EmmyWatch: Drama Series is Emmy’s ‘Sophie’s Choice’

Everyone interested in the outcome held their breath to see how AMC’s Mad Men would land. Would it end with the widely predicted (without significant evidence, mind you) Manson or D.B. Cooper angles? Would it go the way of The Sopranos and refuse to grant a satisfying conclusion to the beloved-by-television-elitists series? The final episode, fortunately, stayed true to the heart of the series by in some ways resolving the inner conflict of its central character Don Draper / Dick Whitman (Jon Hamm) that has plagued him since day one. It avoided dramatic histrionics or extravagant plot mechanics and focused instead on what people loved about the series most: its characters.

By doing so, I suspect, it has cemented its place, if ever there was a doubt, in the final seven slots for Best Dramatic Series at the 2015 Emmys. Highbrow critics proclaimed it brilliant, echoing most of the Twitter reaction I saw through an entirely informal poll. I’m not here to debate the quality of the series finale, but I do think it was good enough, memorable enough, to stick in voter’s minds. Whether or not it will win is a question for another day, but the battle for Emmy supremacy in the Dramatic Series category will be a tough one given the current vast quality of dramatic television. Common thought has largely settled around seven series, but it feels as if seven more could rise up and take their place. Television dramas are a boom industry right now.

Joining Mad Men is the perennial nominee Game of Thrones. Even a little more than halfway through its fifth season, there is scarce doubt that the fantasy series will rank at the top of Emmy ballots. The size, scale, and ambition of the series alone propels it there. And some even say its the series’ best season yet. Of course, there are many vocal detractors no doubt disappointed in the rebuilding of the series after the seismic and extremely bloody Season Four. True, most of the characters in Season Five tend to travel around the Game of Thrones map preparing for their next big battle – the multi-pronged attack on Winterfell. Also, there’s yet another tricky rape storyline that featured the beloved Sansa Stark Bolton, but a similar rape controversy did not sideline the series in Season Four. The creative team will dazzle us as they tend to do with a dramatic battle episode somewhere around episode nine, I suspect. This episode will serve as the chief submission for the series, and any possibility as to its omission from the final seven will be eliminated.

House of Cards is most likely the third safe nominee. The Netflix series premiered in late February to general critical approval, rating a 76 on Metacritic. But critical acclaim has never been the series’ strongest suit as evidenced by its complete shut-out in the recent Critics Choice TV award nominations. Still, its high gloss drama and its recent shift in power toward the House of Cards women make an effective case for inclusion – even if the overall quality was a bit more uneven this season. Emmy voters do love the familiar and no one works a room like Kevin Spacey, so this one stays in the top seven, despite falling a few notches.

No matter your opinion of the show, Downton Abbey will be in the top seven. You can count on that. Since moving from the Outstanding Miniseries or Movie ghetto to the Drama Series headlining category, it has consistently received nominations despite broad acknowledgement in its waning quality. Why is that? Chalk it up to older voters in the Television Academy and a British contingent that coagulates around their own. Still, this year, the series won an unexpected SAG award for its ensemble, providing a show of strength as the series heads toward its final season. It won’t win this year, but it will show up, blocking far more deserving nominees in the process.

I suspect that Emmy voters will pay little attention to the bizarre category shenanigans and rule chicanery that places Netflix’s Orange is the New Black in the Drama Series category after campaigning in the Comedy Series categories last year. The creative team appealed the decision and was denied. Still, it is my personal opinion that the show does belong in the Drama Series categories anyway. The material is dark, heavy, and often tragic. While the modern scenes can be funny, most of the flashbacks deal heavily in heartfelt melodrama (re: Poussey’s military brat love affair, “Crazy Eyes” abandonment by her adoptive parents, Lorna’s “reluctant” fiancee, etc), so the show feels more comfortable in the Drama Series categories. It will be recognized here because it’s hotter than ever, racking up awards from the Producer’s Guild (for Episodic Comedy nonetheless) and the Screen Actor’s Guild (for Ensemble in a Comedy Series and Female Actor). Also, its third season drops during the nomination window, guaranteeing all sorts of publicity and excitement around it.

The final two slots are a little more murky. Fox’s ratings giant Empire feels like a good bet given the attention paid to a number of its successes. Cast primarily with African-American actors, Empire was the rare true breakout TV series, fueled by dozens of op-ed pieces and millions of Tweets, that climbed in the ratings week after week. Additionally, its soundtrack has performed well on the Billboard charts, and it will most likely time its home video release with a high-profile campaign during the voting season. Plus, it’s just a lot of fun. There’s no denying its soapy (re: Dynasty) roots, and people will definitely feel like rewarding it this year before the inevitable escalation in catfights and decline in overall quality take hold. With such a strong year for diversity on television, how can the Emmys ignore Empire?

