to resurrect Arrested Development.
What was presented to me was, it’s going to be half the cast, half the fees, half the license fee. At that point it really didn’t make sense to do it. Showtime was great, (but) they didn’t want to spend as much money as we’d spent at Fox, which would have meant paring down the cast and doing a smaller show. And I had never wanted to do that. That had been a longtime struggle, to simplify the show. Not necessarily lose cast members, but, do you have to have a story for every character in every show? I liked the idea of this family all being intertwined.

How was it different writing to a cult audience for a streaming series versus having to worry about ratings on a broadcast or cable network?
Comedy is about an audience. I’ve been working on this for a long time now, so I really had time to go through a lot of the range of what I think people want, the ways in which I want to defy expectation, the ways in which I want to undermine expectation, or reward it. But ultimately it’s all through the filter of my own creativity, obviously. It definitely isn’t pandering. In fact, I did go out of my way to not do the greatest hits. There are some notable absences. But I wouldn’t have done that had I not thought there was a future to this. I have places for things down the road.

Once you got the initial greenlight to create new episodes, did you go out and hire writers?
Because this was still speculative, we did not have the actors’ names on the dotted line. Not because the actors were being recalcitrant or anything, but because they had schedules. They couldn’t just say, “Sure, use me two weeks whenever you want.” Three of my longtime colleagues I brought in: Jim Vallely, Dean Lorey and Richie Rosenstock. I was able to get them to be full-time players, although they still weren’t paid like they would be on a normal show. They had to take a risk too. Then the other people we got as weeklies, and they left. I mean, because we weren’t able to pay competitively what, you know, Community would pay, which is a known quantity, I’d get some of these guys for three weeks and they’d leave. That’s why you see endless names on the credits. Because everybody was there for three weeks and left. (Laughs.) Which almost became harder. I’d have to spend two days just explaining it every time a new writer would come in.

Emmys Q&A: Allison Williams

Michael Slezak is senior editor of TVLine and an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.

You know those people who brag about not having a television? Girls’ Allison Williams has a handy response for ’em. “I always say very dryly and very honestly, ‘You should invest in one. I’m not even saying you would necessarily like our show. But TV is so good right now.’”
Williams’ awareness of the number of great performances under consideration this Emmy season makes it all the more “exciting and unbelievable” when her name gets floated as a possible contender for supporting actress. And while she’s quick to credit Girls creator and star Lena Dunham—as well as the show’s writers, directors and hair and makeup staff—for helping her bring to life the rudderless Marnie Michaels, Williams admits that “it’s a really fun challenge to play someone who seems to have it all together and yet has this anxiety bubbling beneath the surface. It’s an anxiety she isn’t necessarily aware of herself.”

How did you view Marnie’s season journey overall?
It was really hard. I really feel for her. We are certainly different, but we have enough in common that I look at her and I root for her and I want the best for her. I wish for her that she had something that she was passionate about so that in moments where everything else seems to be unraveling, she could turn to those things that she really truly loves and believes in. But that seems to be another thing that she’s lacking.

One of the more shocking moments of the season was when artist Booth Jonathan (Jorma Taccone) takes Marnie home from her hostessing job and locks her inside his art installation—a tiny box with walls made of TV sets—and later has sex with her. How do you approach a scene like that?  
The scenes of her crawling into and out of the booth were shot about two months prior to the scene inside the booth—just a little fun fact. The craziest thing about that latter scene was how those old-school TV sets emit quite a bit of static, and that sound is unmistakable. And of course, those images on the screens were just gross. But I’m the kind of person that has to fast-forward parts of True Blood. I get easily queasy.
Anyhow, we shot Marnie’s emergence (from the box) in so many different ways. There was one where I came out and sprinted away. There was a version where he kissed me afterward. But I loved that the one they chose was where Marnie is like, “What the fuck?” You know, total PTSD, and then she says, “You’re so fucking brilliant.” I don’t know if she really means that. She just knows that that’s what she’s supposed to think. She values his perspective on the world because he takes her down, and Marnie has always had this perverse love of people like that.

