Alex Gansa is executive producer of Showtime’s Emmy-winning series Homeland. This guest column appeared in the June 19 issue of AwardsLine.
On Homeland, we break story as a collective. Which is another way of saying the writers sit in a room for hours and hours until we we’ve eaten so many pistachios there’s nothing left to do but pin some story beats to the wall. It takes a village to construct a thriller, and every writer has a hand in each episode. But for me, writer-producer Henry Bromell’s episode, “Q & A” is the heart of Season 2. The centerpiece of “Q & A” is Carrie’s (Claire Danes) 16-minute interrogation of Brody (Damian Lewis). In one way or another, Brody has been captive to terrorist Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban) for eight years; Carrie has to turn him—deprogram him, if you will—in 20 minutes. If you don’t believe she does that, the episode (and the rest of the season) falls apart. Every step of their conversation had to build on the previous moment. Every turn had to be clear. The interrogation was originally three separate sequences, but Henry, the actors, and director Lesli Linka Glatter decided to shoot it as one continuous scene. The first take lasted 26 minutes. Henry turned a procedural into a play, a dance between two people who are lovers and enemies. Carrie wants to know if Nazir is planning an attack on America. The first thing she says? “You broke my heart, you know.” It’s a tactic, and the truth. I don’t think any of us could have written that scene with as much tenderness as Henry did. Henry could make even the smallest action evocative. One of my favorite scenes from Season 1 is Saul (Mandy Patinkin) alone at his desk. His wife has left him, so there’s no reason to go home for dinner. He’s trying to eat peanut butter and crackers, but he can’t find a knife, so he uses a ruler. He just sits there in the silence, chewing. We got a note from an executive asking, “Why is this scene in here? It’s not about anything.” Henry fought to keep it in. Later, another of our writers was at a security conference in Aspen, full of the people we try to write about. One of them said that peanut-butter scene perfectly captured the late-night loneliness of intelligence work. Henry’s own life was like something written by Graham Greene. As a kid, he ran into Charlton Heston on the set of Ben-Hur. He went to elementary school in Iran before the fall of the Shah. He hung with Fellini, interviewed Jackie Robinson, wrote for The New Yorker. He had one of those big, far-flung lives people dream about, but his greatest pleasures were simple: Morning coffee and The New York Times with his wife, Sarah; a dry martini; watching his younger son, Jake, happily wreck things. In our writers’ room, when we we’d get stuck in the mud, he would start in with: “Let’s see, what have we got? Once upon a time…” And he would proceed to spin whatever mess we had made into a narrative that we could listen to and make sense of, and by the end he’d often as not say, “That’s a pretty good story,” and we’d feel OK. Not just because he was a real writer and his approval meant everything. It was the way he did it. He would lovingly separate wheat from chaff, he would hand back to you something better than what he had been given. Two of our new writers this third season were cajoled by Henry into coming onto the show: Barbara Hall, from Henry’s days on I’ll Fly Away, and James Yoshimura, from his many years in Baltimore on Homicide, where he apparently broke up more than his share of bar fights. They share Henry’s bemused sense of the world. Henry had started writing Episode 303 when he passed away this spring. We asked his older son, William, who recently started writing for television, to finish the script. Like “Q & A,” the style of the episode is a departure for us. The point of view, pure Bromell.
Nellie Andreeva is Deadline’s TV editor. Michael Ausiello is founder and editor in chief of TVLine. This story appeared in the June 19 issue of AwardsLine.
The shows that have won the best drama Emmy for the past five years, AMC’s Mad Men and Showtime’s Homeland, both have been going through up-and-down seasons recently. That is not expected to affect each show’s nomination chances, but it does open the door to an upset. Will AMC’s Breaking Bad finally land a series nom? Or will PBS’ Downton Abbey accomplish the rare feat of winning two top Emmy categories after earning the movie/miniseries trophy two years ago? HBO’s red-hot Game of Thrones also appears likely to get another nom. And then there is Netflix’s newcomer, House of Cards. Here’s a look at each show’s chances for gold come September.
Because FX’s 1980s-set spy yarn is still in its freshman season—and still suffering from comparisons to Showtime’s Homeland—its best bets for nominations are probably in the lead acting categories for Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, and supporting for Noah Emmerich, though their chances might be hampered by their lack of Emmy history.
A&E’s moody Psycho prequel stands its best Emmy chance with Oscar-nominated star Vera Farmiga.
Because this category is more crowded than a Game of Thrones cast party—and HBO’s Prohibition-era drama has never generated much heat—it might not be able to eke out a third consecutive nomination. On the other hand, Bobby Cannavale—so good as the year’s big bad, Gyp Rosetti—might have a chance for a supporting actor nom. (He won in 2005 for Will & Grace and earned a second nom for Nurse Jackie in 2012.)
Nominations for AMC’s meth-fueled hit and its stars—three-time lead actor winner Bryan Cranston and two-time supporting actor winner Aaron Paul—should be no-brainers. The fact that the series’ last season was an abbreviated eight episodes long—and those episodes aired a summer ago—might, if only slightly, diminish its chances. However, the launch of the final eight-episode installment will coincide with the kickoff of the second phase of Emmy voting, likely keeping the show on voters’ minds.
Passed over for the Emmy twice already, DirecTV’s now-dead-and-buried legal thriller has virtually no shot at being nominated this year. The same can’t be said of star Glenn Close, who’s already taken home the lead actress prize in 2008 and 2009.