Finally, the last slot could go to any number of possibilities.

CBS’s The Good Wife has a surprising number of backers on Twitter (not a metric by itself) and still receives a great deal of press for its latest season. Yet, the series itself hasn’t been nominated since 2011 when it became a victim of the surge in award-worthy cable shows. I’m not feeling a resurgence of affection or an “attention must be paid” attitude that would push it beyond its stiffer competition, but it is a possibility. Star Julianna Margulies won an unexpected Dramatic Actress Emmy just last year showing love still exists for the show.

AMC’s Better Call Saul could ride some of that residual Breaking Bad good will into the nominee’s circle. The ratings have been very strong for the freshman series, and, more importantly, the quality of the series has been uniformly good (if not consistently great). The producers should be very careful in making their Emmy submission selections and choose one of the episodes that deftly bridges the gap between both series, proving Saul can stand on its own outside of the Bad shadow. If one of our seven major predictions falls out, then this is probably the series most likely to advance.

FX’s The Americans third season was beloved by all who saw it for its dramatically pungent story lines and brilliant acting. Trouble is: not many people saw it, and the degree of difficulty is very high for a series that has yet to receive major Emmy recognition going into its third season. ADTV loves the show, and we continue to advocate for its greatness. Yet, we can’t ignore the signs and the history. Sad to say, if it hasn’t happened yet, then it ain’t gonna happen now.

Homeland became the butt of jokes in its third season with its wildly unfocused (putting it mildly) storytelling and unbelievable plot twists (even for this show which often dabbles in unbelievability), and its Emmy fortunes suffered accordingly, losing the Drama Series slot for the first time in its short life after winning Drama Series in its freshman season – breaking the Mad Men winning streak, mind you. However, Season Four has been widely received as a vast improvement in quality, restoring a little of that Season One magic by jettisoning extraneous plot lines and unnecessary characterizations and refocusing on the political intrigue that attracted viewers and Emmy voters in the first place. Plus, there could be some goodwill toward the series after its beloved supporting actor James Rebhorn passed away, a fact that the series acknowledged within the plot. I’m not predicting it to make it into the final seven yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did – it won an unexpected DGA award this year.

JustifiedOutlander. BloodlineBoardwalk EmpireThe FallPenny DreadfulBates MotelSons of AnarchyDaredevilThe KnickBroadchurchThe LeftoversManhattanRectifyOrphan BlackMasters of Sex. All of these series offer compelling arguments as to why they could be threats to the final seven, yet most of them have equally compelling detractions. Genre pieces. Extreme violence. Lack of buzz. Unreliable quality. Difficult to sit through. Any of these reasons could knock most of these series out, but you cannot count them completely out of the overall conversation, even if it is unlikely that any of these series – which all have passionate supporters in their various corners – will actually make it into the final Emmy conversation.

No, the final slot – and, admittedly, the weakest slot in the bunch – goes to Showtime’s drama The Affair, a series I have consistently advocated for since it premiered last October to critical acclaim (an 85 on Metacritic). After it won two unexpected Golden Globes for Drama Series and Drama Actress (Ruth Wilson), it seemed a slam dunk for a nomination. Then, SAG gave it a big goose egg. As did the recent Critic’s Choice TV award nominations. Given its fall berth, it may be too “out of sight, out of mind” for Emmy voters. As I could be completely alone (sitting right here on a shaky tree branch with the peeps in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – a dubious tree branch companion to say the least) in my adoration of the show, I’m completely prepared to be 100 percent wrong about going with this show in my predictions. And I’m completely prepared for the comments and Tweets telling me how wrong I will be. Still, after recently re-watching some of the series for a piece I wrote on Maura Tierney, I cannot deny how extremely great the show is. Let’s hope the Emmy voters see it my way. Suck it, haters.

So, that makes my predicted nominees as follows (in alphabetical order):

  • The Affair
  • Downton Abbey
  • Empire
  • Game of Thrones
  • House of Cards
  • Mad Men
  • Orange is the New Black

Where do you think I’ve gone wrong? What shows am I discounting or under representing? Feel free to comment below and share your predictions.

