SAG Sticks to Favorites While Globes Anoint Newbies

Ray Richmond is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of AwardsLine.

The Golden Globes are the awards that love you immediately and without reservation. The SAG Awards are the ones that—while somewhat more tentative—like to honor their favorites repeatedly. Those tendencies held form yet again in the TV nominations announced last month, bringing a certain consistency to exercises that typically lack it.

Katharine McPhee stars in Smash.
Katharine McPhee stars in Smash.

Indeed, if you’re looking for a red carpet to be rolled out to welcome the new kids, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is your go-to gang. Rarely does a first-year show with even moderate buzz escape Globe voters’ attention. This year, it heaped attention on freshmen including HBO’s Aaron Sorkin cable-news drama The Newsroom and star Jeff Daniels; the HBO comedy Girls and its multihyphenate young star Lena Dunham; Julia Louis-Dreyfus from the rookie HBO comedy Veep; star Don Cheadle from Showtime’s House of Lies; lead Connie Britton and supporting player Hayden Panettiere from the ABC soap Nashville; and, most surprisingly, a comedy/musical series nod for NBC’s Smash.

The inclusion of Smash was perhaps easy to predict, because it’s the rare comedy/musical series that is both comedy and musical. It took the spot previously held down by Fox’s Glee, the category winner in 2010 and ’11 that failed to make the Golden Globe cut this year. Evidently, only one musical comedy per year is permitted.

But shaking things up is simply the HFPA being the HFPA. And often, the omissions are often as noteworthy as the inclusions. For instance, three-time Globes victor Mad Men from AMC was unable to crack the top drama list for the first time. HBO’s Game of Thrones was in last year—its first year of eligibility—and out this time, along with star Peter Dinklage.

There also seem to be certain shows that simply don’t resonate with the Hollywood Foreign Press as they do elsewhere. It never nominated Everybody Loves Raymond for comedy series, and star Ray Romano was nominated just twice (both losses). Moreover, for the first time this year, the Globes finally honored AMC’s Breaking Bad for drama series. Star Bryan Cranston wasn’t nominated for his three-time Emmy-winning role until 2011.

Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom earned Globes attention in its first season of eligibility.
Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom earned Globes attention in its first season of eligibility.

As for the SAG Awards, it, too, likes to honor the ensembles of series fresh out of the starting gate along with their individual stars, though not so much this year. Daniels from HBO’s Newsroom is alone in cracking the list on a first-year series. It ignored Veep and Louis-Dreyfus as well as the white-hot Girls and Dunham, not to mention Fox’s New Girl and star Zooey Deschanel. Youth doesn’t seem to carry much weight with this crowd.

On the other hand, no one will ever be able to charge SAG with ageism, unless it’s the reverse kind. Betty White, who turns 91 on Jan. 17, has won two consecutive comedy lead SAG honors in a row for her role on TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland and is nominated with a chance for a third. Steve Buscemi, age 55, might make it three wins in as many nominations for his work in the HBO mob drama Boardwalk Empire. And Alec Baldwin, age 54, has won the comedy actor trophy an astounding six consecutive times and could make it seven in a row this year for NBC’s 30 Rock. He’s been a relative flop at the Globes, taking home a mere three.

Yet while the SAG Awards look to be a mere popularity contest on the one hand, on the other it has yet to honor with a win any cast member from ABC’s Modern Family (though the show has won the best comedy ensemble award two years in a row). It’s nominated Ty Burrell, Sofia Vergara, and Eric Stonestreet again. Yet this is the first year that two-time Emmy victor Jim Parsons has received an individual SAG nom for the CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory.

It’s clear that there have been some curious irregularities in SAG voters’ choices in the awards’ 18-year existence dating to its first year in 1995, when it failed to recognize a freshman NBC comedy called Friends. It also completely snubbed the cast of NBC’s The West Wing in 2000, its initial eligibility year. But voters corrected that oversight the following two years, when the ensemble won for drama series along with individual leads Allison Janney and Martin Sheen.

Jessica Lange earned SAG and Globe Awards last year for her work in American Horror Story.
Jessica Lange earned SAG and Globe Awards last year for her work in American Horror Story.