Showtime’s serial-killer thriller finally played its trump card last season—by revealing the title character’s deadly pastime to sorta-sister Deb. But its time might have passed: 2012 marked the first year that it wasn’t nominated since 2007. So it will probably have to settle for a nom for five-time nominee Michael C. Hall or, if it’s really lucky, a first for Jennifer Carpenter.
PBS’ acclaimed period piece rebounded from a shaky second season with a more warmly reviewed third. And it kept people talking by killing off two major characters (RIP, Matthew and Sybil). If nothing else, count on a supporting actress nomination for Dame Maggie Smith, who already won twice (once when the show was nominated as a miniseries, and again when it entered drama).
CBS’ modern-day take on Sherlock Holmes is about as likely to be nominated as its lead detective is to miss a clue. Its only chances are noms for Jonny Lee Miller or Lucy Liu (a contender for Ally McBeal all the way back in 1999).
If there’s one thing the Emmys love, it’s movie stars doing television. So although Fox’s Kevin Williamson chiller probably won’t scare up a nom, matinee idol Kevin Bacon could.
GAME OF THRONES
No longer a niche hit, HBO’s mainstream breakout is a lock for a third consecutive nomination. Unfortunately, the cast is so large that it’s nearly impossible for voters to single out any performer, with the exception of two-time nominee and 2011 supporting actor victor Peter Dinklage
THE GOOD WIFE
Though passed over for a nomination in 2012, CBS’ law-office drama-procedural hybrid could break back into the race this year—first, because it had a solid season, and second, because it’s one of the very few broadcast dramas to have any shot. Julianna Margulies (2011’s lead actress victor) is also a safe bet to receive a nom.
NBC’s well-reviewed Silence of the Lambs prequel probably needn’t set an extra place at dinner for Emmy. But, if for no other reason than making us forget Sir Anthony Hopkins’ version of Dr. Lecter for a moment, Mads Mikkelsen deserves to be a contender.
In spite of complaints that, in its second season, the Showtime smash became a soap opera, it remains a lock for a second nomination. Mandy Patinkin might also sneak into the supporting actor race on the heels of last year’s lead wins for Damian Lewis and Claire Danes.
HOUSE OF CARDS
Speaking of how Emmy loves movie stars doing television, it definitely applies to two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey and his political drama. The only question is, will voters recognize the actor—a 2008 Emmy nominee for HBO’s Recount—or the series? If the answer turns out to be both, leading lady Robin Wright—herself no stranger to the multiplex—could also get lucky.
Thanks to Margo Martindale’s star turn two years ago as mommie dearest Mags Bennett, FX’s modern-day western was able to break into the Emmy derby. Now, buoyed by a well-reviewed fourth season, the show seems well-positioned to do so again.
The good news for AMC’s signature hour: Nicotine-stained though it may be, it still is the network’s prestige crown jewel. Therefore, a sixth consecutive nomination is a foregone conclusion. The bad news: So far, this season has had viewers and critics alike crying “been there, done that.” Worse, it’s yet to provide a showcase for any actor that might break the cast’s stunning losing streak. (To date, not even Jon Hamm has won an Emmy.) Its record: 0 for 25.
Just about any project that Connie Britton takes on becomes a contender (Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story). But even if three-time Emmy nominee Britton’s track record isn’t enough to get voters to recognize ABC’s backstage soap opera, it’s undoubtedly enough to bag her a fourth nod. And Britton’s colead, Hayden Panettiere, also had many more chances to shine this season, which elevates her chances.
Though this HBO property is a freshman series, its creator is the ultimate Emmy catnip: Six-time winner Aaron Sorkin. Add to that mix the two Golden Globe nods the show received in December, and both it and leading man Jeff Daniels are looking pretty good to be nominated.
NBC’s sleeper is coming off its strongest season yet, but it’s still a longshot for a nomination. (To date, only guest actor Jason Ritter has been recognized.) Its great white hope: Monica Potter, who shone in the storyline that found her character, Kristina Braverman, battling cancer.
Watercooler buzz doesn’t get much louder than the fandemonium that surrounds this Shonda Rhimes sudser. If voters are willing to look past some of the D.C. drama’s over-the-top plot twisting, not only the ABC hit but leading lady Kerry Washington—and supporting players Jeff Perry and Bellamy Young—could be on the receiving end of nominations.
Though TNT’s gritty (and now canceled) LAPD drama has long had critics behind it, the only Emmy love it’s ever been shown was for stunt coordination. Its last chance to change that for Michael Cudlitz, who gave the performance of his life as Officer John Cooper.
William H. Macy’s boozy Frank Gallagher has about as much of a chance of getting his hands on a top-shelf drink as his Showtime sleeper does of being nominated. However, the actor—as well as costar Emmy Rossum—might have a chance.
SONS OF ANARCHY
As much as Emmy loves movie stars doing television, that’s how much it hates bikers. That’s the only way to explain how—even coming off its highest-rated season to date—FX’s fringe hit still won’t get a nomination. (Odds are, it won’t—even badass Katey Sagal has been snubbed!)
After a promising first season that earned star Patrick J. Adams a SAG nomination, USA’s legal drama Suits upped its game in Season 2. While it is a longshot, it could break into the acting categories with stars Adams and Gabriel Macht, scene-stealing supporting actor Rick Hoffman and recurring guest star Rachael Harris.
THE WALKING DEAD
Now that AMC’s zombie smash is cable’s top drama, voters might not be able to look down their noses at it. So even if the genre series itself doesn’t break in, perhaps Andrew Lincoln will earn a nom.
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. Then 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.”
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.”