This past weekend brought us the full ballots for this year’s Emmy awards (PDFs for writing, directing and performing), which means we can now see who submitted what and try to deduce why. The one thing that I’ve learned over the past few years of following the Emmys very closely is that the submissions are fully of strategy. Performers and creative folks have to pick the right episodes that will not only get them noticed for the quality of the work, but also try not to split the vote between other people on your series. Moreover, thanks to the changes made in how the voting goes down (explained, with some rage, here by Myles McNutt), so much is resting on the voters’ pre-determined awareness.*
*Myles’ analysis is damn good and you should check it out, but let me explain the process in a quick way: Basically, it’s now a populist competition where the nominee has to make the top six of the vote. That’s it. The process used include a populist vote and more detailed analysis between episodes, but that’s gone. So again: top six get in. That’s it.
In that respect, trying to actually predict who will be nominated requires a bit of Nostradamus’ian analysis — don’t worry, that won’t stop me from doing so — but it’s still intriguing to talk about the things that were actually submitted and try to deduce what that could mean for the nominations when they are released in early July.
So the plan is to run through some thoughts about certain categories and submissions that intrigue me or are at least worth mentioning. Okay? Okay!
One thing that has always been interesting about the Emmys is the submissions for writing. Every series can enter multiple episodes — I believe up to 10, but don’t quote me — but obviously there’s a caveat with that. Typically certain writers or writing teams are going to have multiple episodes so there is so much strategy displayed in trying to determine what episode(s) to submit. I remember that over the past few years, people have celebrated the way 30 Rock has submitted its episodes for writing by trying to parcel them out across the staff as a whole and because of that, they’ve had winners. The same goes for Mad Men. Well, kind of, because Matthew Weiner is almost always one of the writers, so it’s really just trying to figure out which co-writer to give some love.
On the other side of the coin, lesser known, newer or just never nominated series don’t have that luxury. While the agents and UMS people might worry about which 30 Rock episodes to submit, chances are at least two or three of them are going to get nominated anyway. There is some minor concern about splitting the vote, but the populist approach means that while the vote gets split across multiple 30 Rock episodes, many of them still get enough votes to make the top five. But for a new and not overwhelmingly popular series like Community, splitting the vote isn’t an option. That means that while 30 Rock has submitted five episodes for nomination, Community — which many would say was much better this season — submitted only its pilot episode for writing. Of course, pilots are go-to picks for submission and based on some of the buzz I’ve been reading, there’s an outside chance that Community gets a nomination. Meanwhile, Modern Family is new, but so much of a powerhouse that it can submit six episodes for possible nomination and is surely bound to pick up at least one.
The other categories that are the most interesting to talk about just based on the submissions are the acting categories, and for me, guest actor in a drama series. After taking home a Golden Globe, John Lithgow decided to enter as a guest instead of a supporting player for his work on season four of Dexter and there’s probably absolutely no chance that anyone else touches him in the race. I’ve seen a number of folks say that just based on the sheer amount of screentime Lithgow has, he’ll win, but some of my favorites could give him a little run, if we’re going based on that principle. Walton Goggins has been unbelievable on Justified, especially in the season’s final episodes and although he was never nominated for his work on The Shield — a sign that he won’t get any love here — I’m hoping my love for him is, well, justified. Additionally, Zach Gilford did amazing work in “The Son,” perhaps the best episode Friday Night Lights has done since season one and is the primary catalyst for that episode, meaning he could draw some eyes to the performance. Maybe.
One final thing that always makes me laugh is who submits themselves and who does not. For instance, there are eight (!) episodes of Monk entered in to the writing race, joined by episodes of iCarly, Dark Blue, Gary Unmarried, 10 Things I Hate About You and multiple other series that I’m not sure really anyone likes or expects to be “Emmy worthy.” The same goes for the guest acting categories, where Kim Estes entered himself for a performance on House that I literally can’t remember and know it didn’t last more than three minutes because it was set in the clinic, a place the series rarely visits anymore. I guess there isn’t any harm in entering, but scrolling through certain categories brings the unintentional comedy.
One final thing: I have been thinking about the Emmys as a whole thanks to a panel that’s happen at this fall’s FLOW conference and wondering whether or not we should even really care about the awards. Yes, the Emmys never gave any love to The Wire, the supposed best series ever made. Yes, Gandolfini was defeated by James Spader for best actor after the final season of The Sopranos. Really every year there are at least 3-4 categories to complain about and with the new process in place, that should only continue to occur. So why do the Emmys matter?
In my opinion, they matter because they start the dialogue. The nominations, the process and the awards themselves fuel the conversation, spur on blog posts like this one and top-notch analysis from people like Myles. Tons of web sites post their dream ballots and “real” winners each year, which help bring in a variety of opinions and discussions that while critical of the Emmys themselves, are still a positive occurrence for the television industry and its fans. I don’t want to let the Emmys completely off the hook by saying that getting people talking is all they should do, but it’s not like they get people talking in the same way that the MTV Movie Awards do. Constructive, critical and intelligent conversations are had surrounding the nominees, awards and what they mean within the context of the industry. And oftentimes, the winners aren’t as egregious as they might appear to be. I can’t imagine that many people being upset with a back-to-back Mad Men best drama victory. The Emmys could definitely do better, but for the most prestigious award for a specific medium, they could do much, much worse. Have you watched the Grammys lately?
Anyway, that’s it on the Emmys for now. I’ll start publishing some dream nominations and then concrete predictions next week.