I loved the scene after Marnie realizes she’s not Booth’s girlfriend, just his paid assistant. We see her bravely lying to Hannah (Lena Dunham) on the phone that everything is perfect and happy.
One of the reasons that scene was heartbreaking was that Marnie is wearing the skeleton of this (expensive) dress that she had bought to impress Booth. She realizes how silly it is, and she’s completely stripped of her dignity. It was really hard to shoot that moment, and it was hard to watch.
We also have to dish the scene where Marnie goes to see her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Christopher Abbott) at a work party celebrating his huge success. I loved every post-relationship interaction that Charlie and Marnie had. Those scenes were the most fun for me because if I haven’t been in that situation, my best friends have been in that situation where you’re out of a relationship yet you still want that person in your orbit. It’s not even necessarily a narcissistic thing; it’s just human that you want to be sure that that person is thinking about you, consumed by you. So all of those scenes to me were about that. She’s standing there outside the bathroom and suddenly jabbing Audrey (Gelman), just so subtly while simultaneously trying to make herself seem really cool and nice and understanding. Charlie sees straight through it for most of the party.

She grabs the mic to give the most oblivious performance of Kanye West’s “Stronger.” How did that scene come to such vivid, awkward life?
I knew I had to sing it decently, but not as if I were performing at Carnegie Hall. And what ended up in the episode was recorded live in the moment. It’s not like I recorded it in the studio and then lip-synced it on set. So it was as agonizing as you’d imagine, except I was wearing an earwig, which means I was the only person there who could hear the (music) track. All of those extras who were standing there for every single take, they could only hear my voice a cappella. The looks on their faces were very organic. Anytime I hear (the song) now, I just have this Pavlovian response: Music, blush, embarrassment.

Comedy Race Handicap

Michael Ausiello is founder and editor in chief of TVLine and an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.
The gap between Modern Family and the rest of the Emmy comedy field has been so wide that even an imperfect third season landed the ABC family comedy a third consecutive best series win last year. But Modern Family is wrapping another uneven season, and with its ratings slipping and challengers gaining on it, a fourth statuette is far from guaranteed.
HBO’s Girls is coming off a Golden Globe win, there’s a growing sentiment that CBS’ Nielsen juggernaut The Big Bang Theory is past due to be recognized, and former best comedy series Emmy winner Arrested Development is back. Will Modern Family’s winning streak come to an end this year? Here’s our assessment of the show’s chances, as well as the rest of the contenders.

It's tough for a series to earn an Emmy in its final season.
It’s tough for a series to earn an Emmy in its final season.

An air of “been there, awarded that” might surround Tina Fey’s NBC comedy—it has won three times, after all. But in its seventh and final season, it went out on a high note creatively. And, considering this is Emmy’s last chance to give it a back slap, it can’t—or shouldn’t—be counted out. So its series nomination is a relatively safe bet (as are nominations for one-time lead actress victor Fey and two-time lead actor winner Alec Baldwin).
In the same way that Netflix’s House of Cards is shaking up the drama race, the subscriber service’s resurrected Fox favorite was initially poised to set the comedy derby on its ear. (HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm is ineligible to be nominated this year, so there’s even an open slot.) But reviews have been lukewarm at best, suggesting a best comedy nom is no longer a foregone conclusion. The show’s cast might stand a better chance. At one time or another during the show’s three-season network run, Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Jeffrey Tambor and the sublime Jessica Walter were all recognized with noms, but none of them ever took home the gold.

The Big Bang Theory is riding high creatively and in ratings.
The Big Bang Theory is riding high creatively and in ratings.
A best comedy nomination is long overdue for Louis C.K.’s FX series.

