July 9, 2010 / 4:56 AM / 7 years ago

Rookie series rock the Emmys

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It was a nod to the new and not much of a sendoff to the old that best describes the selection of 500-odd contenders for Emmy statuettes unveiled before dawn Thursday.

The spunky Fox comedy-musical “Glee” and ABC’s off-kilter comedy “Modern Family” muscled their way into the key nomination categories, leading a number of fresh entrants into what in recent years had become a predictable parade of Emmy hopefuls.

Those two and several other mainstream newcomers to the fray also helped rebalance the scales between broadcast network fare and cable contenders, with the former contingent coming away with 247 total nominations to the cablers’ 240.

HBO’s unflinching World War II miniseries “The Pacific,” racked up the most nominations for a single entry with 24, but its only competition is a well-mannered British period piece called “Return to Cranford” in what is a dwindling category of longform miniseries entries.

After sifting through the entirety of the 99 categories, the nominations suggest a wider pool of outlets in which the 16,000-odd Academy voters fished for creative excellence -- and a preference, be it subconscious or not, for shows with multigenerational appeal.

“I think voters did notice the amazing writing and creative talent that is coming into the business,” Academy of Television Arts and Sciences chairman and CEO John Shaffner said. “You can feel it in the diversity of shows out there and the subject matter that is being tackled.”

Like their counterparts at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, TV voters are responding to pressure to be less stodgy and/or esoteric in their tastes and a little braver and broader in their choices. There was no “Sons of Anarchy” or “Californication,” mind you, but a noticeable degree of hipness and heterogeneity is in the panoply of players vying for trophies.

“Glee” and “Modern Family” each scored mentions in the best comedy category, and will be hoping to end the two-year reign of “30 Rock.” In the case of “Glee,” best comedy actor and actress nominations went to Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele. Both shows scored in the supporting categories as well, with “Glee” racking up 19 total nominations and “Modern Family” 14.

The other freshman broadcast series to make the cut in top races was CBS’ “The Good Wife,” nominated for best drama and drama actress (Julianna Margulies).

“The series is not in everyone’s comfort zone,” said Robert King, the show’s co-exec producer. “It’s a serialized show, yet there’s self-contained stories in each episode. I hope these nominations create more shows like this.”

The heretofore snubbed critical darling “Friday Night Lights” also pleased the assembled with its best actor nominations for leads Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, suggesting that the academy was making up for past sins of omission.

Those achievements follow last year’s breakthrough by Seth MacFarlane’s “Family Guy,” which wrested for the first time in 50 years a slot for animation in the best comedy series. The show did not repeat -- in fact, it didn’t even get a nomination for best animated series.

Among others with happy faces Thursday were Jane Lynch, a double-barreled threat with nominations for her off-the-wall performance as a cheerleader instructor in “Glee” and her guest appearance on “Two and a Half Men”; Amy Poehler, for her role as a ditzy city operative in “Parks and Recreation”; Sharon Gless for her turn in USA’s “Burn Notice”; and the irrepressible 88-year-old Betty White, whose whirlwind of a year now includes a nomination for her stint as “Saturday Night Live” host.

The team at “SNL” has to be happy with its haul of 12 citations. Its overall total of 126 beat the previous record of 124 held by drama “ER.” Speaking of records: Cameraman Hector Ramirez scored five noms to bring his career total to 60th, the most of any individual.

As for total nominations by an outlet, that honor again goes to HBO, though its haul is not as hefty as in some previous years. In addition to “The Pacific,” the pay cabler also landed a first-time nomination in the best drama category for “True Blood,” its contribution to the growing list of vampire-centered sagas, but it failed to score again with its inside-Hollywood spoof “Entourage.”

For its part, Showtime clocked in with top nominations for the comedy “Nurse Jackie” and the drama “Dexter.”

In contrast to miniseries, the TV movie category is awash with big names, including Al Pacino as euthanasia proponent Jack Kevorkian (“You Don’t Know Jack”) and reigning Oscar winner Jeff Bridges (“A Dog Year”).The most-nommed telepic was “Temple Grandin” with 15, including one for star Claire Danes. Dennis Quaid and Hope Davis are in the running for their roles of Bill and Hillary Clinton in “The Special Relationship,” along with co-star Michael Sheen as British PM Tony Blair.

The highly competitive telepic category is another indication of just how much thunder television is stealing from the film business, addressing a wide range of grown-up subjects and attracting cinema talent while the movies increasingly suffer from sequelitis.

The fresh faces mixed in among the stalwart or long-in-the-tooth candidates also might help revivify an Emmy Awards show that increasingly has seen viewership dwindle and its once positive impact on the larger financial picture at the broadcast networks fade. (An Emmy used to be able to save a network show from the ax or turn substantial viewers toward a neglected one; nowadays, its impact is greater on cable shows.)

In any case, the best series winners for the past two years, AMC’s “Mad Men” and NBC’s “30 Rock,” are back again, as are the acting trophy-holders from last year: Bryan Cranston and Glenn Close in the drama field and Toni Collette and Alec Baldwin in the comedy league. Cranston, Close and Baldwin have taken home the trophies for the past two years.

The Emmy voters have a history of short-shrifting top-rated broadcast series, and it happened again this year: All the “CSIs,” the “Law & Orders” (other than Mariska Hargitay of “SVU” for best actress) and the two “NCIS” shows went missing.

The top 12 categories were announced Thursday at the TV academy in North Hollywood by Sofia Vergara of “Modern Family,” who was nominated, and Joel McHale of “Community,” who wasn‘t. “That’s all right, I phoned it in,” McHale quipped when Shaffner offered his condolences.

Vergara, a native of Colombia, said she was stunned by her nomination. “To have been able to find a role so perfect for a person like me with my ethnicity, it’s unbelievable,” she said. (She did rather maul the names of Hargitay and best supporting actor Sir Ian McKellen, though no one at that early hour seemed to mind.)

In the reality field, “Dancing With the Stars” waltzed away with more nominations than the perennial winner of the category “The Amazing Race” and is, by most accounts, coming off one of its best seasons. Still, the dance-a-thon format and the other high-profile contender, “American Idol” -- which didn’t have its best season -- will have their work cut out for them to wrest the crown from “Race,” which has won all seven Emmys for outstanding reality-competition program.

As for which races might capture the public imagination -- and boost the ratings of the August 29 broadcast on NBC -- having the wide appeal and young-skewing “Glee” and “Modern Family” in the mix should help. So too should the multiple shout-outs to cult fave “Lost,” which ended its six-year run in May. The fantasy series nabbed nominations for best drama series; actors Matthew Fox, Terry O‘Quinn, Michael Emerson; and guest star Elizabeth Mitchell.

A lively show and good ratings -- Jimmy Fallon hosts -- also should help strengthen the TV academy’s hand when it comes time this fall to negotiate a new long-term deal for broadcast rights.

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