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7 comments

  1. Avatar
    Eoin Daly 5 years ago

    Your choices of MM, GOT, HOC, DA, OITNB and E feel right for nominations with the first four being returning nominees and the fifth transitioning from comedy to drama with no difficulty. Empire is by far the best chance for the networks to get a series nomination again and the difference between it and Good Wife is ratings and sadly the latter has never received the ratings that the former has which is why I see the former making the return for the dying drama network shows.

    The seventh slot is difficult because while there loads of competition in terms of quality shows like The Americans, The Knick, The Leftovers, The Fall, Boardwalk Empire, Daredevil and many more have no chance at getting a nomination.

    The only real choice for the seventh slot is Better Call Saul. Netflix already has two nominees and I don’t see third happening and AMC has shown in the past they can get two nominees in the category and you mentioning there is still some BB love is true and BCS should get in based off that and the show itself. When you mention The Affair I see you are a fan of the show but winning globes means nothing because they go for new shows which is what it was. You may have loved the show but the suffered with ratings and while there were fans of early episodes for the most part critics grew bored of the show. Also I don’t see Showtime pushing this new show as apposed to their previous winner and nominee in Homeland a show which I hate personally but I can see that people liked the show more this season which is why I fear it’s return.

    Overall there are six guaranteed nominees and when it comes to the seventh it’s a question mark with me personally leaning towards Breaking Bad (I mean Better Call Saul).

    1. Avatar
      Clarence Moye 5 years ago

      You could be right, but I’m going down with the ship on The Affair. 🙂

  2. Avatar
    Ben Zuk 5 years ago

    I think you’re right about The Affair. It’s ratings actually doubled from the premiere to the finale and it’s exactly the kind of new show the Emmy voters will go for. Plus it has undeniable strength in the lead acting/writing/directing categories.

    This has to be one of the most wide open races for Best Drama in recent memory. Every show has its strengths/weaknesses and I don’t see a single candidate as a sure fire winner. Game of Thrones/House of Cards/Downton Abbey each had divisive/weaker seasons. Mad Men is a sentimental favorite because of its final season, but the show hasn’t had writing/directing nominations in 4 years and without that it remains a long shot for the win.

    Then you have Homeland/The Good Wife/Boardwalk Empire, previous drama nominees who were pushed out and could drop back in. If The Good Wife’s season 6 had been as strong as season 5 I’d say it was a good bet, but now I don’t know. This last season had a few low points for the show as a whole and ended on a very weird note. Boardwalk Empire had a satisfying conclusion but it could be considered old news by now. Homeland has its fans but clearly the absence of a major character makes this a tough sell even for a nomination.

    Orange is the New Black is the wild card. The question you have to ask is whether it got its nominations last year because the Emmy voters really love it or because there was less competition as a comedy series. I’m thinking its virtual shut out from wins last year is indicative of the latter, but I could be wrong.

    Of the other new shows Empire and Better Call Saul seem most likely and could both pick up series nominations. Neither seem like big contenders for the win though. BCS hasn’t really developed enough to push into that same realm of greatness as Breaking Bad and Empire is just too soapy/melodramatic to win over more heavy hitting shows.

    1. Avatar
      Clarence Moye 5 years ago

      Yes, the question of the win is a mystery at this point. I suspect most people will consider Mad Men the de facto victor because it’s the final season, but, unless I’m just totally off-base, I don’t feel the same sense of urgency to reward it that surrounded Breaking Bad in its final season(s). The rest is up in the air in terms of winning. We will cover that later in the cycle when the nominees are known.

      And thanks for The Affair support. Join me on the limb. 🙂 I won’t even begin to speculate on the possibility of it winning. Has to make the nomination hurdle first.

  3. Avatar
    Ben Zuk 5 years ago

    Yeah I agree. I don’t think Emmy voters are going to give Mad Men the drama series record based on 6 okay episodes and one generally liked series finale.

    The win for drama series is a real toss up this year.

  4. Avatar
    Nauval Y. 5 years ago

    Given that Mad Men has won 4 Best Drama series awards before, I think this year the voters will reward the series with Best Writing (especially for that finale), and the way, way long overdue Jon Hamm for Best Actor.

    As for the slot occupied by The Affair, please, please have it for Daredevil instead.

    1. Avatar
      Clarence Moye 5 years ago

      LOL. As much as we love Daredevil, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for the Academy to wrap their heads around 1) genre fiction (which they have ignored historically), 2) a Marvel project, and 3) the incredible violence of the piece (less an issue given their embrace of GOT).

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