The New Generation of Evening Soaps

Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 19 issue of AwardsLine.

What two popular TV show titles are least likely to occur in the same sentence?
There is no single answer, but British producer Gareth Neame was decidedly taken aback when a family member came up with this combo: “We used to have Dallas. Now we have Downton. ”
“Downton” is, of course, the PBS Masterpiece hit Downton Abbey, the sprawling saga of the fabulously wealthy Crawley family, unfolding at the family’s English country estate. And “Dallas” is, well, Dallas (1978-1991) CBS’ soapy saga of Texas oil baron J.R Ewing, set on the lavish Southfork Ranch.
While the worlds of feathered bonnets and 10-gallon hats couldn’t seem more different, Downton executive producer Neame says the comparison confirmed what he’d been thinking when he proposed the series to creator-writer Julian Fellowes: Once again, there is room for the nighttime soap on the TV landscape.

TNT's Dallas revival features several of the original cast members.
TNT’s Dallas revival features several of the original cast members.

As in the era of Dallas—which spawned Dynasty, Falcon Crest and Knots Landing—the primetime soap has surged in popularity with viewers. Along with the crown jewel Downton Abbey, witness the appearance of new and glamorous multigenerational sagas including ABC’s Nashville and Revenge. To prove the point, there’s even 
a new Dallas on TNT, with some of the original stars 
including Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy (J.R.’s “good” brother Bobby) returning to ruin each other’s lives for 
a new generation of viewers.
Neame adds that the evening soap is going through a revival in TV development as well: While the producer says that he and Fellowes have not been inundated with requests to create another Downton, “I certainly know that of pitches that have been (made) in the last year, nine out of 10 say: ‘It’s a bit like Downton…’” (For the record, Fellowes and Neame are currently in development on The Gilded Age for NBC, a similarly highbrow soap about New York’s real-life wealthy families in the 1880s.)
Neame says his Downton inspiration was the Masterpiece series Upstairs, Downstairs. (The original series ran from 1971-75). But to make such a soap work for a young generation, he believes, it needs the fast pace pioneered by Dallas. “We throw every other scene away. We do in three scenes what would take six in a traditional soap.” He adds that the series focuses on the technology advances of its historical period (1910-1920s) to highlight the similarities between Downton times and contemporary life. “For them, it might be electricity or a motorcar or a new toaster or something. For us, it’s the latest Apple product,” he observes.
Of course, even when geared to a younger audience’s taste for a fast pace, it’s unlikely that Downton or any other TV soap will capture an audience as big as Dallas did. On Nov. 21, 1980, 83 million people in the U.S. alone tuned in to find out who shot J.R. Ewing. That’s more people than voted in that year’s Presidential election. Loraine Despres, writer of the episode, recalls that show producers were so paranoid about the secret leaking that they filmed multiple endings in which J.R. was shot by just about everybody. (The second-choice shooter after J.R.’s sister-in-law Kristen Shepard was J.R.’s alcoholic wife Sue Ellen, played by Gray). It’s unlikely any primetime soap will ever match those kinds of numbers again.
Still, Downton seems to have spawned a raft of hopeful imitators —the most obvious being Masterpiece Classic’s own series Mr. Selfridge, starring Jeremy Piven as real-life department store entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge. Downton producer Rebecca Eaton has stresses the differences between the two shows: Downton is pure fiction, whereas Selfridge is based on a real-life character. But all one has to do is look at the costumes to see that both shows are cut from the same expensive cloth.
For his part, Fellowes doesn’t mind the phrase “soap opera.” “When I hear it, I don’t want to reach for my gun,” the British producer says. “That’s why we call it soap opera in real life—‘Oh, darling, have you heard the latest in the soap opera’—because that sort of succession of dramas is what life is. Life is solving problems, and then you die.” Family feuding is also key to the proceedings, whether it’s the fights of the Ewings, the drama of Downton Abbey’s Crawley clan or havoc in the Hamptons on Revenge.
Despres quotes Dallas producers in outlining the key to that soap’s success: “If you don’t like your neighbor, it’s conflict. But if you don’t like your family, it’s drama.”
Probably because it’s named after a Southern city and highlights cowboy chic, ABC’s Nashville, created by Callie Khouri, gets the inevitable comparisons to Dallas. Khouri, however, is more likely to invoke Downton in describing her show.
“I’m addicted to Downton Abbey, “ Khouri says. “In some ways, the comparison would be that we’re going into a very rarified world where there’s both privilege and ambition, and you are watching your characters deal with problems at both ends of the spectrum.” She adds that Nashville strives to depict reality even amid the glamour. Despite the rivalry between veteran singer Rayna (Connie Britton) and pop-country princess Juliette (Hayden Panettiere), you’ll never see a “Who Shot Rayna?” episode, Khouri says. “They are two women in a very competitive world. They have their differences, but it’s not something you wouldn’t see in real life. “
Patrick Moran, senior vice president of creative development at ABC, has his own theory about why the soapy Downton, Nashville and that network’s Revenge are capturing the public imagination: Viewers’ general procedural fatigue.
“Trends come and go,” Moran says. “Just as for a while there was an appetite for that kind of show, with CSI and all its spinoffs, and NCIS and Cold Case, I wonder if the audience was just craving something different.”
Moran says that maybe today’s Wall Street has something to do with the zeitgeist of Downton Abbey, Revenge or Nashville. “These kinds of shows, Revenge in particular, are about the haves and the have-nots,” he says. “We are culturally sort of experiencing class distinction. I think those conversations are going on.”
Fellowes says finding skeletons in the closets of the super-rich provides “a double element of wish fulfillment. These people are very rich and have pretty houses, and they spend a lot of time having lunch,” he says. “We tend to think, ‘Blimey, it’s all right for some!’ But by going into what’s wrong as well as what’s going right, they get the sense of seeing the beautiful setup and the lovely clothes, but also sort of a relief that they’re not part of it.”
Despres points out that any trend in TV starts with one hit show. “I wasn’t a network executive; I wasn’t in those meetings. But if a show’s a success, they copy it,” she says.
Despres also wrote for Falcon Crest (1981-1990), the third in the primetime serial kingdom that included Dallas, Knots Landing (1979-93) and Dynasty (1981-1989). Set in the California wine country, Despres explains that producers’ instructions to the writers were simple: “Just make them richer than Dallas.”

