Don’t expect a swift response to any communication sent to someone who works in the TV industry: last night was the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards (see the list of winners here), and the parties were going on long into the night. As we said this morning, "Breaking Bad," "Modern Family" and "Sherlock" were the big winners, with Bryan Cranston, Julianna Marguiles, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jim Parsons, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jessica Lange taking the leading actor trophies, and Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Ty Burrell, Allison Janney, Martin Freeman and Kathy Bates winning prizes for supporting roles.
As it’s been said here and elsewhere, it was among the least surprising awards shows in the history of awards shows, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t a few shocks or injustices. Below, we’ve analyzed what we reckon were the most notable WTFs from last night’s ceremony, but you can add your own in the comments section below.
Billy Bob Thornton & Allison Tolman
"Fargo," one of the most nominated series this year, came away with a couple of big wins, taking the Best Miniseries prize and a Directing trophy for Colin Bucksey. But FX has to feel a little disappointed. When "True Detective" moved across to the drama category, "Fargo" looked to be the major beneficiary, as its hefty nomination haul indicated. Noah Hawley was expected to take the writing trophy, Alison Tolman was touted in many quarters as a potential winner in her category, and almost everyone thought that Billy Bob Thornton was a dead cert to take Best Actor in a TV Movie/Miniseries for portraying the devilish Lorne Malvo. Instead, "Sherlock" and "American Horror Story" swooped in for the prizes instead. FX is surely happy with the result, but it’s a particular shame that Tolman won’t be honored for her turn, and we wonder if this might cause problems in attracting big names for season two.
But an even bigger shock than the limited haul "Fargo" earned came with "True Detective." By some distance the most praised new series of the season and one with a colossal fanbase, "True Detective" was seen to be the major challenger to "Breaking Bad," and a potential spoiler to the farewell party for AMC and Vince Gilligan‘s show. But of all the prizes it was up for last night, "True Detective" only took Directing for a Drama Series, for Cary Joji Fukunaga. It’s undoubtedly a deserved prize given that Fukunaga helmed the whole show, and was responsible for so much of its atmosphere, but overall, this is definitely a big loss for HBO (and not helped by "Game Of Thrones" failing to take anything either, though that’s become par for the course by now). It’s possible that "Breaking Bad" was too much of a juggernaut to be defeated in its last year, but the campaign for "True Detective" certainly had issues: Nic Pizzolatto didn’t much endear himself in interviews nor in his reaction to an admittedly trumped-up plagiarism scandal, and submitting Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in the same category may well have split the vote. But it also feels like the network putting a series always described as an anthology show in the ongoing drama category, despite the precedent set by "American Horror Story" and others, may have backfired. Don’t be surprised if season two ends up retreating to the Miniseries categories as a result.
The barriers between movie actors and TV stars have been crumbling down, with more and more established film performers feeling no compunction in heading, whether for a relatively brief or long time, to the small screen. The likes of Al Pacino, Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce, Kevin Costner and Julianne Moore have all won Emmys in recent years, but despite last night’s line-up of actors as star-studded as the Academy Awards, most big-name movie actors were snubbed in favor of more established television talent. Of the winners, only Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates can be said to have been movie-stars-turned-TV-actors rather than the other way around, and Lange’s in her third year on "American Horror Story," while Bates has twelve Emmy nominations in the past. Bryan Cranston and Benedict Cumberbatch have been frequent big-screen actors of late, but both came from TV, so Emmy voters likely feel a loyalty to them. And movie actors like Don Cheadle, Woody Harrelson, Matthew McConaughey, Kevin Spacey, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mark Ruffalo, Billy Bob Thornton, Helena Bonham Carter, Alfred Molina and Julia Roberts all came away empty handed. The lines between film and TV might be blurring, but Emmy voters still clearly feel protective of their patch.
Andre Braugher & Cicely Tyson
That said, some big TV names seen as dead certs in that category had no more luck than their movie star cousins. Stage legend Cicely Tyson had nine Emmy nominations and three wins before this year, and almost every prognosticator had her as the clear favorite for Best Actress in a TV Movie/Miniseries for her turn in "The Trip To Bountiful" (which won her a Tony on Broadway). But Emmy voters ultimately plumped for Jessica Lange‘s scenery chewing in "American Horror Story: Coven" over Tyson. Meanwhile, few names are as beloved in TV as Andre Braugher, who had seven prior nominations and two wins, and showed a new side to himself with top-notch comedy "Brooklyn Nine Nine" last year. Again, Braugher was the clear favorite in the category, but ultimately the voters stuck in their comfort zone and went with "Modern Family" and Ty Burrell. Braugher will likely be back, but it feels like a shame that Tyson (who is 80) missed out this time.
Orange Is The New Black
Arguably Netflix‘s first true homegrown success ("House Of Cards" was big, but OITNB had distinct word-of-mouth and a relative lack of star power that make it feel like the greater achievement), "Orange Is The New Black" had a long wait for the Emmys, having debuted last July, just at the start of the current eligibility period (and with its second season hitting the Netflix streaming service this spring). But with a strong haul of nominations and a Guest Actress win for Uzo Aduba at the Creative Emmys a week ago, the signs were that the prison series could finally end the dominance of "Modern Family" in the comedy cateogries. But in fact the show came away totally empty handed last night, failing to even win the writing or directing categories (despite Jodie Foster being their nominee for the latter). Perhaps it was confusion over the show’s eligibility, or a desire to wait to vote after the superior second season, or just Emmy voters kicking against a show with such a diverse cast. But it’s more likely that this was another case of category fraud backfiring. The show competed as a comedy rather than a drama, to some controversy, and Seth Myers even made a joke about it in his intro. Don’t rule out a "Shameless"-style category switch in future, though we think there’s enough comedy in the series to justify it sticking where it is: "Modern Family" can’t keep winning forever, right? (And it’s worth noting that some commentators will start to question if Netflix are having an issue with Emmys, given that "House Of Cards" and "Derek" also came up short, but we wouldn’t worry so much, given their healthy nomination haul).