If the CBS smash was only TV’s top-rated comedy or if it was only firing on all cylinders creatively, it would stand a good chance of taking the Emmy away from Modern Family. But its numbers are through the roof and it’s as funny (and touching) as ever, which means the two-time contender actually stands a great chance of coming out on top. Johnny Galecki might even manage to rejoin two-time lead actor winner Jim Parsons among the nominees. (If there’s any justice, so will the underrated Simon Helberg, if only for the sweet episode in which Wolowitz sorta learns the contents of a letter sent to him years earlier by his father.)
You could argue that this show belongs on our list of longshots, rather than on this list. But the HBO underperformer had a huge fan base among Hollywood types—exactly the sort who are Emmy voters. So, although even cocreators Laura Dern and Mike White weren’t recognized last year, they actually do stand a chance this year. After all, is anything better than a nomination to say, “We’re sorry you got canceled!”?
After its much-debated freshman season, Lena Dunham’s HBO series came close to claiming the comedy Emmy from Modern Family. Now, coming off a pair of Golden Globe wins and a second season that was just as controversial as the first, the show seems even better positioned to pull off an upset. Whether or not it does, another nom for both the series and its star-writer-director is assured. Of the supporting cast, Adam Driver, who plays sensitive Neanderthal Adam, seems likeliest to be nominated.
Emmy-wise, the Fox musical has sung its swan song: After being nominated in 2010 and 2011, the series didn’t make the cut last year (and didn’t earn a Golden Globe nom this year, either). Emmy voters seem to have moved on.
Nominated for lead actor in 2012—and having just won the Golden Globe—Don Cheadle is a shoo-in for a nom. As for the show itself, the racy Showtime comedy has yet to land a major best series nomination.
Solid as the CBS sleeper might be, the field is too crowded for it to break back into the race. (It was only nominated once, in 2009.) Even Mr. Popularity, Neil Patrick Harris, hasn’t been given a nom since 2010.
In the wake of Louis C.K.’s writing win last year—and his nominations for lead actor and director—his FX series stands a fair chance of getting a long overdue first best series nomination. If not, it will have to wait two years for another shot because C.K. is taking extra time between seasons. Nevertheless, the comedian himself is sure to be among the contenders (and probably in multiple categories).
At best, CBS’ full-figured romcom has a slim chance of eking out a nod. But its movie-star leading lady, Melissa McCarthy—2011’s surprise lead actress winner and a nominee again last year—is assured another nom.
It’s probably too early for Fox’s freshman romcom to see any love from Emmy. Its creator, Mindy Kaling, however, is familiar enough—and sharp enough—that she could end up with a lead actress nod.

Modern Family is the reigning Emmy champ in comedy.
Modern Family is the reigning Emmy champ in comedy.

Though the ABC comedy’s numbers aren’t quite as strong as they once were—and buzz about the show has quieted to a faint murmur—it’s still a lock for a fourth consecutive nom. A fourth win, on the other hand, isn’t a sure thing—especially with The Big Bang Theory enjoying one of its most successful (in every way) seasons, Emmy darling 30 Rock taking a victory lap and Girls being on such a roll. Maybe two-time nominee Ed O’Neill will finally take home his well-deserved golden girl.
Having lost none of their sparkle in this Fox romcom’s second season, “adorkable” Zooey Deschanel and Max Greenfield are safe bets to be nominated again for lead actress and supporting actor, respectively. And, in addition to Jake Johnson—trying his luck in the lead actor category—the show itself could grab that open Curb Your Enthusiasm slot and slip a New face into the comedy race.
Pass the painkillers, because Edie Falco’s Showtime series has no shot at a nomination. (In fact, looking at its chart, it hasn’t been in the running since 2010.) If the show gets recognized at all, it’ll almost certainly be through a nom for its star.
The longrunning workplace comedy hasn’t received a single nomination since Steve Carell’s 2011 exit, so it would be an understatement to call the show a dark horse for its final season. If Emmy is ever again going to recognize its 2006 comedy winner, it’s now or never.
In spite of glowing reviews, Amy Poehler’s small-town political comedy will have to pull off an upset to get back into the comedy series race. (It’s only received a nom once, in 2011.) A more likely scenario is that this will finally be the year that the show’s thrice-nominated leading lady takes home a statuette. Maybe Nick Offerman will even sneak into the supporting contest by a (mustache) hair.
Given the mixed critical response to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ HBO comedy, it was a surprise that the show landed a nomination in 2012. It is questionable whether Veep will be able to pull that off again, but Louis-Dreyfus, whose performance has been universally praised, is fully expected to repeat as a nominee after snagging the Emmy (her third, having also won for Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine) last year.

LONG SHOTS: Ben and Kate, Californication, Community, Cougar Town, Episodes, Happy Endings, The Middle, Raising Hope, Suburgatory, Two and a Half Men, Weeds.

Andy Patrick contributed to this report.

