Tube Talk: The drama behind TV’s Emmy nominations

This time of year can be, well…interesting when people know you write for Emmy magazine. Yes, Emmy is the official magazine of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS), which bestows the annual awards, but sometimes people forget the magazine has nothing to do with who gets nominated or how the process works. Yet, some people complain to me when their favorite shows and performers—or worse yet, their own shows—are shut out.

ATAS changed the nominating rules this year to help give smaller shows, and those on smaller networks, a fighting chance against top-rated series. I was hoping Lauren Graham might finally get noticed for Gilmore Girls, or—hope against hope—Veronica Mars might snag a nod. Maybe next year.

I wasn’t surprised they didn’t make the cut, but I was glad Denis Leary got nominated as lead actor for FX’s Rescue Me, and the brilliant Andre Braugher as lead actor in a miniseries or movie for his work on Thief, also on FX. Kyra Sedgwick received her first Emmy nomination for TNT’s The Closer. So maybe the new rules are helping. Fresh blood is even coming from long-running shows—Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has been around seven seasons, but Christopher Meloni just got his first nomination.

When it comes to dramas, this year’s most interesting categories are supporting ones—despite William Shatner’s (Boston Legal) third consecutive nomination. He probably deserved his first win as Denny Crane, but the second win was pushing it, as is this third nod for the role. Why not T.R. Knight, Isaiah Washington, Terry O’Quinn or Victor Garber? In contrast, Alan Alda was nominated for his role as Arnold Vinick on The West Wing. This is Alda’s 32nd nomination, but it’s well deserved considering he helped reinvigorate a fading series.

Another West Wing alum, Oliver Platt, was nominated for Huff; The Sopranos’ Michael Imperioli (2004’s winner) and 24’s Gregory Itzin round out the category. First-time nominee Itzin is my favorite, thanks to his masterful transformation of wishy-washy President Logan into a leader of Machiavellian proportions.

Jean Smart’s best known for comedy—she won two Emmys for guest roles on Frasier—but don’t be deceived by her sitcom roots. She held her own against Itzin as 24’s unpredictable first lady.

Smart has strong competition for supporting actress from first-time nominee Chandra Wilson, Dr. Bailey of Grey’s Anatomy. Wilson’s a gifted actress, but her co-star, Sandra Oh, nominated for the second year, is just as good. Two Grey’s nominations could split the vote, making way for previous Emmy winners Candice Bergen (Boston Legal) and Blythe Danner (Huff) to swoop in.

Grey’s Anatomy, House, The Sopranos, 24, and The West Wing are the nominated dramas. The Sopranos and West Wing are aging stalwarts, while 24 had an impressive season, racking up 12 nominations—more than the competition (Grey’s came close with 11).

The biggest surprises could be what wasn’t nominated. No major nominations for last year’s outstanding drama series, Lost, and last year’s lead actor and actress—James Spader and Patricia Arquette—were overlooked. And in a weird twist, the amazing Hugh Laurie wasn’t nominated for the title role in House, yet the show—which suffers from a predictable format of misdiagnoses, MRI mishaps and a remarkably low mortality rate—was nominated as outstanding drama. But what’s Emmy season without a few head-scratchers in the mix?

Next “Tube Talk”: comedy surprises and Emmy trivia.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications including American Bungalow, SatelliteORBIT, and TVGuide.

From the July 19-25, 2006, issue

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