Standalone Episodes Give Showrunners Creative Freedom

Ari Karpel is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 19 issue of AwardsLine.

The first four episodes of Season 2 were pretty much business as usual on HBO’s Girls. Hannah (series creator Lena Dunham) kicked her roommate out after she discovered he slept with her best friend; then she procured coke and had sex with her neighbor as research for an article she had been assigned to write.
That’s when something unexpected happened. In the fifth episode of the love-it-or-hate-it series’ second season, Hannah went down the proverbial rabbit hole.
After a brief scene at the Brooklyn café where Hannah works, the rest of the episode tracked her with a brand-new character, handsome doctor Joshua (Patrick Wilson), playing out a relationship of sorts in his beautifully appointed brownstone. There was topless Ping-Pong, sex in the kitchen and, by the end of the half hour—which took place over two days—an emotional awakening unlike any Hannah had previously experienced. “I don’t think I realized before I met you that I was lonely,” she confesses to Joshua, who turns out to have no interest in her inner life. We never see Joshua again.
“That’s the first hard thing for her that’s leading to the OCD,” showrunner Jennifer Konner explains, referring to the dramatic obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms that Hannah would manifest later in the season. “We looked at this episode as the rampup.”
And yet even Konner admits that “One Man’s Trash,” as the episode is titled, wasn’t part of the original plan for the season. “Lena wrote it two nights before the table read, like in a fever dream,” says the executive producer. “She came to us with it and said, ‘I don’t know what this is, but I wrote this.’ It was such an insane little movie, we had to make it.”
Girls is not the first serialized TV show to take breaks from its ongoing storyline for filmlike vignettes that upend the usual episode structure, but it employs the technique more often than most. Two episodes later, viewers found themselves far from Hannah’s Brooklyn stomping ground, at the upstate New York home of Jessa’s (Jemima Kirke) parents. “It’s a cliché to say about HBO, but they give you an unbelievable freedom to do what you want to do,” says Konner, who acknowledges HBO’s recently canceled Enlightened as another series that uses so-called standalone episodes to great effect.

David Chase intended for every episode of The Sopranos to feel like a short film.
David Chase intended for every episode of The Sopranos to feel like a short film.