Downton Abbey Creator Julian Fellowes Reveals Lessons of the Business

Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 5 issue of AwardsLine.
On giving advice
In a way, I always think advice is rather impertinent really, because I’m not aware of knowing anything that anyone else doesn’t. I suppose the only thing I would say to young writers is if you want to do these courses and read these books, just remember that the element that gets you started is the one thing that everyone else has not got. In a way, they are teaching you to do it like everyone else did. I didn’t do any of that.
On receiving advice
The best advice I had as an actor was from (Anthony) Hopkins. He said to me, “You are thinking like a stage actor. You are coming to a day’s work imagining there is going to be rehearsal. Working on camera, you must conduct your own rehearsal process before you get anywhere near making the show. You need to have made all the thinking processes by the time you arrive to shoot it. If you turn up as if it was the first day of rehearsal, with only loose ideas of what you are going to do, you’ll throw the part away.”
On learning from mistakes
When I was working on a script quite early on, I wasn’t officially the writer, and I wasn’t really being paid. The only way I could get any kind of salary—which was, believe me, at that time a necessary element—was if I wrote a part for myself. But I was also coproducing and responsible for the script and so on. I couldn’t get both hats on my head at the same time. And I’ve always been grateful for that, (particularly) when people would say, “Why didn’t you write yourself into Gosford Park? Why didn’t you write yourself into Downton Abbey?” I’ve never been tempted to do it because I did it, and it didn’t work for me.
On the big break
My first big break was to get a play on the West End when I was in rep and I was almost definitively unfashionable. I just happened to show up for an audition for a part and they couldn’t cast it. It was the part of an American diplomat. I could do an American accent—at least I could then—and I went into a play with Hayley Mills called A Touch of Spring. Then I went to audition with Danny Boyle for (the 1991 TV show) For the Greater Good. I’d had a really bad year, very slim pickings. I read the script, and I thought they had made a mistake. (I thought), they can’t mean this part for me, because it was one of the leads. I suddenly realized: The person who is keeping you out of leading parts is you. When you have a bad stretch, you start to think of yourself as a bit player because that’s all you’re getting. You have to believe in yourself as a leading player always. And then I guess my big break came in writing when I was asked to write Gosford Park. My very first film ended up winning an Oscar.
On the keys to success
I don’t think you make your own luck. Successful people recognize their luck, which sometimes comes in disguise. Anyone who is perceived as very successful who says luck played no part in it is lying. How lucky was I with Gosford Park? All the writers they admired, none of them would do it. They all turned it down—otherwise you’d be talking to Tom Stoppard right now.

Final-Season Series Have Uphill Emmy Battle

Ray Richmond is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 5 issue of AwardsLine.

A couple of longrunning NBC comedies—30 Rock and The Office—will be attempting a rare feat when they celebrate their Emmy swan songs this year. They’ll be trying to win a top series award in their final season. Both have tasted victory in the outstanding comedy series race before, The Office taking the prize in 2006 and Rock in 2007, ’08 and ’09. But winning as a last hurrah is a whole other ballgame, though it’s happened four times before: The Mary Tyler Moore Show snared the comedy series prize in 1977; Barney Miller took it in 1982; Everybody Loves Raymond carted off the comedy trophy in 2005; and The Sopranos earned the top drama series statuette in 2007.
Many other longrunning series have tried to generate Emmy love in their last year. A few, like Seinfeld, have even been favored. (Seinfeld lost in its final season in 1998 to Frasier, which earned its fifth statuette in a row.) But most series fail to cart off the gold amid the perception that their best days are behind them, whether accurate or not. As one Emmy-winning producer says, “By the time a show is in its final season, it’s no longer considered fresh or cool, and voters much prefer to reward the hot new thing. It’s just human nature.”
Given this assessment, 30 Rock executive producer Robert Carlock—himself a three-time Emmy winner—admits to having no expectation of winning this year. 
“But I know what I need to do to make it happen,” he adds. “Every time I won, my son made me carry his C-3PO figurine with me. Every time we lost, I forgot 
to bring it. So I think I’ll take it again this year.”

Big Bang Theory’s Science Guy

Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 5 issue of AwardsLine.