A similar phenomenon could be gaining speed at the SAG Awards this time for Showtime’s Homeland, which was the darling of both the Emmys and the Globes in 2012. It was shut out at the SAG Awards in its maiden season a year ago, like West Wing before it. This time, it’s nominated for drama ensemble along with actor/actress Emmy winners Damian Lewis and Claire Danes. It would surprise no one were voters to make amends by honoring the much-praised series with three statuettes.

The Globes set the Homeland awards bandwagon in motion with wins a year ago for both the series and Danes. It’s back this time looking for two in a row, taking on The Newsroom, 2011 winner Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, and PBS’ Downton Abbey, making a smooth transition from the movie/miniseries to drama series category with a trio of noms. Conversely, FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum had a tougher time of it in switching the other way, from drama series to movie/mini. After landing a drama honor in ’12, it earned one nom for star Jessica Lange this time. (Lange also won for supporting last year.)

If recent Globe history holds, it might be wise to bet on the newbies, as the Hollywood Foreign Press often appears to look upon even second-year shows as aging veterans. That would mean Smash or Girls for comedy/musical and Newsroom for drama—all seeming longshots on paper, but not with the HFPA.

In 2012, all six series lead and supporting acting winners at the Golden Globes represented first-year shows: Laura Dern (the HBO comedy Enlightened), Matt LeBlanc (Showtime’s comedy Episodes), Kelsey Grammer (the Starz drama Boss), Danes (Homeland), Lange (Horror Story), and Dinklage (Thrones). If we extrapolate this trend to 2013, it would mean Cheadle (Showtime’s House of Lies) has the inside track for comedy actor, with Louis-Dreyfus and Dunham battling it out for comedy actress.

But just when you think you have the Globes figured out, the voters defy conventional wisdom and their own history to cross up the experts. Never was that more clear than when NBC’s Friends earned its first win in 2003 for best comedy actress Jennifer Aniston. The show, first nominated in its second year, saw five best comedy TV shows noms, but zero wins in that category.

The SAG Awards, by contrast, seem at least somewhat easier to gauge. And again, the trend is that the guild likes to honor those whom it honors over and over again. Besides Baldwin and White, Maggie Smith has four nods this year alone—two for her work in the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, two for Downton Abbey. Cranston has three (two for Breaking Bad, one for feature ensemble in Argo). Then there is Edie Falco, who just reeled in another pair of nominations for her work in Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. That brings her career total to a whopping 19, tying David Hyde Pierce for the SAG career noms record.

Another thing that distinguishes SAG is a dogged determination to go its own way and follow no one else’s lead. This was obvious back in 2006, when the awards permitted David E. Kelley to submit for comedy (rather than drama) consideration for his ABC hour Boston Legal. It landed four—for comedy ensemble as well as stars James Spader, William Shatner, and Candice Bergen—while winning none. It submitted as a drama the following year. This year, the guild refused to allow American Horror Story to submit as a miniseries, categorizing it as a drama ensemble. Lange earned a nomination; the series ensemble did not.

One trend that continued for both the SAG Awards and the Globes is the cable domination in drama and broadcast in comedy, a direction that doesn’t figure to be changing anytime soon. SAG comedy is still about 30 Rock (Baldwin, three-time winner Tina Fey), Modern Family, Parks and Recreation (Amy Poehler), and The Big Bang Theory, while drama has only Julianna Margulies from CBS’ The Good Wife breaking the cable-PBS logjam. In the Globes, no freshman broadcast series has generated a single top drama nod since NBC’s 
Heroes in 2006.

But it’s worth pointing out that half of the 10 lead comedy acting nominees at the Globes are featured on cable shows as stars: Louis C.K. and Dunham generate substantial buzz and critical acclaim with their personally crafted half-hours.

What about longform? As usual, it’s dominated on both the Globes and SAG lists by HBO and its made-for-TV movies Game Change, Hemingway & Gellhorn, and The Girl along with stars including Nicole Kidman, Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, and Sienna Miller. That’s not to mention the mega-rated History Channel mini Hatfields & McCoys and its lead Kevin Costner.

Having a feature-star pedigree is no guarantee of success at either the Globes or the SAG Awards, however, what seems to help is youth (if you’re a series) and age (if you’re an actor). And it never, ever hurts to be named Alec Baldwin.

SAG Ensemble Award Considered Best Picture Equivalent

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.