The practice arguably goes back to Star Trek, and it was used quite a bit in such 1990’s sci-fi/fantasy series as Deep Space Nine and The X-Files, and continued with Lost and Dr. Who. But TV writers single out one series, also on HBO, for inspiring the spread of standalone episodes across the contemporary TV landscape: The Sopranos. “David Chase took it to such a masterful level,” says Konner. “In the writers’ room, it’s become shorthand. (Executive producer Judd Apatow) will say, ‘The Russian in the woods!’, and we’ll know what he means.”
She’s talking about the “Pine Barrens” episode of Sopranos’ third season, in which Christopher (Michael Imperioli) and Paulie (Tony Sirico) get lost in the woods chasing a Russian mobster they’re trying to kill. (It has also been acknowledged as inspiration for the carjacking-kidnapping episode of Six Feet Under, titled “That’s My Dog.”)
But a funny thing happened when Sopranos creator David Chase rewatched the 2001 episode before speaking with AwardsLine about it: He discovered that it isn’t actually a standalone storyline. “There was a B story and a C story,” reports Chase. “People think of it as standalone because that part of the story is so memorable, and the writing (by Terence Winter, with a story credit by Timothy Van Patten) and acting are so good. What I take from that is they forgot the other stuff. I created the show, and I had forgotten the story about Jackie Jr.”
Nonetheless, when Chase conceived The Sopranos, he wanted it to feel like a series of short films. Looking back, he believes he achieved that best in “College.” The fifth episode of the series’ run has Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) taking his daughter, Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), to visit schools in New England, where he spots a former mobster who has been in witness protection. Back home, Carmela (Edie Falco) receives a surprise visit from her priest. “You have all the information you need going in. It doesn’t refer to the episode before it, or after. It stands on its own.”
Chase thinks it’s wise of showrunners to submit such episodes for Emmy consideration. Like series pilots, which dominate the writing and directing categories, these episodes play well with voters who might not have seen the whole season. (Indeed, “College” earned Chase and James Manos, Jr. an Emmy for outstanding writing.)

"The Suitcase" episode of Mad Men.
“The Suitcase” episode of Mad Men.

The Sopranos creator has been particularly impressed by standalone episode work done on shows created by two Sopranos veterans: Matthew Weiner (“The Suitcase” is arguably the best episode of Mad Men, standalone or not); and Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire delved into incest in “Under God’s Power She Flourishes”). “It’s like a vacation,” Chase explains. “You go away for a week, even for work, and you come back feeling like you’ve learned something.”
In Season 2, “Higher Power” was done from the point of view of Levi (Luke Wilson) at rehab in Hawaii, and “No Doubt” from the POV of White’s own character, Tyler. Those episodes even had those characters’ voiceovers. “I think it helps clarify that character,” says White. “You really get into their inner psychology, and that’s something harder to do in dialogue. With the voiceover you could get into the internal mind of a character, especially mine, who was more of an introvert.”
Had the series continued, White could imagine using a standalone as a jumping off point for a whole new series, in much the way that episodes of Happy Days spawned Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy and Joanie Loves Chachi. “It’s like we created a whole new pilot in Hawaii,” says White. “There was a whole new cast, new sets, different locations. It was fun.”
The standalone episode phenomenon is not exclusive to shows on HBO. NBC’s Community is more like a traditional comedy, meaning its storylines mostly stand on their own. But as often as possible, its fourth-season showrunners, Moses Port and David Guarascio, have followed the tradition established by creator Dan Harmon of doing ambitious episodes that break the show’s rules. In the current season, that meant doing one episode acted out by puppets.
There is one rule that must be followed by all showrunners doing standalone episodes, says Moses, “There has to be a reason why you’re telling your story.” In the case of the puppet episode (“Intro to Felt Surrogacy”), he explains that the school’s dean was using puppet therapy to resolve tensions among the group. “As silly as that might sound, it gives you a reason for going far afield.”
Sometimes the reason is not made explicit to viewers. The Girls episode with Jessa’s parents was inspired by a very real-life need. “We decided to do it because we had to get rid of her,” Konner says bluntly. “Jemima was pregnant, so that episode was going to be her leaving.”
In typical Girls fashion, Jessa’s departure was fairly obscure, signaled by a note on the counter. Hannah headed back to the city on her own. Jessa hasn’t been seen in an episode of Girls since.