Undergrads from UCLA’s Honors Physics 1B (who take this class because ordinary physics just isn’t difficult enough) were in for a surprise when they took a field trip to Warner Bros. Studios to be part of the live studio audience for CBS’ The Big Bang Theory.
The set always features whiteboards marked up with dizzyingly complex equations. And it took a while for any student to notice that today’s equations were the solutions for the midterm exam they’d taken earlier that day.
As Big Bang physicist Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) might say: Bazinga!
This visual gag was a lot like the continual pranks of Sheldon and his geeky pals on the show. But the man behind this in-joke was their professor, particle astrophysicist David Saltzberg, who also serves as science adviser on Big Bang. He’s the guy who happily fills in the blanks in the scripts marked: [SCIENCE TO COME].
He also comes up with the whiteboard material. When not pranking a group of students, Saltzberg’s whiteboards are usually related to the script. Most recently, per a discussion between Sheldon and Leonard (Johnny Galecki), the whiteboard dealt with unruh radiation.
Uh, you might want to Google that. In fact, Saltzberg is hoping you will. Drop a scientific term into a top-rated sitcom and a significant sample of the audience will grab their mobile devices to learn more about the Higgs Boson, Quantum Brain Dynamic Theory or the Large Hadron Collider. “We might just mention ‘dark matter’—there isn’t a Nova-style lecture, but the word gets out there,” he says.
Saltzberg hopes Big Bang can help a general audience fall in love with science. And, he adds: “People are really wearing the geek moniker now as a badge of honor. I was wearing a T-shirt yesterday at the gym that said ‘Geek Inside.’ And some guy came by who was very fit and said, ‘I want that T-shirt. That’s me.’”
Saltzberg says virtually every science professor in range of Hollywood gets tapped to check a script or two. Usually, this involves a few pages and a phone call. In contrast, Saltzberg reads every script and attends every taping—unless he’s, say, in Antarctica using scientific balloons to study neutrinos as they hit the ice sheet (he still manages to send whiteboard material to Burbank from the South Pole).
Saltzberg notes that much of the science comes from the writers, many of whom fit the geek mode themselves. Show cocreator Bill Prady, for example, is a computer programmer. “They think science is important, and it shows,” Saltzberg says.
Executive producer Steven Molaro says Saltzberg’s advice does more than prevent scientists from sending hate email. Choosing just the right bit of science can elevate the story. Molaro fondly recalls a scene in which Leonard’s nonscientist girlfriend, Penny (Kaley Cuoco), wants to work on their relationship by coming to the lab to observe Leonard at work. Saltzberg suggested that Leonard make science visual with a dancing hologram. “It was a moody and beautiful scene,” Molaro says. “It wasn’t just science, it was the poetry of science. I remember how Kaley started to tear up when she said, ‘Sometimes I forget how smart you are.’”
To each taping, Saltzberg brings a guest fondly known as “the Geek of the Week.” His plus-ones range from undergrads to Nobel Prize winners. “Most recently, we had the science consultant from Breaking Bad, Dr. Donna Nelson from the University of Oklahoma. I was really loving the way they were getting the science right in Breaking Bad, so I invited her out,” Saltzberg says.
Saltzberg’s favorite shows include Breaking Bad, MythBusters and Jersey Shore. Well, maybe “favorite” is too strong for Jersey, but as a Jersey boy himself, Saltzberg jokes that if the producers ever need a science adviser, he’s available. (Seriously, though, he says he plans to retire from advising after the high of being part of Big Bang.)
He’s also come to respect comedy writing, which is a lot like the physics lab. “Comedy is an experimental or empirical enterprise, just like science,” he says. “People laugh or they don’t. You have theories on why things should work in a certain way, but you ultimately can’t disagree with the measurements.”
Cast member Mayim Bialik, who plays Sheldon’s gal pal Amy Farrah Fowler and holds a neuroscience Ph.D. from UCLA, says, “It’s very difficult for someone to exist and coexist as well as he does with a bunch of industry people. We’ve had some really total nerdball conversations about the nature of existence, physics versus neuroscience, just like Sheldon and Amy.”
When asked if he places physics at the top of the intellectual heap among the sciences like Sheldon does, Saltzberg deadpans, “He only speaks the truth. When I teach introductory physics, that’s what I teach them. It’s my class. I get to say what I want.”

Why We Love Emmy Season

This story appeared in the June 5 issue of AwardsLine.

Though campaigning and jockeying might be tough on talent, AwardsLine can’t resist the lure of the Emmys. Here are a few reasons we keep coming back for more.

The Americans follows two Soviet spies living in the US during the Cold War.
The Americans follows two Soviet spies living in the US during the Cold War.

Reason No. 1: Because politics isn’t reserved for behind-the-scenes drama.