Although the Screen Actors Guild constantly denies that their annual ensemble award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture is meant to be anything but that, pundits and prognosticators stubbornly label it SAG’s equivalent of a best picture award. Since the SAG membership overlaps with Academy voters, nominees, and winners of SAG Awards, along with other key guild contests orchestrated by the PGA, DGA, and WGA, they are widely considered to be great harbingers of things to come at the Oscars. In the case of the SAG Awards, which have been given annually for the past 18 years, it is certainly true that their individual acting winners often agree with Oscars, at least 75% of the time.

However the stats for the ensemble or cast award, as it is officially known, are much spottier. Indeed, out of the 17 times it has been awarded, only eight films have gone on to match it at the Oscars (Shakespeare in Love, American Beauty, Chicago, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Crash, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire,and The King’s Speech).On the bright side, only one past SAG cast award winner, The Birdcage at the third annual awards, failed to go on to get at least a best picture nomination (or even a single acting nom for that matter). The cast award for TV series tends to more closely align with eventual Emmy winners in both comedy and drama categories, but often enough goes its own way there, too.

So why is it an award every Oscar strategist wants to win? Bottom line is the simple fact that actors far outnumber everyone else in the film Academy. They are responsible for one-sixth of the entire membership and can definitely have a strong impact on the vote. And they are virtually all members of SAG, so it would seem to be a strong indicator of Academy sentiment, or so the thinking goes.

“It certainly helps with your campaign to get the ensemble award because people think it is SAG’s closest thing to a best picture, whether it actually is or not. But is it actually going to decide who is the best picture? No,” says one prominent studio awards consultant.

It can give momentum to a struggling campaign just as Oscar ballots are in the mail. Last year, The Help was all but written off at the Oscars after being snubbed in directing and writing categories. But, significantly, it did receive a best picture nom as well as acting nominations for lead actress Viola Davis and supporting actresses Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain, just as it did at the SAG awards. When it cleaned up at SAG in a surprise, winning three including the cast award, a record-tying accomplishment, suddenly there were big hopes at DreamWorks that perhaps it could pull off the impossible and pull off a best picture upset. It wasn’t to be, and The Artist, the film it beat for the cast award at SAG, prevailed in the end. Only SAG supporting winner Octavia Spencer repeated at Oscar time. The SAG awards were prescient, though, in giving Artist star Jean Dujardin the best actor prize over favored George Clooney (The Descendants) and Brad Pitt (Moneyball), a feat he repeated at the Oscars a month later. Certainly that SAG win provided momentum for him just as it has done for others in the past.

The cast award is different in the respect that not every best picture Oscar winner or nominee is going to have a big ensemble or cast that would necessarily qualify for consideration in this category. But it can be a slippery slope for those films in the perception arena if they are winning big everywhere else on the road to Oscar but suddenly get blindsided at SAG and the pundits take note of it, no matter how unfair that might be. Momentum in an Oscar race is everything, and peaking at the right time is key. This notably happened in 2006 when Brokeback Mountain lost the cast award at SAG to upstart Crash. This sent shockwaves into the race, but it was by design on the part of Crash distributor, Lionsgate. Brokeback had been triumphing in all the key precursor races up to that point and was expected to just sweep through all the guild awards. It had already won at DGA and PGA (and later WGA) when it “crashed” so to speak at SAG, losing in every one of the four categories in which it was nominated. But it was the cast award loss to Crash that stung the most.

At the time then-Lionsgate president Tom Ortenberg told me, “it was our strategy to simply stop Brokeback at one of the guild awards, with SAG being most likely because of our strong ensemble cast.” The company blanketed the guild members with DVD screeners, which certainly helped, and the strategy obviously worked. The SAG win was considered a bit of a shocker at the time but might have been responsible for building the momentum needed to do the impossible and overtake Brokeback for best picture. That’s, of course, exactly what happened when stunned presenter Jack Nicholson opened up the envelope and announced Crash as the surprise winner of the Oscar for best picture. Some thought the exact same thing was going to happen a year later when Little Miss Sunshine pulled out a victory winning the SAG cast award over Warner Bros.’ The Departed,but the latter managed to prevail and nab the Oscar anyway.

Is the SAG cast award gaining its own momentum as a precursor of Oscar glory? If the past five years are any indication, it could be, as three of the last five winners have gone on to win best picture, but the uneven correlation between the two groups will probably continue. Time will only tell.