Anyone Who Didn’t Already Have An Emmy
Bar Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (who each had two other nominations —both had been up for "Sherlock" before, with Cumberbatch getting a nod for "Parade’s End" last year, and Freeman for "Fargo" this year), every single person who won an Emmy last night had won at least one Emmy before. In fact, most have more than one: the average number of Emmys on the shelf of Emmy winners last night, excluding the "Sherlock" duo, was 2.5. Even the shows that won that were seemingly outliers, "Veep" and "Mom," featured actors who are among the most lauded in the organization’s history, in the shape of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Allison Janney. Allison Janney winning an award is never a bad thing, but it’s hard not to feel that Emmy voters are just copying and pasting their votes from the previous years. Maybe the Television Academy needs to start introducing term limits for winners? (Actors, most famously John Larroquette, have sometimes taken themselves out of the running to give others a chance…)
The TV Movie/Miniseries category by its very nature has tended to be the most varied of the Emmy divisions, due to the fact that productions as such didn’t repeat. But things have changed in recent years thanks to some category jiggery-pokery that’s seen returning series like "American Horror Story" land there thanks to their stand-alone seasons. But it’s still surprising to see "Sherlock," a show in its third season (but which competes here by only submitting one episode and calling it a TV movie) doing as well as it did. Especially considering that the episode in question "His Last Vow" was seen as somewhat divisive by many. It’s undoubtedly benefited from the raised profile of stars, and now Emmy winners, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Since "Sherlock" was last eligible two years ago, the former’s become a regular movie presence, and Freeman’s led two "Hobbit" movies and also appeared in, and been nominated for, "Fargo." But this was still something of a surprise to most awards-watchers, and should make the show a threat for years to come.
…But Then Losing To "The Normal Heart" In The Top Category
"Sherlock" was generally deemed to be likely to be overshadowed by "The Normal Heart" —there’s always one HBO movie or miniseries that kicks ass in these categories, and Ryan Murphy‘s adaptation of Larry Kramer‘s play had both a star-studded cast and worthy subject matter. It lost all of the five acting categories it was up for, as well as the writing and directing ones, but then ended up beating out "Sherlock" for the Best TV Movie award. Was this a case of Emmy voters awarding a consolation prize? A by-product of the somewhat mixed reviews the film got when it aired? Or a slight kick against the minor category fraud of "Sherlock"?
"Modern Family" Still Has It
The narrative going into the awards this year was that "Modern Family" could be on its way out. The ABC comedy, still one of TV’s biggest, had been seen to be in a bit of a creative lull until recently, and its Emmy run had seemed to reflect that: it had gone from a high of seventeen nominations and five wins for its third season two years ago to only nine nods this time around. And it had serious competition for the first time in a while: "The Big Bang Theory" has usurped it as the biggest comedy on TV, and up-and-comers "Orange Is The New Black" and "Veep" were more hotly touted by critics. But again, Emmy voters stuck with what they know, and it has now tied "Frasier" as the most successful show in the Comedy category ever. Could "Modern Family" top the ’90s show next year and take a sixth win? Without much promising in the pipeline on the comedy side, few would bet against it.
One of the most infuriating Emmy snubs at the nomination stage had been for "The Good Wife" —the show’s been a longtime Emmy favorite, and though the series managed three acting nods, it was otherwise basically shut out this year, despite its fifth season being by some distance a creative high for the long-running legal drama. With that in mind, and given that it’s generally hard for shows to claw their way back to victory once they’ve fallen off Emmy rosters, we weren’t holding out much hope for Julianna Marguiles to take Best Actress as the former "E.R." star won for the second season, but wasn’t even nominated for the fourth. And competitors like Robin Wright looked to have more heat behind them. So we were pleasantly surprised to see Marguiles walk away with the Emmy last night. Her performance in the show has grown in stature with ever year, and few awards were as well deserved as that one.
That "Louie" Can Win An Award
It’s easy to be snarky about the lack of adventurousness of the Television Academy. Indeed, we’ve just spent a couple of thousand words doing exactly that. But at least at the nominations stage, they are accepting of exciting and brave new work. And once you’re in the club, you’re in: that a show as bold and button-pushing as "Breaking Bad" is such an Emmy juggernaut is something to be thankful for. And we’re similarly grateful that a show like "Louie" can walk away with a trophy too, with creator/star Louis C.K. picking up an award for writing last night. The low-rated FX comedy is, even five seasons in, one of the strangest, most experimental and consistently surprising series that’s ever been on TV, and its recent fifth season was particularly divisive, even among the critics and fans who’d long been loyal. So let’s at least applaud Emmy voters for rewarding C.K over some of the safer bets, even if he, like so many others, is a previous winner (taking the same trophy in 2012).
Anything else you were shocked or surprised by? Let us know in the comments section.