Where once there were nothing but doctors, lawyers and cops, the primetime television landscape seems to have swung open its doors to welcome ruthless politicians, a Secretary of State, a Vice President, spies, CIA operatives, even (gasp) television journalists.
Yes, the politicizing of the dial is in full bloom during an Emmy season that doesn’t even fall during a national election. The contenders this year include the acclaimed Netflix freshman House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright; the FX Cold War spy drama The Americans; the ABC hour set in Washington D.C., Scandal; the USA Network spy hour Covert Affairs; the 2012 USA miniseries Political Animals; the HBO cable news drama from Aaron Sorkin, The Newsroom; and the HBO comedy Veep starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Vice President of the United States. And that’s not even to mention the canceled Starz drama Boss featuring Kelsey Grammer (still eligible for Emmy consideration this year).
It might be notable that these series are finding audiences by covering issues more complex than how to catch bad guys. But we have certainly seen it before in Sorkin’s The West Wing and any number of David E. Kelley projects. The difference now is that this appears to have evolved into a genuine trend, with pilot season auguring more on the way.
Perhaps the answer is as simple as writers and producers finding political- and issues-oriented backdrops to be captivating canvases on which to paint compelling characters. So believes Joseph Weisberg, a former CIA agent who created and serves as head writer on The Americans. “The political explorations are simply allegorical extensions of the characters,” Weisberg emphasizes. “It’s always about the human dynamics and never really about just making a political point. In the real world, that’s what makes politics engaging and interesting. When policy intersects with real lives, it suddenly becomes very powerful.”
Political Animals exec producer Greg Berlanti agrees that the political setting itself is secondary to how compelling the people are who populate it. But he found in his miniseries that politics is rich with the kind of larger-than-life characters that rivet viewers.
“Our elected officials are kind of like rock stars, and America is fascinated with that world,” Berlanti says. “All of the shows seem somewhat circumspect of our people in office, which tends to match the vibe in the country right now. I think we’re endlessly fascinated by how the private and public lives of politicians contrast.”
Indeed, The Americans executive producer Joel Fields points out how shows like his have adroitly broken down the storytelling barrier between the political and the personal, keeping the action lively and the tone from growing mundane and distant. “When Jeff Daniels rants about the things he rants about on The Newsroom, we don’t feel like he’s raging about politics but about our lives and the things we all care about,” Fields says.
–Ray Richmond

Reason No. 2: Because getting nominated can actually be better than winning. Just ask Bill Maher.

Reason No. 3: Because even a swan song doesn’t mean a show is gone forever. Welcome back, Arrested Development.

Lena Dunham created and stars in HBO's comedy Girls.
Lena Dunham created and stars in HBO’s comedy Girls.

Reason No. 4: Because the writers’ room isn’t a boys’ club anymore.

Is Lucille Ball rolling her eyes that we’re still not quite done marveling at funny women making strides? While no one’s denying that the writers’ room, especially for comedies, has historically been a big ol’ boys’ club or that shows still exist (that shall remain nameless) that don’t claim a single female staff writer, these are—at long last—the minority. Sure, headlines have been informing us that Tina Fey and Lena Dunham are funny and can create and run shows—and Emmy certainly has concurred. Although the latest WGAW briefing acknowledges that, despite strides, female writers are still significantly underrepresented, there are definitely more funny women at the helm than at any other point in TV history.
“It would be nice if it just weren’t an issue,” says Eileen Heisler, cocreator of the ABC comedy The Middle with her former college roommate and longtime collaborator DeAnn Heline. “But it’s typical in our business, and in all business, that fewer women get to the top.” Heisler, whose writers’ room at The Middle is more than 50% women, remembers an incident when she was a staff writer. “All the women were saying, ‘A woman wouldn’t say that!’, and the executive producer turned to a guy and asked him if he agreed.”
Emily Kapnek, creator and showrunner of Suburgatory—whose writing staff is 60% female—bemoans that on every single show she’s worked on she will invariably get mistaken for a hair or makeup person. “I’m always hoping my show will get recognized for more than just me being a woman,” Kapnek says. “It’s not my favorite thing to be singled out for. I’d much rather the attention go to the show and what we’re doing.”
When Mindy Kaling, creator and star of the Fox comedy The Mindy Project, got her start writing on The Office at age 24, it appeared as if she were the token female in an all-male writing room. “On The Office, yes, I was working with a lot of guys,” Kaling stresses, “but these were very sensitive, sweet, feminist guys, and they were very open to hearing what I had to say and were encouraging of it.”
On the flip side, when Michael Patrick King of Sex and the City fame wanted to develop the CBS comedy 2 Broke Girls, he sought out a female partner in what he calls a “Scarlett O’Hara search.” He eventually teamed up with comedian Whitney Cummings. “I wanted that unique thing that (Cummings) brought, partly because she’s a woman and partly because she’s really funny and has an interesting life perspective,” King says. “It would be a tragedy to hire someone just because of their sex. Listen, comedy is a tough realm for writers, and that doesn’t have anything to do with genitalia.”
But what each showrunner circles back to is having a diverse viewpoint. Kapnek describes the Suburgatory writers’ room as a mix of scribes from reality TV, one-hour drama and stage. She prefers to choose her writing staffs based not on spec scripts, but from other types of writing, including essays.
Still, all things being equal, there’s something to be said for a woman’s touch in running the writers’ room. “We are organized, and we don’t thrive on chaos,” Heisler believes. “On our show, the women go home to their kids’ school functions, and the guys go home to their kids’ school functions.” Now that’s what we call progress.
–Cari Lynn