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: Kat Dennings

After stealing comedic thunder from the goddesses in her 2000 debut as the foul-mouthed Jewish princess Jenny Brier in Sex and the City, Kat Dennings made an impression on the show’s creator, Michael Patrick King. So when King offered Dennings a shot at playing a free-spirited New York waitress in the CBS series 2 Broke Girls, which he cocreated with Whitney Cummings, choosing between film or TV was a little easier for the actress. Kind of a Laverne & Shirley for the millennial set, the series finds Dennings is right at home as Max Black, delivering one-liners in the style of Bea Arthur, Megan Mullally or even Fran Drescher. In fact, since her early teens—and without any acting lessons—Dennings has vamped and deadpanned, a natural talent that’s given her the opportunity to work with director Judd Apatow on The 40-Year-Old Virgin and play a supporting comic-relief role in Marvel’s Thor franchise.

You’ve distinguished yourself as a comedic performer with your deadpan cadence. Did you nurture this over time?
That’s really interesting—I’ve never thought much about that. I guess it’s just how I am. But I know for a fact my older brother Geoffrey is also very much like that. And I worshipped him as a kid, so I give him a little credit.

What was that first Sex and the City audition like?
I was 13 or 14 then, homeschooled, lived in the woods and didn’t have TV. So I had no idea what this show was. (The audition) was six pages of sides; I read it, and Michael said, “Come back tomorrow. Memorized.” And I looked at him, and I was like “Fuck it, I will!” So in the cab on the way back to Penn Station, there was a building covered in the Sex and the City poster, and I thought, “Damn! I just sassed that guy, and this is such a big deal!”

You were joking around?
I was messing with him, but also I was sort of challenging him. Like, “I can do that too.”
Did Michael see you in another project prior to 2 Broke Girls that reminded him of you?
I guess. I’ve never asked. I’ve heard him talk on panels so that’s how I get my information. Maybe Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist?

Tell me about the genesis of 2 Broke Girls.
I think the waitering part and Caroline’s (Beth Behrs) jobs are based on Michael’s experiences. The hoarders episode happened to Michael, as well as the one where we went into this guy’s apartment and found naked pictures of him. The cupcake shop and its demise are based on his sister’s experience. And he loved that as a device, which is really smart.

In discovering Beth Behrs, did they test a number of girls with you?
I was in Florida shooting a really dark film. They called and asked if I could fly back and read, and I’m like, “I’m in Florida. I’m getting raped in a tub. I’m not in a good spot.” And they said, “We get it. Just watch her Funny or Die stuff.” However, they needed to see us together. We got in front of CBS to test, which was one of the most terrifying experiences. I’ve done it a few times. Ninety-five percent of the time no one laughs. You know when you watch those SNL auditions and no one laughs? It’s like that. This was the last step in Beth’s hiring process. Michael loves telling this, but we left that test, and I put my arm around her instinctively.

You were initially inspired by Fran Drescher for your character and then threw that out.
When you start putting someone in the character instead of yourself, it’s muddled. Before we shot the pilot, I was so nervous. It’s a live audience. I watched Jack Black in High Fidelity, and his performance made me feel brave. And I watched The Nanny because she was the only one I could think of who was sort of like that tough Jewish Brooklyn girl. But again, that’s someone else’s character, and I have to develop my own. I kind of ended up imitating my mother because she was a poor girl from Queens who was cool and tough.

Does your delivery of zingers on the show come naturally?
Well, I’ve learned the best way to do it is not to think about it. We’ll get to the show and we’ll do a take, and then the writers rewrite everything. Eighty percent of what airs was given to us the second before we said it. And that’s where they do their best work and gauge what’s funny off the audience. You’re discovering the jokes at the same time as everybody else.

When you read scripts, can you tell the difference between material coming from a male versus a female writer?
Jhoni Marchinko is a legendary sitcom writer, and I can tell her jokes from when she was on Will & Grace. I can tell her flavor on stuff. I mean, Pat (Walsh) and Michael and the male writers are brilliant, but we’re writing for two girls all the time, so having women is essential. Also we have a lot of gay writers, which is a really important voice for our show. It’s just such a perfect melody with all these different instruments.

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.