Reason No. 5: Because after the rigors of Oscar season, everyone on the Emmy campaign trail looks a little more relaxed, relatively speaking.

Reason No. 6: Because DVRs and streaming delivery mean high-quality series don’t just appear in primetime anymore. Timeslot? What timeslot?

Tony Soprano informs many of primetime's current slate of antiheroes.
Tony Soprano informs many of primetime’s current slate of antiheroes.

Reason No. 7: Because TV is still living in a Sopranos state of mind.

Whether it’s Don Draper bedding his neighbor’s wife on AMC’s Mad Men, Emily Thorne on ABC’s Revenge setting a house afire or South Carolina House Majority Whip Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) suffocating an injured dog while speaking to the camera about his intolerance for weakness on Netflix’s House of Cards, viewers can’t resist being an accessory to the crimes of dramatic antiheroes these days—no matter the foible or sin.
In fact, the last decade’s resurgence of flawed protagonists can be blamed on Tony Soprano, who helped usher in a whole new generation of TV antiheroes. After 20-plus years of good guys like Andy Sipowicz (ABC’s NYPD Blue), Bobby Donnell (ABC’s The Practice) and Jessica Fletcher (CBS’ Murder, She Wrote), Tony ultimately broke down a door that J.R. Ewing on Dallas cracked open.
“Prior to The Sopranos, there was a resistance toward painting people in all their colors,” says Terence Winter, creator of the HBO drama Boardwalk Empire and a producer on The Sopranos. “The characters had to be all one good thing, or have a moral compass or if they did something bad, they had to balance out the good. J.R. Ewing might have been bad, but a lot of people around him had to be balanced out in a good way.
“There was a huge resistance (by networks) to having an unlikable protagonist, but that’s changed completely.”
So what is it about our love affair with homegrown meth kingpins and sociopathic Hamptons socialites? Does evil truly lurk in the hearts of the TV-viewing nation? Not really, says House of Cards creator Beau Willimon. Our obsession with the despicability of man has been going on since the days when Oedipus murdered his father and wed his mother.
“What’s attractive about these characters is that they allow us to access part of ourselves, the part we don’t have the liberty or courage to display in our own lives,” says Willimon. “What’s complex about all of these characters is that they show their human side, which is the curveball for the viewer.”
In creating the facets of their lead characters, these critically acclaimed showrunners say the obvious truth is that their bad guys don’t walk around in everyday life thinking, well, that they’re bad. Guys like Nucky Thompson on Boardwalk and Walter White of AMC’s Breaking Bad simply have a to-do list, and they go about crossing them off each day.
“Viewers will take out stuff that’s disturbing and only focus on the stuff they think is cool. It’s interesting to see how audiences interpret these characters,” says Winter. “Tony Soprano changed the game: Part of the fun of writing that character and all these characters is that they can be despicable, and you find yourself liking them and hating them. And that is what’s fun about taking that ride.”
–Anthony D’Alessandro

Reason No. 8: Because L.A. doesn’t know what to do when there’s no awards campaigning going on, anyway.

History's miniseries The Bible had stellar ratings that surprised everyone in Hollywood.
History’s miniseries The Bible had stellar ratings that surprised everyone in Hollywood.

Reason No. 9: Because there’s still room for surprises.
When the first-night ratings came in for the 10-part History miniseries The Bible March 3, there were eyes bugging out of heads all over Hollywood. It drew a massive 13.1 million viewers, second only to the network record-shattering audience of 14.3 million that flocked to last summer’s Hatfields & McCoys miniseries debut. By the time The Bible concluded on Easter Sunday, it had averaged more than 10 million viewers each week, including 11.7 million for its finale.
No one expected these kinds of numbers. No one, that is, except perhaps executive producer Mark Burnett and his wife and fellow exec producer, Roma Downey. Burnett saw it as a huge wakeup call for a Hollywood community that Burnett believes consistently underestimates the power of projects with spiritual themes.
“You wouldn’t have believed the number of people rolling their eyes when we began this,” Burnett recalls. “What people didn’t take into account was the fact that my wife and I live this. We walk the walk. It was just a matter of having the support of people who felt as we did.”
Burnett and Downey got that support from A&E Networks president and CEO Nancy Dubuc. “It took courage for Nancy to decide, ‘OK, go make The Bible,’” Burnett adds. “They could have taken massive heat had this been made badly. I think they were relieved that it was so beloved by so many people.”
Dirk Hoogstra, History’s executive vp of development and programming, notes that the network was thrilled with both the production and the numbers it generated and is proudly submitting The Bible for longform Emmy consideration. “We knew it could be big, and it was,” he stresses. “This is a sort of go-to subject for us, so we felt pretty good about its chances, given the execution.”
For her part, Downey—the Touched by an Angel star—attributes the fact that nearly 100 million people watched all or part of the mini to “a perfect storm coming together. It happened at the same time as the Pope stepping down and waiting on a new one. It was nearing Easter. All of the stars aligned. But in general, people are hungry for God, and this series allowed them an entry point.”
“The thing is, I’m not surprised by any of this; I prayed for it to happen, and it has,” Burnett emphasizes. “We gave permission for millions of people to say they love God, and they showed us just how much they do.”
–Ray Richmond

Reason No. 10: Because avant-garde comedic voices have a place at the Emmy table. Thanks, Louis C.K!

American Horror Story rocked last year's race by entering as a miniseries.
American Horror Story rocked last year’s race by entering as a miniseries.

Reason No. 11: Because who can resist a little controversy?

No Oscar race goes by without scandal, but the Emmys, for whatever reason, seem to power through season after season relatively unscathed. Most hiccups never make their way to full-blown scandal, which gives the Emmys a much breezier feel than their film-industry counterpart.
Reasons for this could include the fact that there are 99 categories to deal with, and the Emmys just don’t carry the cachet or pressures of the Oscars. Another reason is that when potentially controversial problems do arise in the labyrinthine process of awarding Emmys, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences finds a way to make them go away.
For instance, last year some thought Ashley Judd’s entry into the movie/mini lead actress category was completely ridiculous because her nomination came for an ABC procedural series called Missing that was canceled after just a few episodes. If it belonged anywhere, it was in the more competitive drama series category, but the TV Academy let it slide with an obscure rule that made Missing eligible. End of scandal. (By the way, they simply go in and change the rules for the next year whenever problems like this come up.)
Also last year, creator Ryan Murphy came to the TV Academy with a proposal to classify his latest series, FX’s weekly anthology American Horror Story, in the movie and mini category even though it had a pilot and was billed as a regular series. Murphy reasoned that because the cast would be playing completely different characters each season, it doesn’t fall in line with competing drama series contenders. Though the vote was divided right down the line, the decision was forwarded to the board, and Murphy got his wish. He now gets to compete every year with the show classified as a miniseries. In its first season, it tied drama juggernaut Mad Men to lead all Emmy nominees with 17, a number it wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near had it been forced to compete in the drama series contest.
Before this year’s Emmy race even began, controversy reared its head again when the board decided to abolish the supporting acting categories for movies and miniseries, unfairly making them compete against the leading actors in those projects. The board cited diminishing entries in movies and minis as a reason for the downsizing, but this became a thorny issue for some performer members of the TV Academy. Suddenly, media reports surfaced about a resurgence in the genre, and in April the Board of Governors completely reversed themselves.
—Pete Hammond

And Reason No. 12: Because the TV Academy isn’t afraid to change its mind about rules.